1 of 14
Dolly Parton performs her first song ever penned: "Puppy Love."
2 of 14
Newfound Gap at sunset.
3 of 14
DreamMore Resort is Parton's newest and most requested endeavor. A 300-room resort offers all the comforts of home.
4 of 14
Thomasina, along with hundreds more, greets visitors as they enter Dollywood.
5 of 14
The Festival of Nations celebrates nations and their cultures and brings the world to the Smoky Mountains.
6 of 14
Parton has not missed an opening day of Dollywood. Today is her 31st year.
7 of 14
Red's Drive Inn is fashioned after the burger joint (long ago in Sevierville) where Parton ate her first hamburger.
8 of 14
Roaming acrobats entertain visitors.
9 of 14
Parton surprises the audience during Mother Africa’s performance at the Festival of Nations.
10 of 14
Mother Africa features skilled acrobatics and live music.
11 of 14
Roaming musicians share the sounds of their homeland.
12 of 14
What would a theme park be without food? There's milkshakes, ice cream and homemade taffy.
13 of 14
Celebrating opening day with a parade.
14 of 14
The writer Judy Garrison with Dolly Parton.
Growing up in the late 1960s, my family and I had a tiny (by today’s standards, well, by any standards) black and white Magnavox TV that was perched in the corner of our living room. In the evening, after a long day of work, mama and daddy would sit in their favorite arm chair; I would curl up at the end of the sofa so I could be as close as possible to the screen, and yes, mama preached every time that I would be blind by the time I turned 10. Saturday nights were really special, for that was when The Porter Wagner Show would air. He was this flashy, peroxide-colored hair, and to a ten-year-old, a rather odd man, but wow, could he sing. And his side-kick, Dolly Parton, who gave him a run for his money with the flash and peroxide. And, wow, could she sing. All of us were glued to the set, and at times I swear I could hear my hard-nosed Southern Baptist parents singing along. It made me happy. Porter and Dolly made mama and daddy happy.
That’s what I’m thinking about today as I wait my turn to interview Dolly. The joy she brought into a small living room to people she didn’t even know. What would mama and daddy think? I think they would be tickled pink.
As Southern as jonquils, banana pudding, magnolias and boiled peanuts, Dolly Parton oozes charm, hospitality and poofy hair. Under studio lighting, she shines brightly. Not that she needs lighting for I'm certain that even in the darkness, there's a glow. Her smile is simply brilliant; her laugh, contagious. She seems as comfortable sitting in front of cameras and lights as she is sitting in front of her own fireplace.
It's opening day of Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, and I am one of the lucky ones. I have been offered a few minutes to pose questions to this country music legend. I get a whole seven minutes. Now, who would turn that down? Not someone whom she had spent most Saturday nights with for almost a decade. This is one of those moments.
Judy and Len Garrison are at home in Farmington, Georgia, just on the outskirts of Dawg country - better known as Athens. Len, an IT manager and photographer, and Judy, an editor, author and travel writer, invite you to travel along with them as they explore the best of the South. Email them at email@example.com. Visit their website at Seeing Southern, and follow them on Twitter at @judyhgarrison, @seeing_southern, LIKE them on Facebook and on Instagram.