Back through the years...
A few months ago, I shared a song that is very special to me: Coat of Many Colors by the one and only Dolly Parton.
In a post I published back in July (Badass Bitches), I openly admitted to not being a country music fan growing up. However, there has always been something about Dolly and her music that creates a huge exception for the genre in my mind. With an incredibly warm heart, an unapologetic sense of self, an incredible voice and a magnificent talent for song writing, it is impossible not to like this woman and everything she stands for.
My introduction to Dolly began early in my childhood, when my parents would put on records from their collection featuring duets and solo recordings Dolly had done in the late 1960s and early 1970s. One of those songs was Coat of Many Colors, a song written and released by Dolly in 1971 when she was just 25 years old. The song is autobiographical and tells the true story about her less fortunate family being gifted a box of colourful rags, and how her mother decides to sew Dolly a coat from those rags.
My coat of many colors that my mama made for me/made only from rags, but I wore it so proudly/although we had no money, I was rich as I could be/in my coat of many colors/my mama made for me.
I always liked the song growing up, but it wasn’t until I heard it a few months ago for the first time in years that I realized the song’s brilliant, powerful and highly emotional message. I immediately burst into tears while listening to it. I couldn’t figure out why this three-minute ballad I’d heard so many times before could suddenly now turn me into a puddle on the floor.
Then, it hit me. Dolly’s memories in the song were triggering vivid memories of my own; memories of a little girl growing up in southern Saskatchewan in the mid-1990s with her family, who didn’t have a lot of money either.
My parents made the trek to Saskatchewan in 1995, in search of new opportunities. Both my parents worked hard at their full-time jobs in Swift Current; my mom worked at Zellers, while my dad was a gas station attendant at Transport City.
Trying to provide for four children making minimum wage was undoubtedly difficult. Still, my parents did everything in their power to make sure there was food on the table, clothing on our backs and happiness in our hearts.
I carry many wonderful memories of that era: spending hours in our basement playing sports or listening to music with my brother and sisters; enjoying endless summer days playing with my cousins at their farm or on the school playground; taking in the rodeo during Frontier Days in Swift Current; wonderful holiday gatherings filled with food, fun, and laughter.
My parents made life seem normal, fun, and full of warmth. They did such a good job of it that I had no idea that the dozens of bags of second-hand clothes that came to our door during those years were donated to us by community members who knew our family was in need. Each time a new one arrived, I excitedly tore through the bags with my siblings. We would try on each item and have our own little fashion show. I was thrilled to have these things, never giving a second thought to where they had come from and why.
I also recall how special I felt on Christmas morning 1998, when I woke up to find a brand new computer sitting on the kitchen table, complete with a box full of accompanying games. The device would provide my entire family with hours of entertainment for years. Well, I didn’t know it at the time, but that “brand new” computer was actually a 1984 Apple II given to us by the family of my classmate. Even though it was already 14 years old, it was new to us, and we couldn’t have been happier.
I felt so loved and well taken care of during those years that I was never aware of how limited our means truly were. Looking back now, I realize my parents often had to put on a brave face for their kids and accept help when it was offered. This couldn’t have been easy for them.
But they provided us with full, happy childhoods, ensuring we were rich in all the ways that mattered. For that, I am incredibly grateful.
So, when I hear Dolly chime, Although we had no money/ I was rich as I could be, I can’t help but be filled with emotion and remembrance, because that’s truly how I feel about those years.
Mom and Dad, thank you for everything. You taught me where true value lies, and the importance of always maintaining an open and thankful heart. These are lessons I have carried and will continue to carry for the rest of my life.