People draw inspiration in life from all sorts of things. Some of us find inspiration in places. Some draw inspiration from things, rituals, music and the written word. Allen Lamb has found inspiration in life – ever since his growing up years — in a person: Dolly Parton. Her positive attitude, kindness, sense of humor and songs that speak to his heart have encouraged him daily, including through challenging health conditions that he struggles with today. Despite battling congestive heart failure, kidney failure, COPD and living with HIV/Aids, he is inspired every day to bless as many friends and neighbors as possible with random acts of kindness due to Dolly’s profound influence on his life.
Whether it’s cooking and delivering a home-cooked meal, delivering an unexpected bouquet of flowers, cutting someone’s grass or in their yard or surprising a neighbor with a “just because” gift of candy, his quest is to spread joy and love by blessing as many people as he can.
Hundreds of lives who have been on the receiving end of his “Dolly-inspired” (and God-inspired) grace are, no doubt, unaware of the challenges he faces. I met up with him this week at his family’s Brevard home to learn how he maintains his upbeat attitude in the face of adversity.
What was the last nice thing you did for someone?
There was a lady I’ve seen walking back and forth to work for over a week near my house. I asked her what happened to her car, and she said it had a flat tire and she didn’t have the funds to pay for getting it fixed. So today I went and got a replacement tire and put it on her car.
It didn’t cost me that much and it makes me glad that she’s safe and doesn’t have to struggle.
How do you stay so positive through all your health struggles?
I do a lot of talking to God. I don’t focus on what’s going on with me. Instead, I look and talk and listen to everyone around me. And by doing this, I see this person needs a meal or this one needs some work done. Or another person needs a tire and this one needs to talk. This other one needs a smile. Whatever the need, I want to be part of the solution.
You have such a loving positive outlook.
You have a choice to be happy or be miserable. I rely on the love of God to keep me going. I want to shine.
God also works through Dolly in my life. I listen to her words and her life stories and it resonates with my spirit and soul. That’s what I get from her.
On a practical level, what kind of health issues do you deal with on a daily basis?
Besides taking loads of pills each day, I have to watch my fluid intake and food intake. I also spend 13 hours every night being attached to a dialysis machine as my kidneys only function at 7 percent capacity.
How do you manage to have the stamina to do all these charitable acts that you do, given how sick you are?
It’s all God — working with, on and for me.
Did it scare you the first time you were told you have HIV/Aids?
I just kept looking in the mirror saying to myself, “I can’t believe you have this” over and over again for a month. Then I got up and started to educate myself about it.
Is there anything you want people to know about living with HIV/Aids?
Mentally, it’s a hard disease to deal with. Anyone who has it thinks people are judging them or they are scared of them. They carry that burden alone. It was mentally hard at first. Now, I don’t let it bother me. I’m a normal person.
How do you deal with unkind people?
I let them do and say what they want. I listen. Either I can help, or I walk away. Some people you can’t help.
Have you ever experienced rejection when people find out you have HIV/Aids?
I never give anyone that kind of power over me. If they have a problem with it, that’s their problem. I’m okay with me.
How many Dolly Parton items of memorabilia do you own?
I have eight items right now. My favorite is a Dolly mug with her quote: “Find out who you are, and do it on purpose.”
Where did you grow up?
East Flat Rock, N.C.
Did you have a family nickname growing up?
Lucky. It’s not a nickname, but my real middle name. My dad drank Lucky Lager beer and that’s how I got it.
What was a rule you hated when you were a kid?
I actually loved following the rules when I was little.
What did you do in your professional work life when you worked?
I was a manager of fast food restaurants (McDonald’s, Hardee’s) and also did cleaning of banks and commercial buildings. I also spent 22 years doing landscaping.
What’s your favorite way to spend free time?
Doing as many blessings as possible for people, so I can lighten burdens.
Ever had a brush with a celebrity?
Yes, Madonna in 1983 at a bar in New Orleans. I was dancing by myself and Madonna walked in and asked if she could dance with me. And, she did. This was before she became famous.
What’s your favorite movie of all time?
“9 to 5.” It’s funny and empowering, and Dolly is in it.
What’s something not many people would know about you?
I once worked for seven military generals at Camp Lejeune (in Jacksonville, N.C.) maintaining their yards and flower beds. I also went to Chicago and did some landscape work for the Obamas. I even got a Christmas card from the Obama family.
Are you a cook and where did you learn to cook?
I learned from Ina Gardner when I was friends with her husband, Jeffrey, back in the early 1980s. I met her and was able to watch her cook in the kitchen. Also, my Aunt Georgia taught me Southern cooking while growing up (biscuits, red-eye gravy and chicken soup). They both taught me how to always make things my own.
Have you ever won anything?
In 1990 I won a Halloween costume contest at the McDonald’s where I worked dressing up like Dolly Parton. My sister Lisa made me a burgundy satin butterfly dress. I wore a wig, makeup, false eye lashes and nails, and 5-inch heels. My “boobs” were 7 inches of cut-out foam rubber. I worked all day like that and my feet were killing me at the end of the day. But I won and got free food for a month.
What’s your worst habit?
But you shouldn’t be smoking, as sick as you are.
Yes, I should quit. I’ve tried. I’ll have to quit at some point in my life, whether I want to or not.
If you were to write a book, what would it be called?“
“Looking Up: How to Turn Lessons into Blessings, Even in Hard Times”
What are you most proud of in your life?
My relationship with God. I talk to him several times a day and always thank him for my life.
If you could meet one celebrity, who would it be?
Dolly, of course. I would tell her thank you for letting the light shine through, because it’s helped guide me through the dark.
My self-admitted most annoying habit, according to family and friends?
I like to clean the house way too much. They say I have OCD,
What’s your dream road trip destination?
If you could trade lives with someone, who would it be?
A homeless person.
Why a homeless person?
So I can experience their hardship and know what it’s like for them. And they can experience my life and receive a blessing.
What’s the biggest misconception people have about you?
They don’t really know how sick I am.
What’s the best meal you’ve ever eaten?
The shrimp at Brevard Diner. Their grilled chicken and pork chops are awesome, too.
What’s the best gift you’ve ever received?
Acceptance for being me.
What’s one thing you want to do before you get too old?
Be able to be out there and be seen in my hometown in a positive way.
What would you say is your life’s motto?
Keep looking up.
Do you have a friend or neighbor whom you would like to nominate for Transylvanian of the Week?
Go to www.ILoveBrevardBlog.com/contact and let me know who/what/why/where/etc.
Ann Sharpsteen is a licensed realtor with Sterling Real Estate Partners and offers free home appraisals for select property listings.
She can be reached at (828) 606-2141.
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