Loretta Lynn has had enough concentrated joy and pain for ten lifetimes, but she still possesses that resilient mountain spirit, blunt sense of humor and tenacious love of life that make their way into so many of her songs. When you are around her you cannot help but feel uplifted.
"What do you say we make some peanut butter fudge?" she says with a grin, bouncing up off the couch. She heads to her kitchen, which has a sign on the fridge: If Momma Ain't Happy, Ain't Nobody Happy.
"Now if you don't mind, I don't measure nothing," she says, dumping some sugar, butter and cocoa in a pot. As the fudge bubbles away, the stories start flowing. She comes from a long tradition of story-telling, so if you give her a few key words she will obligingly tell a satisfying yarn.
Mention her friend Tammy Wynette, for instance. "She and her husband wore fur coats in the summertime," Lynn says, reaching for some salt and throwing in a pinch. "They come to visit at our house in Hawaii, and the guy at the airport calls us and says, 'Loretta, there's a couple of people here that's fixed to come to your house. One's got his shirt unbuttoned to his navel and there's gold chains all the way down, and he's got a fur coat on. And the girl has a diamond on every finger, and she's got a fur coat on. What am I to do?'" She laughs. "I said, let them come. That's Tammy Wynette and George Richey.'" She raises an eyebrow. "George married one of the Dallas Cowgirls, one that was Tammy's friend. Same old stuff. Around and around and around."
Wynette always kept her beauty-operator license renewed just in case record sales ever dried up, and Lynn has the same practicality. Once you have been poor, she has said, it's always in the back of your mind that you're going to be poor again. "She won't throw anything away," says Patsy. "At concerts, when they bring her flowers, she makes her assistant Tim Cobb get the flowers and dry them out to make potpourri."
In the past couple of years, Lynn hasn't made any extravagant purchases, save for her own fur coat, which she wore exactly once. The real luxury, for her, is being able to stay home and enjoy her family, after years of being on the road sometimes for 200 nights a year. "What she desires," says Patsy, "is that Beaver Cleaver life. If my mom could go back thirty years, you probably wouldn't know her as the Loretta Lynn you know now. There's a sacrifice that she's made to do the things that she's done." She pauses. "She thinks she cheated us out of something, and what she gave us was everything. And she just doesn't know it."
This new domestic chapter of her life includes two male friends who visit occasionally. One is Pastor Murray, who preaches on television. She met him after Tim ordered some of his tapes from the TV. "He said, 'Well, is she there? Let me speak to her,'" recalls Lynn. "And he got on the phone and said, 'I'd sure like to meet you.'" She chuckles. "He's an old country boy."
Her other man friend is known simply as Wally, a widower who she met years ago. "Wally's really handsome," she says, "and the preacher is a great person, but I ain't got time for it." She puts her hands on her hips. "I've got to write songs and I've got to record them, and I've got things to do." She hands over a jar of Jif. "Put as much in there as you can," she instructs.
Her schedule may not be as crowded, but she still plans to work until she can work no more. A staff helps her run the Loretta Lynn Dude Ranch near her house, a vacation destination for some 300,000 people a year. It has an RV park, a motocross racetrack, a replica of her childhood cabin, Loretta's Western Store and the Loretta Lynn museum. She has a Christmas album in the works and has talked about doing some dates with Jack and the Van Lear band, after she shared a bill with the White Stripes at New York's Hammerstein Ballroom. "I haven't seen nobody work so hard onstage as Jack," she says. "He come off just wet. And Meg's a funny little girl, but man, can she play them drums."
Despite all the attention, Lynn hasn't mellowed. "I still hold grudges," she admits. "If you hold a grudge, you won't get hurt no more. I've got grudges you wouldn't believe." She throws the fudge into a tray, but to her dismay it has gotten hard and crumbly. "Well, shoot," she says. "My candy went to pot. Lord, have mercy on me." She sticks some spoons in the mixture and serves it up anyway. "Well, we invented something new," she announces cheerfully.
A few days later, a package arrives at my New York apartment. It contains a red-checked apron, a creamy block of peanut butter fudge and a note on LL-emblazoned stationery. "I wanted to send you some to show you how it's supposed to be!" she wrote. "Love you, Loretta Lynn."
This story is from the May 27, 2004 issue of Rolling Stone.
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