By Kesley Colbert
No attempt at humor today.
As the immortal Luke the Drifter wrote many years ago, “A light has gone out….” To paraphrase Edwin Stanton’s profound statement as President Abraham Lincoln drew his last breath, “Now, SHE belongs to the ages.”
Loretta Lynn died early Tuesday morning, October 4th.
This is one of those occasions where I wish I had just a lick of real writing ability. There is no way I can convey to you my loss, the personal pain or just how special Loretta Lynn was in the life of a country boy who grew up out at the end of Stonewall Street….
We were dirt poor when it came to money back in those days. We literally counted our pennies. “How much does it cost” always came first at everything we looked at or wished we had. We ate collards, pinto beans and cornbread. Leon “tested” every shirt, pair of pants and shoes I eventually had to wear.
But Loretta Lynn grew up poorer than us.
We were country from our red necks down to our bare feet. We listened to Ernest Tubb, Red Foley and Little Jimmy Dickens on the radio. We pronounced fire like it had an “a” in it. Chair sounded a bit like “cheer.” We wore “overHalls” instead of overalls. We picked cotton, kept dogs on the porch and had to walk to town.
But Loretta Lynn was more country than us.
Our Dad drove a truck for a living. He worked harder every day than most any man I’ve ever known. He would come home after fighting a load of hogs all the way down to Tupelo and hop out of that 1947 International and work in the garden till it was so dark you couldn’t see.
But Loretta Lynn’s father worked even harder than Dad.
I was 13 years old in 1960 when I first heard her voice. She was singing, “I’m a Honky Tonk Girl.” To say I was mesmerized would be the classic understatement. She could sing better than Kitty Wells, which was “some more” feat in that day and age. And so what if she didn’t have the sophisticated voice of Patsy Cline….she sounded more like us.
Somehow that instantly connected with me. And a love affair was born. That, I can promise you, death cannot destroy.
I don’t know how you “pick” someone to idolize. We’d go to those western movies as kids and some of us liked Roy more than Gene, or some would choose Lash LaRue over Whip Wilson….or vice versa.
It was the same with baseball. We’d sit on the steps up at Woodrow Kennon’s Grocery Store and argue over who was the better centerfielder, Mickey Mantle or Willie Mays. Or who was the best hitter or the best pitcher or the fastest runner.
Everyone had a favorite.
My heart picked Loretta Lynn. And it has never wavered.
You talk about being honest! Her husband would stay out late at night drinking and running around. Loretta wrote a number one country hit “Don’t Come Home a Drinking with Loving on Your Mind.” When other women hung around Mr. Lynn maybe just a trifling too long, she had another hit with “You Ain’t Woman Enough to Take My Man.”
And, of course, her autobiographical, “Coal Miner’s Daughter” told a story that resonates with every person in the world that grew up in places like the end of Stonewall Street.
The first real girlfriend I ever had looked through my billfold and laughed when she discovered the only picture I carried in it was Loretta Lynn. I quit her on the spot. My first wife has spent 48 years telling everyone she comes in a “close” second to Loretta Lynn. That may not be exactly true, but I don’t discourage her from saying it.
I spent a magical summer in 1968 working at the Grand Ole Opry. I got to see all the country music stars up close and personal. And let me tell you, there were a lot of nice folks there…..but Loretta topped them all! By a country mile! She was just the absolutely most genuine, sincere and nicest, down-to-earth person I’ve ever seen.
She was way better than I had even imagined!
And you can bet your last dollar I told her I loved her just as soon as I got the chance! She gave me a hug, laughed and said, “I appreciate that son.”
It was a match made in Heaven.
I could go on….and on. But you get the message. And I’ve got to stop. The light in here seems a bit dim. And water from somewhere keeps dropping on my paper as I write.
I’ve been singing an old Johnny Tillotson song over and over for the past week. It is not some kind of tribute to Loretta. It’s about the way I feel tonight, “and it keeps right on a-hurtin’ since you’re gone…”
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