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Dolly Parton grew up in a one-bedroom cabin along with her 11 brothers and sisters in the mountains of East Tennessee. The Parton home didn’t have electricity or running water. The winters, especially, were tough. Through the years, the “9 to 5” singer has opened up about what it was like living through the harsh winters as a little girl. It was so cold that, most nights, the only bit of warmth she and her siblings would experience was when one of the young kids would wet the bed.

Dolly Parton sitting playing guitar in a white dress.
Dolly Parton | Craig Sjodin/Walt Disney Television via Getty Images

How Dolly Parton and her family got through the winter

Parton and her siblings slept with their clothes on during the colder months.

“You had to sleep dressed,” she wrote in her 2020 book, Dolly Parton, Songteller: My Life in Lyrics. “Daddy wouldn’t let us get up until he’d built a fire and had it going. I remember us saying, ‘Daddy, is the fire hot?’ We had to wait.”

It wasn’t uncommon for snow to get into the house through the cracks in the walls. It would get so cold that the family would have to thaw water to use “from the water bucket in the kitchen.”

According to an interview Parton did with Playboy Magazine in 1978, bathing went like this:

“In the wintertime, we just had a pan of water and we’d wash down as far as possible, and we’d wash up as far as possible,” she said. “Then, when somebody’d clear the room, we’d wash possible.”

Bathing was an everyday occurrence in the winter because Parton and her siblings would “pee the bed and then go to school with those clothes on.”

“I had to take a bath every night to be clean, ’cause the kids peed on me every night and we all slept three or four in a bed,” she told the magazine. “As soon as I’d go to bed, the kids would wet on me. That was the only warm thing we knew in the wintertime. That was our most pleasure—to get peed on. If you could just not fan the cover. If you kept the air out from under the cover, the pee didn’t get so cold. When you started fanning that cover, then it got bad, cold. Lord, it was as cold in the room where we slept as it was outside. We’d bundle up to go to bed.”

The pressure of the winter on Dolly Parton’s parents

Parton recalls her mother always falling ill toward the end of the fall. Looking back, she understands that she was worried about the upcoming winter.

“I remember Mom used to get depressed,” wrote Parton in her book. “We didn’t understand that until we were older. Every fall, she was thinking about winter coming on, not knowing if we were going to get sick and die. And Mama would always be in sickness.”


Dolly Parton Wanted 6 Children When She Was 21

The Queen of Country knows she and her siblings wouldn’t have survived the winters without the devotion of her hard-working parents.

“It’s never easy, no matter where you grow up,” she wrote. “But to really maneuver that brood of kids, in that part of the world, with no real money coming in, just trying to survive without dying in the winter of pneumonia or worse, it’s a lot to think about, a lot to write about, a lot to be grateful for. I think about my mom and dad all the time.”