Just when it seemed Hopewell Day and its famous hash and gospel singin’ couldn’t get any greater, on the day the celebration turned 100, there was talk of Dolly Parton.
Her name, anyway. People who possibly could be cousins of Parton were there sopping up hash juice with a slice of Merita Old Fashioned white bread.
Diane Howell brought it up first during Big Wednesday Hopewell Day in western York County, just outside Hickory Grove, population 502.
“Ask Melvin about Dolly Parton,” Diane said of her husband, a York County judge.
She pointed toward a grove of hickories. “He said her family lived right down that dirt road.”
Steve Boyd, retired York football coach, who has been going to Hopewell Day for six decades, brought his family as he always does. Boyd said, “First I ever heard that one.”
Down past the Hopewell schoolhouse, where the gospel music could be heard through the open windows, hundreds clapped and sang as they perched on metal folding chairs.
At the big iron pots where the hash had cooked to raise money to preserve the building and its history, Howell said it was true.
Dolly Parton, one of the most famous and recognized female country singers ever – known for the movie “9 to 5” and songs such as “Islands in the Stream” – had kin who ate Hopewell hash and sang the same songs sung Wednesday.
No one claimed direct kinship.
“Dolly Parton’s family had a house right down the road,” Howell said. “One time years ago, she came back to see where it was.”
Without question, Parton’s mother was born a few miles away in Lockhart on the border of York and Union counties along the Broad River.
Joe Russell, 83, who lives down the road and has attended Hopewell Day every year for 80 years, except when fighting in the Korean War, said the Dolly Parton legend is true.
“I knew the family,” Russell said. “Dolly Parton’s family – they sure did have a place here.”
But what united people Wednesday was not Dolly Parton. It was the people who were present. Generations of families, dozens and scores, arrived with folding chairs, hunger for hash and to sing the old-time gospel music.
Allen Shore came from Rock Hill and brought his grandkids.
“Fourth generation to come here and be a part of it,” Shore said.
Men and women sang the songs and ate the hash and talked. They caught up. What used to be called “visitin.’
Nobody rushed. Nobody ran. Everybody smiled.
There has been some talk about moving the annual event to a Saturday, so more people can volunteer and attend.
But when the hash – cooked in three giant iron pots, so big a tractor is used to move them – sold out before 11 a.m., that talk ended, at least for now.
No one knows if Dolly will attend the 101st Hopewell Day next year, but the consensus was clear: Dolly Parton sure is welcome, and they’d love to have her sing.