Dolly Parton grew up poor in east Tennessee with 11 siblings.
Though they were never rich in material items, Dolly always says her family was rich in the things that really matter, like love and happiness.
They were a typical family from that area, who lived simply and attended church every Sunday. Dolly’s grandfather, Jake Owens, was the preacher at a small church in the mountains, where she went every week growing up.
According to an old Rolling Stone interview from 1977, she says when she was younger she was often not overly entertained there, and some of the local boys would come peek through the window and try to get her to come outside.
In typical, hilarious, Dolly fashion, she would always play along:
“Sometimes I would go to church just to see who would walk me home.”
With all that being said, the nature of the sermons were typically fire and brimstone, depressing kinds of messages, and Dolly said her family was pretty strict in terms of how they followed the Bible and what they believed.
Which means that her parents, well, her mom really, were teetotalers who didn’t drink alcohol. And honestly, that’s not all that uncommon in rural parts of the south. More common than that though, are people who say they don’t drink in mixed company but actually do enjoy a strong glass of whiskey every now and then.
Her mom, who was a very strict Christian, hated that he did that:
“My daddy made moonshine for a while, and Mama didn’t like that.
He didn’t really want to do it, but people make moonshine in the mountains because they need the income. So Daddy did that for a time, and so did a lot of my relatives.”
And that sort of thing is another trade that’s really not all that uncommon. Though it’s less and less popular in today’s day and age, because you can legally buy alcohol at liquor stores now, tons of people did it illegally in the mountains of east Tennessee and western North Carolina during prohibition, mainly.
This ultimately led Dolly and her siblings to be even more curious about it, so one Sunday, they stole some of their dad’s whiskey and drank it… get this… on their way to church. Somehow, neither one of their parents ever found out about it.
And apparently, just a taste of it wasn’t enough. Some of Dolly’s brothers, along with an older brother of one of their friends, decided to set up their own still and used their mom’s fruit jars to store it.
Eventually, their dad did find out about that, and put a stop to it immediately, according to a passage in the book Smart Blonde: The Life of Dolly Parton:
“The scheme had been concocted with the older brother of a friend who could see its commercial possibilities and was happy to provide technical advice and assistance in constructing the still.
The girls were also struck by the fact that the boys were carrying on some of the coarser customs just like the men, chewing tobacco, spitting, and cursing.”
Dolly even wrote a song called “Daddy’s Moonshine Still” that was included on her 1971 album, Joshua, and was inspired by her experience growing up: