Thursday, October 14, 2010

Still Woman Enough

I love biographies. And autobiographies, if the writer tells all. So I was thrilled when I discovered Loretta Lynn's 2002 book, Still Woman Enough. I knew if anyone told all, it would be her.

Loretta (with Patsi Bale Cox) writes about things she couldn't put in her first book, Coal Miner's Daughter. Why? Because her husband was still alive.  And he ruled the roost in the Lynn home. In the book and movie, he was portrayed as a happy-go-lucky drinker and philanderer; harmless, even funny at times.

But there was a darker side to Doolittle Lynn.

As in her first book, Loretta writes about their marriage in 1948 when she was thirteen, his dumping her for another woman when she was pregnant with their first child, their reconciliation and move to Washington state where Doo found work as a farm hand.

And thus began the most miserable twelve years of Loretta's life.

While cooking, cleaning, washing, ironing, working her garden, canning, taking care of her children and sewing all of their clothes, she cleaned Doo's employer's house and cooked meals for thirty-six field hands each day. Her pay was a rent-free house for the family.

Doo was paid in cash, so he considered all of the money his. He took off on drinking binges for weeks at a time, leaving the family penniless. Loretta picked gallons of strawberries for money to buy groceries; when that ran out, she was forced to rely on Doo's employer for food. When there was no food left, she shot squirrels and rabbits to feed her children.

"I put up with it because of the kids," Loretta said.

But she's the first to admit it was Doo who bought her a seventeen-dollar guitar and forced her to sing in public.

"I could never have done it on my own," she said, "Whatever else our marriage was back in them days, without Doo and his drive to get a better life, there would have been no Loretta Lynn, country singer.

Loretta quickly rose to stardom, recording sixteen number one hits, Doo's shenanigans providing grist for songs such as Don't Come Home A'Drinkin' (With Lovin' On Your Mind) and Fist City.

"Every song that I wrote, you can bet that half of it was about him," she said.

Loretta said the happiest time in their marriage was when they toured the country together in 1960 to promote her first record, I'm a Honky Tonk Girl. They had a common goal and were working together.

But Doo was brutal and controlling. He beat Loretta, often calling her an "ignorant hillbilly,” and took charge of all of her earnings. While she was on the road (over 300 days a year), he was spending money faster than she could make it: swigging whiskey like it was going out of style, starting businesses that went belly-up, and sleeping with other women.

It was a lonely life for the singer, and when she was home she found it hard to fit into her family. "I felt like a money tree that had been shook," she said. "I never felt like I was needed, wanted, or anything. They all had their own lives."

Doo seldom accompanied her on the road, but every now and then he showed up unexpectedly. "He was checking on me," she said, "He thought I was two-timing him." 

There is much more in her book: the loss of her son, Jack Benny (the darkest time in her life), the deaths of her parents, brothers, Conway Twitty, and Doo's illness and death. She cared for Doo night and day. And shortly before he died, in 1996, he apologized for all the misery he had caused her.

"I miss Doo," she said, "I miss him a lot."

Now, Loretta lives in the shadow of her own myth, running a dude ranch and tourism complex about an hour west of Nashville. She lives in a house behind the larger one that she shared with Doo. She never felt comfortable there, she says, because Doo's girlfriends were in the house when she was on the road.

Last year, she went home to Butcher Holler to decorate her parents' graves. "I looked around and I thought, `How did I get out of this place?' If it hadn't been for Doo, I'd still be back there."

After reading the book, I think she might have been better off.


met said...

I had no idea Doo was such a scoundrel. Coal Miners Daughter sure whitewashed him. I really admire Loretta.

C.S. said...

Wow! I didn't even know about this book, will have to get as soon as possible. I always wondered if there wasn't a bit of the "Hollywood Myth" in that book/movie!

Doug McClure said...

It's ridiculous how we conjure up in our minds a glamorous life for celebrities, whether it be movie stars or musicians, yet we're all the same. We all have struggles even if they aren't visible on the surface. It's crazy about Doo, but also amazing the perserverance and grace Loretta had/has.

Thank you for sharing.


Pat @ Mille Fiori Favoriti said...

Very interesting review, Brenda. Loretta certainly had a stressful life but she was one of the lucky ones in the end. Too often lives like hers end up with even more tragedy and dysfunction.

Brenda said...

Thanks, y'all!

All words and pictures © 2008 Brenda G. Wooley