If there’s anyone who has always seemed destined for greatness, it’s Dolly Parton. The country legend, now 74, has touched countless lives over the years since her humble beginnings as a bluegrass performer and songwriter in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee.
In Parton’s new memoir, Dolly Parton, Songteller: My Life In Lyrics, which she wrote alongside Robert K. Oermann, she reveals that at least one person saw the icon’s future unfolding long before she shot to stardom.
Parton penned ‘These Old Bones’ in honor of a memory from her childhood
Dolly Parton, Songteller: My Life in Lyrics tells Parton’s life story through the many songs she’s written over the years. In the chapter about “These Old Bones” – a song Parton recorded for her 2002 album Halos and Horns and for her 2019 Netflix anthology series Heartstrings (starring Kathleen Turner and Ginnifer Goodwin) – Parton reflects on her inspiration for the piece.
“There were always those old people in the mountains who were clairvoyant or who could prophesize,” Parton writes. For “These Old Bones,” Parton wanted to conjure an image of an older woman who was both ostracized and beloved for her rare gift of prophecy and revelations.
In lines like “These old bones will tell your story/These old bones will never lie,” as well as “Some called her witchy woman/Some said she was insane/Some said she was a prophet/Still everybody came,” the songwriter paints a picture of someone who was firmly planted in who she was.
What’s more, Stella Parton said her sister Dolly sounded identical to their mother when she sang the piece, giving it a haunting feel that evoked childhood memories.
The country legend said clairvoyance ran in her family
For Parton, the beauty and mystery of clairvoyance runs close to home.
“That kind of gift runs in our family,” she writes in her memoir. In fact, Parton claims her mother, Avie Lee Parton, had frequent visions that turned out to be true.
On one occasion, Parton writes in Songteller, her mother demanded to head over to Cove Bridge. She claimed to have a vision that Parton’s brother, Denver Parton, had been in a car wreck. Finally her father, Robert Lee Parton, reluctantly agreed to visit the bridge – although he was skeptical about his wife’s claims.
But according to the songwriter, the vision had unfortunately been crystal-clear.
“So they went over to Cove Bridge, and my brother had wrecked there,” Parton writes. “The wheels were still spinning, that’s how fresh it was. He laid in the hospital for a year with every bone in his body broke. But my mother had a premonition.”
A relative of Parton’s had a prophecy about the singer as a child
Outside of Parton’s own mother, the character in “These Old Bones” was also based loosely on a relative who once had a prophecy about the country icon herself as a young girl.
When she was growing up in the Smoky Mountains, the unnamed woman – who was part of the singer’s church congregation – had a premonition that Parton would do great things for years to come.
“She laid her hands on me and said, ‘This child is anointed,’” Parton said of the mysterious, magical moment. “I was little, so I said, ‘Mama, what does ‘anointed’ mean?’ She said, ‘That probably means that you’re going to do great things for the Lord and do good things in life.’”
Obviously, that vision came to pass – and then some.
The relative’s vision shaped Parton’s ‘calling’ in life
The vision of Parton’s “anointing” guided many of her actions in life, according to Guideposts.
In a 2019 roundtable discussion about Heartstrings, Parton explained that the older woman’s prediction about her future changed her relationship with God. She felt more responsible than ever to make something out of her life.
“That triggered a faith in me,” Parton said of the vision, “because I believe that I was supposed to do something good…I never let go of that because I always felt responsible to God that I was supposed to be doing something for God. And so I still feel like that. And I’m still doing it. Trying to.”
Parton also said that the vision had imbued her with a deep sense of purpose over the years, encouraging her never to give up. After all, she didn’t feel she could, even if she wanted to.
“I really feel like I have a calling,” Parton revealed at the roundtable discussion. “I feel like God had told me early on in a feeling that I was supposed to go till He told me to stop and He said nothing yet about quitting. And so I ain’t said nothing about retiring yet.”
Instead, Parton felt that tenacity and perseverance were now woven into her destiny. At 74, the icon is still going strong in her career – making sure her relative’s vision comes true.