PERSONAL ESSAY: The night I met my cousin, Dolly Parton

Historic photo of Dolly Parton

By Tabitha Evans Moore | EDITOR & PUBLISHER

Okay, okay. That title is a little misleading. Dolly Parton is not my cousin in a “we’ve shared Easter dinners together” kind of way. She doesn’t even know my name. But according to my second cousin, the Evans family came here from Sevierville and there’s a good chance we’re distant cousins.

“I’ve seen copies of family trees online that connected our line with Dolly Parton’s line,” he said.

“I’m sorry, you connected our line with who?” I asked — needing the confirmation.

“Dolly. Dolly Parton. I’m not sure I believe it because I’ve never seen source documents but I’ve seen it more than once,” he said. “It’s a possibility.”

My world instantly shifted. I felt like a commoner who’d just discovered she had royal blood.

I’m honored to just be from the same state as Dolly Parton. I consider it a blessing that she and I live in the same lifetime and that I got to experience her energy, even from a distance, rather than having to settle for reading about her. So even thinking about the fact that we might share one drop of blood sent my heading spinning.

Six degrees of Dolly separation

Now I don’t mean to brag but I am actually less than six degrees of separation away from Dolly. I know a gal who knows a guy if you know what I mean.

I also have the email and actual cell phone number of Dolly’s publicist in my cell phone. I’ve used it exactly once and will likely never use it again. Despite that fact, I plan to leave it in my address book because when I die, I want people to describe me as “the type of person who had Dolly’s publicist number.”

I don’t fangirl for anybody but I fangirl for Dolly.

So, when my cousin told me about the possible shared lineage, I immediately reached out to the one person that I know who actually knows Dolly personally. Her response would tell me everything I needed to know.

“That’s the greatest DNA gift of all. You’re related to royalty,” she replied. “Similarities in personalities demystified.”

“I know that’s sarcasm but I’m taking it as a compliment,” I replied.

“Oh, it’s a compliment. She was born with that sass. I think you were, too. We’re just finding out it’s shared.”

I’m sorry. What is happening?, I thought. An hour ago, Dolly Parton was just this larger-than-life celebrity who happened to be from my home state that I really admired. Now it’s possible that we’re distant cousins and someone who would know the behind-the-scenes Dolly thinks we share the same personality. What?

We’re both sassy, independent Tennessee gals. We’re both storytellers. Dolly never had kids. Neither did I. But there are also other similarities. In 1967, Dolly told the Music City News that it sometimes takes her as little as 30 minutes to pen a song. In fact, she famously wrote Jolene and I Will Always Love You in the same day. It takes me about 30 minutes to write an essay. Once I’m inspired, I write quick. Maybe there’s something to this.

An ode to the Sunday paper

Are Dolly and I really cousins? I have no idea but I’m going to live the rest of my life as if it is true. Why? Because sometimes it’s good to be a little delusional especially if it makes you walk a little taller and believe in yourself a little more.

It’s giving me the confidence to make my next move — one with a more analog approach to digital publishing.

Dolly made her mark on the world by unapologetically showing up as her authentic self. She just kept telling her stories through her songs and following the path as it unfolded.

“We cannot direct the wind, but we can adjust the sails,” she once famously stated.

I started this newspaper nearly four years ago with just a handful of readers – mostly friends and family who believed in me and my mission. Today, I reach nearly 300,000 readers a month. It’s humbling.

And as they say, with great power comes great responsibility. I understand that anything I shine my journalistic light on grows. It creates a ripple effect in this community and beyond. I’m very aware of that power and so I focus that spotlight intentionally.

Authentic community journalism is dying. Nowadays many newspapers run click bait, canned copy, and reprinted press releases. There’s no deep-dive. There’s no nuance. There is no originality. Most newspaper copy is either so short that you get half the story or it’s so vague that it reads like an encyclopedia entry. In this regard, I’m unwilling to follow the pack.

I used to adore my Sunday newspaper. I’d spread it out and savor it for hours. I’d do a quick flip through and find the three articles I was most interested in and I’d read those first. Then, I’d pull out the arts and entertainment section and circle things I wanted to do. Then, I’d clip out the book reviews that piqued my interest. Finally, I’d do the crossword and clip coupons. I could make half a day out of it. Now, it’s just not the same. I keep buying it out of habit but I’m almost always disappointed.

And with AI now being embraced in many newsrooms across the globe, I fear less and less small-batch, hand-crafted copy gets written. My goal is to write stories that feel like the Sunday newspaper.

So I’m going to choose to be sassy and unpredictable like my “distant cousin” Dolly. I’m going to go the exact opposite direction of most community newspapers. I’m going to write fewer but better pieces. Just like Dolly, I’m gonna follow wherever my interests lead me and tell stories that highlight the creativity, innovation, and sense of community that make small towns thrive. I’m going to focus on stories that raise the vibration of this amazing little town, the State of Tennessee, and beyond.

I’m going to write from the most authentic place I know, my front row seat right here in Lynchburg, Tenn. Maybe just being unapologetically myself like Dolly, will work for me too. Hey, it could run in the family.•

{The Lynchburg Times is an independently-owned, community newspaper located in Lynchburg, Tennessee the home of The Jack Daniel Distillery. We focus on public service, non-partisan, rural journalism. We cover the Metro Moore County government, local tourism, Moore County schools, high school sports, Motlow State Community College, as well as whiskey industry news and regional and state stories that affect our readers.}