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Dolly Parton had a Smoky Mountain childhood, catching June Bugs with friends and even reading the newspaper that functioned as wallpaper in new homes. Here’s what we learned from Dolly: My Life and Other Unfinished Business.

Dolly Parton created her own toys growing up according to ‘Dolly: My Life and Other Unfinished Business’

Dolly Parton performs on stage at Rod Laver Arena
Dolly Parton performs on stage at Rod Laver Arena | Graham Denholm/Getty Images

She’s the artist behind “9 to 5,” “Jolene,” and other hits. Before she was the “Queen of Country,” Parton grew up with her 11 siblings in Tennessee. With her father working as a sharecropper, this artist has several country-themed childhood stories, most of which were detailed in Dolly: My Life and Other Unfinished Business.

“I can remember being excited when we would move into a new house because there would be new newspapers on the walls,” Parton wrote. “Poor folks would use newspapers like wallpaper. They helped to seal the cracks and make the house warmer in the winter, but to us kids they were something new to read and new pictures to look at.”

With such a large family, Parton was “forced to be creative” — in ways that Nintendo can’t compare. She made a doll out of a corncob named Tiny Tasseltop, with two eyes burned in with a poker. It was this handmade toy that inspired one of Parton’s first original songs.

“Little Tiny Tasseltop, I love you an awful lot,” Parton sang, as stated in the memoir. “Corn silk hair and big brown eyes / How you make me smile. Little Tiny Tasseltop, / You’re the only friend I’ve got / Hope you’ll never go away / I want you to stay. “

Dolly Parton would make jewelry out of berry juice

Growing up near a mountain, Parton described finding a plant that they called “poke sallett.” The green leaves were edible, although she was rarely hungry enough to pluck them off and eat.

“The most fun for us kids were the pokeberries that grew on the stem of the plant,” Parton wrote. “They are dark purple, and when you mash them, the juice is like a dye. We used to paint our skin with pokeberries so that it looked like we were wearing bracelets or wristwatches.” 

She continued, writing that as a child, she would sometimes paint “Jesus sandals” onto her feet, often dressing up “in gunnysacks for robes and carry tobacco stakes as our walking sticks” to pretend that she was a disciple or other biblical character with her friends.  


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Dolly Parton detailed other childhood experiences in her 1994 memoir

As another DIY activity, Parton shared that she would tie June Bugs to strings, with kids calling the creatures their “‘lectric kites.”

The artist wrote that sometimes, “you could just fantasize about him being able to lift you right off the ground to where you could soar up among the clouds and look down at the trees and the fields.”

Fans can learn more about Parton’s childhood memories with Dolly: My Life and Other Unfinished Business.