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Life wasn’t easy for Dolly Parton and her family growing up in the mountains of East Tennessee. Every year, with no electricity or running water, Parton’s mother worried about if her family would survive the harsh winter. But the rest of the year wasn’t a walk in the park, either. In an interview the “9 to 5” singer did with Playboy Magazine back in 1978, Parton opened up about two separate times her mother almost died when she was a child.

Dolly Parton looking reflective on stage in a purple dress.
Dolly Parton | Richard E. Aaron/Redferns

Dolly Parton’s mother was ‘always pregnant’ and ‘rundown sick’

Parton is one of 12 kids. Growing up, she felt like her mother was constantly having children.

“Momma had kids all the time—she had one on her and one in her,” she told the interviewer, according to the book Dolly on Dolly: Interviews and Encounters with Dolly Parton. “She was always pregnant, and the time she wasn’t pregnant, she was just really rundown sick, and back then, you didn’t have doctors that much.”

When Parton was about 11 years old, her mother had spinal meningitis. The doctor told the family that “there was no way she could live.”

“He told Daddy and my grandma she wouldn’t live through the night,” said Parton. “So they had church that night and they prayed all night. They packed Momma in ice, her fever was way past where it would do brain damage, and the next mornin’, when the doctor came in, Momma was sittin’ up in bed, kickin’ her foot—Momma always kicked her foot, like I do, it’s a rhythm thing. The doctor came in and she said, ‘I’ve been healed.’ And he said, ‘You sure have been healed, there’s been a miracle happened here.'”

The doctor wasn’t able to explain what had happened. According to the “Jolene” singer, the only way her mother was, seemingly, affected by the incident was that she became deaf in one ear — “which just made her talk louder.”

When Dolly Parton’s mother had a miscarriage

Another incident that stood out to Parton growing up was the time her mother had a miscarriage. It happened during Parton’s first year of school.

“The way we got to school was we walked to this green barn,” she said. “The man who owned that property had some bulls and they were mean. We had to walk along the fence row to get to school, and if the bulls would start out for us, we’d just roll under the fence.”


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Parton’s mother was at home with her two young children, who were 2 and 3 years old at the time, when she started to have a miscarriage.

“Momma knew she was gonna die if somebody didn’t do somethin’ for her,” said Parton. “So she told my little brother and sister what they had to do: ‘Now, you get your stick and go to the schoolhouse and get the kids, because Momma’s sick. You take the stick and walk along the fence and if the bulls start after you, just roll under the fence or just hit ’em with the stick.'”

‘Let’s go, Momma’s sick’

Parton’s youngest siblings eventually made their way to the schoolhouse.

“We were in the middle of class and these two little kids . . . it was just so sad, there’s a lot of things that almost make you cry,” said Parton. “My little brother stuttered a lot and he couldn’t talk good. The other kid couldn’t even talk at all yet.”

Even though the youngest Partons couldn’t communicate what was going on, the “Dumb Blonde” singer’s older sister, Willadeene, knew exactly what was happening.

“She jumped up and grabbed the rest of us and said, ‘Let’s go, Momma’s sick.'”

So they all ran home. Parton’s older brothers split off to find help. They found it from their neighbors (who they had a feud with).

“It was kinda like the Hatfields and the McCoys,” said Parton. “But they were good that time; it was just God’s will, I guess.”