As I have said in other blog entries, returning to the United States in 1979 after spending three years in Germany was like stepping out of a time machine and leaving 1916 to appear in 2016.
In the United States, video games were new, fast-food restaurants were everywhere and there was more than ONE channel on the television.
My first full day back in the states was a Friday. How in the world could I remember that fact more than 36 years later? Simple…My cousins sat me down that evening to watch The Dukes of Hazzard on CBS.
I was very reluctant at first to take a seat in front of the television with them that night. I knew that being a “duke” involved the British monarchy, and that was the last thing I wanted to do after spending the last three years confined to Central Europe.
And then, with the twang of an electric guitar lick, it began. I spent the next 60 minutes asking my cousins all sorts of questions about the show – and getting few answers during the commercial breaks.
I tried to catch the previous episodes during the re-run season, and remained a faithful follower of the show through the remainder of the Dukes’ seven seasons on television – even during the infamous “Coy and Vance” period. It was a show like no other before it, and although many have tried to recapture the “lightning in a bottle” the show produced, nothing has come close since then.
Now, let’s fast-forward to the mid-1990s.
I was selling Internet service at Rivergate Mall in a northern suburb of Nashville, Tenn., in 1996. My job involved selling dial-up and ISDN Internet connections to people wandering through the mall on their way to purchase an Orange Julius smoothie.
The Internet of 1996 had only recently been expanded thanks to the World Wide Web, and more people were anxious to try it out. So, to help feed their need, we sold a floppy disk with setup programs to install our dial-up service onto the beige boxes in Grandma’s kitchen across the country.
Internet In A Mall will probably be the topic of a future Retroist Blog offering, but I included it here because it was the catalyst to this entire story.
Two of my first Internet customers were a woman named Jett Williams and her husband, Keith Adkinson. After purchasing our service, they offered to pay for my time if I could drive out to their home and install their software. With nothing on my calendar, and the prospect of newly-acquired pizza money in my pocket, I agreed.
When I arrived at their country home, I quickly realized things were not as they appeared. It turns out that Jett is the daughter of country music legend Hank Williams, and half-sister to Bocephus himself, Hank Williams Jr. She has an amazing story, and I’d recommend checking out the Wikipedia listing about her to learn more.
After hooking up their Internet, they were pleased with the job, I was asked to create a website for her and some other tech stuff. I accepted, and they invited me to listen to Jett perform the next night at the famous Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge in Nashville – located at the back door of the original home of the Grand Ol’ Opry, the Ryman Auditorium.
My boss, Dennis Thibodeaux, and I both went to the show together. We found a table in the back and proceeded to enjoy a couple adult beverages when a blonde female approached us and asked if she could sit in the empty seat at our table.
We graciously asked her to join us and introduced ourselves.
“Hello, my name is Stella. Stella Parton.”
My lower jaw fell open and I’m sure it was far from indiscreet.
“You mean like the Stella Parton from the Dukes of Hazzard television show?” I asked, while stumbling over every word.
“Darling, I want to hug your neck,” Stella said. “”It seems like everyone’s first sentence to me is to ask about my sister Dolly when I first meet them, but you’re one of the first to mention my own career..!”
Yes, friends…I was sipping an adult beverage in a Nashville honky-tonk with the beautiful sister of Dolly Parton, an actress who appeared on one of my favorite TV shows, and a well-known country entertainer.
It turns out that Stella and Jett were friends and she was at Tootsie’s to hear Ms. Williams perform. I didn’t waste the opportunity, and she happily answered questions from me between performances.
Stella appeared in Season 1, Episode 10 “Deputy Dukes” which aired April 13, 1979. She played Mary Beth Malone – a ruthless criminal who sees the error of her ways by the end of the episode.
I asked about Denver (Uncle Jessie) Pyle, and she said he was funny, smart and a delight to work with. She said the same about her scenes with James (Rosco) Best, Tom (Luke) Wopat and John (Bo) Schneider.
Our evening together ended with Jett’s rendition of her father’s hit song, “Your Cheating Heart” and Stella Parton gave me another big hug before we parted ways. She autographed the label from her beer and gave it to me before leaving.
Stella has made other television appearances through the years, and has received several awards during her singing career.
But, I will always remember her for the hugs and kind words – just because I remembered her as my favorite Duke…