My family vacationed to the Great Smokey Mountains of Tennesee and North Carolina long before grandkids were ever in the picture. When my cousin and I came along, we typically went at least twice a year during my adolescence. Many sites were a ‘must see’ for my grandparents. Our summer or spring trips included a stream or creek in Cherokee where (we) the kids could play, and the Apple Barn was a must during the fall trips. My grandfather was also one of the two million visitors a year that wanted to ride through the scenic views (to see a wild animal or two or gaze at the sites) in the Tennessee section of the Great Smokey Mountains National Park; specifically in Cades Cove. A favorite thing to do in the isolated valley is to walk to one of the reasons Cades Cove is on the National Registry of Historic Places. Cades Cove houses a collection of preserved homesteads inhabited by numerous settlers in the 18th century. I vividly remember walking to count the length of the support beams of a porch with my grandfather and us both being amazed at the at least 200-year-old home.
Cades Cove and Cherokee weren’t the only things that had our attention on almost every trip. Dolly Parton had our attention time and time again. Before you start thinking negatively of me, we didn’t try to see Dolly because of her beauty or follow her around paparazzi style; we went to Dollywood. Oh, you didn’t know Dolly Parton had a theme park? The small park was a local tourist attraction nestled in the Knoxville-Smoky Mountains of Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, called Rebel Railroad when it opened in the 1960s. By the time it was purchased by the Herschend’s in the 1970s, they put a million dollars worth of improvements on the place and named it “Silver Dollar City Tennessee” to be a sister park to their “Silver Dollar City” park in Branson, Missouri. For about ten years, the Herschends made improvements to the park, but it wasn’t until Dolly bought an interest in the park that she insisted that the park re-open for the 1986 season named ‘Dollywood.’
Dollywood’s growth has allowed the park to become the largest employer in the community. Along with regular workers, Dolly brings in entertainers. I remember attending many concerts over the years at Dollywood. From small bluegrass performers to country music legends like Tonya Tucker. One performer whose performance stuck out to me was the talented banjo player and humorist Mike Snider. Mike famously won the 1983 National Banjo Championship a year before being asked to play the Grand Olde Opry (the preeminent country music concert venue), later becoming a member (an extremely prestigious honor in the American Country Music world). He performed at Opryland (a theme park located in Nashville, Tennessee) until it closed in 1997 while he was a cast member on the popular variety show, Hee-Haw.
But it was one of those random mountain trips of my youth, at one of his performances in Dollywood where he told a joke that would stick with me for years. It wasn’t because it was necessarily the funniest joke I had ever heard. It wasn’t even his Tennessee mountain comedic delivery that stuck in my memory. Pure and simple – I was too young to understand the joke. The joke’s premise was a lazy mountain man is nagged by his wife to fix their outhouse, and he keeps making elaborate improvements to fix it, but she keeps telling him that he hasn’t yet. So at the end of the joke, he sticks his head down inside the hole to see what is wrong; his wife walks up and spooks him. When he pulls his head up, a couple of his beard hairs get caught in a crack in the seat. He said, ‘dag blame that hurts.’ She comes back with, ‘it’s aggravating ain’t it.’ Everyone laughs and of course, I did too, but in my youth, all I could wonder was why the woman had a beard. Why was she putting her head down in the hole? Why was that so funny? I thought about this joke for YEARS. I listened to him tell the joke again and again. Each time we saw him perform, I laughed again. I watched him tell it again on television. I listened to the cassette. I still had no idea. It wasn’t until many years later, when the joke came to my mind again, that I finally got it. When I got it, I was so embarrassed that it had taken me that long to figure it out; but I was a naive little kid when I first heard that joke.
Now that I am older, that joke still comes to my mind from time to time. The delivery is still funny, and the punchline is too. But now I laugh at myself also. Laugh at my childlike naivety and all the time that I secretly didn’t get the joke.
Dollywood 2014 image by Kris Harris King – CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=31771484
Mike snider performing image by Cliff from Arlington, Virginia, USA – Mike SniderUploaded by AlbertHerring, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29546746
Mountain images – Own work.