AND THEN AGAIN…….By Tamara Pettit

……. Whether or not you’re a fan of Country Music you had to admire Loretta Lynn.  While to me she seemed like she sang of another time, she always spoke from her heart and tackled issues that others performer thought were too controversial.    She was stuck somewhere between the traditional wife and the independent women when she began writing and performing in 1960.   With a long and turbulent marriage to “Doo” who was an alcoholic and a philanderer, she wrote “Don’t Come Home a Drinking with Lovin on Your Mind,” but then put the blame on the other women instead of her husband in  “You Ain’t Women Enough to Take my Man”.   Back in the Sixties, when the birth control pill was first introduced, she addressed the subject in the  song “The Pill.”     She was a dichotomy, an incredible talent whose strength and perseverance skyrocketed her to the top, but also a country girl who clung to her roots and traditional ways.

 …….I only had the opportunity to see Loretta in concert once when she came to perform at Mountaineer.   She was one of our first concerts  back in the day when we   held them in the Grandstand area.    As with many country performers, she and her crew traveled by bus which they pulled in the parking lot behind the outdoor paddock.   We had a dinner for the entire group which included her son.  I remember them as being very nice and very  hard drinkers.     What lingers in my mind the most from that sweltering, hot July concert, however, is when gubernatorial candidate Bob Wise got up  on stage and clogged with Loretta.   Wise was a congressman at the time and was known for clogging his way through parade routes.   He was a great clogger as was Loretta and on that night, we were all country.

 ……Loretta was known for having the best fans in the industry.    She may have been from Butcher Hollow, Kentucky, but Kentucky is just a stone’s throw from West Virginia and the “Coal Miner’s Daughter” message resonated with many local fans.    They followed her concerts, had a multitude of photos, and  knew the many misfortunes and trials of her life.    How do I know?   Let me tell you a story about my encounter with a dedicated Loretta Lynn fan.

……We’ll call her Sally to preserve her privacy even though it’s been years since she passed.   I was in the House of Delegates and in the midst of the session.    I traveled home on Fridays only to return to Charleston on Sundays.  Saturdays were my only full day at home to return the many calls on my answering machine; go through mail; and touch base with family.  My Saturdays always began with a trip to the New Cumberland post office to retrieve my mail from the postman and have him warn me that if I got any more mail I was going to have to get a big post office box.   No, there were no more available and no, I couldn’t keep my same box number.  He, it appeared just wanted to provide an aggravating start to my day.

…….It was frigid that day and snow was swirling.       Coming out of the post office door  laden with a week’s worth of mail, I was stepping carefully on the ice when  I saw Sally.   She was disabled and used a walker and I thought how difficult it must be for her to brave the ice and the cold.    She was on a mission, however, and when she spotted me she immediately told me she needed to talk to me about Loretta,   Now I knew she came from a big family and I searched my brain to recall if Loretta was one of her  sisters, her daughter perhaps, but  I came up blank.   Rule 1 when you are an elected official and faced with a voter who thinks you not only know her, but her whole family:  pretend!

……  I was freezing  and hopping from one foot to another and she said this was really important.  So,  I told her to follow me to my home on Second Avenue.    Neither my driveway or my walk had been cleared and it wasn’t an easy task getting Sally and her walker to the house without us both falling flat on our faces.   Once I got her through the front door, getting her down the step down to my tiny living room and maneuvering her to my couch wasn’t much easier.   But, finally there we were.   I put on my official “I’m from government and I’m here to help” face and listened.

  ………Sally said Loretta’s health been real bad and she wasn’t  getting the right care.    “Could she be eligible for Medicaid?” I thought and Sally and I went down that road for a while.   But, there were more problems, Sally told me Loretta had a problem with pain killers.  “Substance abuse,”  I said. Luckily I was on the Board of Directors of Brooke-Hancock Mental Health and starting figuring how to get her help.   Wait, Sally said it was even worse.  “Loretta’s  husband cheats on her and he drinks, you know”   No, I really didn’t but the conspiratorial tone made me think I really should be familiar with Loretta.  

       “But, you know, the final straw was when she started having problems with Conway,” said Sally.      In a nanosecond it hit me like a ton of bricks had fallen on my head.   Sally was talking to me about Loretta Lynn and Conway Twitty.  .   Everyone in town knew what a fan of Loretta Lynn Sally was.   I was so absorbed in my role as a  Legislator, that I forgot about my role as small town dweller who knew everything about her neighbors.

……I took off my legislative hat lickety split;  put on my mean girl face; and yelled in a voice befitting the occasion “You’ve wasted my Saturday morning telling me about Loretta Lynn’s troubles?”   Sally was taken aback and highly offended by my uncaring attitude towards her friend.   “Get out,” I sputtered.  “Go home.  Listen to a “”””” record.”   In my defense, I did help her to her car and then  sent her on her way.  I’m sure I lost Sally’s vote that day, but I bet that spunky Loretta would have voted for me if she had lived in West Virginia.