A Love Letter For Loretta

A pair of red cowgirl boots with butterflies stitched on them is standing in front of a door with a red-tipped cane between them.

Loretta Lynn’s passing has been a hard one. She’s always been there, like a soothing aunt I could go to when I’m homesick, need to do some housework, or when I feel like singing or crying my heart out.

Born in the early 70s, I was raised by a single dad in small town Georgia. He loved the honky tonk life and took my sisters and me to country music concerts. It was the Burt Reynolds era and he had a gold Trans Am with T-tops. He’d wear western shirts and blast an 8-track through the little town of Powder Springs. Although I was into pop and punk and wanted to be Cyndi Lauper, I felt right at home with old country. It was like a big ol hug that helped me forget the pain of my mom leaving us, because in country, everybody has sorrow.

My dad took us to see Coal Miner’s Daughter in the theater. I thought I knew Loretta after that. I learned every song on the soundtrack. I’d listen to that cassette in my bedroom, but also top 40. I didn’t want my friends to know I liked country. As Barbara Mandrell would say, I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool.

By the time I was in my rebellious teens, I discovered metal and I loved the identity it gave me. The costumes I wore were spandex, teased my hair, and now wanted to be Kelly Bundy. I could spend the night with my grandparents and watch The Ralph Emery Show with my PawPaw while eating parched peanuts and frozen Coke. Then my PawPaw would laugh and nudge me, like I was supposed to enjoy Shotgun Red, Ralph’s puppet, but I wasn’t a little kid anymore. I was a teen looking for identity.  I had this heavy metal Kelly Bundy façade to put on, so after the snacks were done, I’d pretend I was tired and go to bed.

Cut to adulthood, when I’m living in the big city of Los Angeles, I’d tried my hardest to cover my southern accent, but if I were tired or talked to certain people, it would slide right out and I wouldn’t notice. But they would. I was trying to become someone I’m not. A big city woman who ate sushi, wore heels, and got regular massages.

One Sunday doing housework, I decided to revisit Loretta and old country.  I felt like I was doing dishes with my MawMaw. It took me right back to her kitchen, the smell of Dawn detergent, her soft arms, and how she’d insist on washing, and I could only rinse. She was very controlling about washing her dishes. My PawPaw would gulp down an entire glass of iced tea that he waited to drink after he finished his meal, and then move to his recliner and tune into the Nashville Network. As I circled the plate with a soapy sponge in my L.A. kitchen, I belted Loretta lyrics that I didn’t even know I knew. Then Dolly, then Merle. I decided I wanted to learn the banjo. While I’m no Ricky Skaggs, I’m working still on it.

I admired Loretta when she did an album with Jack White. Two of my worlds collided and nothing felt better. It was permission to be both.  I stopped going through the trouble of hiding my accent. I bought overalls again, and even a pair of red cowgirl boots that have replaced my heels and also serve as weapons when you’re scootin’ around the big city. I’ve sang on stage in a country music show for an audience, which is one of my proudest performances in my life thus far. I bought an iron skillet and started making cornbread again. I think about Blue Kentucky Girl and how the stars and moon shine in both worlds. I learned that I can be proud of my roots, my overalls, and be a big city woman, too, who likes sushi and goes for massages. While They Don’t Make Em Like My Daddy Anymore, they also don’t make ‘em like Loretta Lynn, anymore. Rest in the Holler, Loretty.

Love, Bella

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