My mother, a kindred spirit to welcome Loretta Lynn home

Country music superstar Loretta Lynn, considered by many the queen of country music, died today at her home in Hurricane Mills, Tenn. The legendry coal miner’s daughter died peacefully in her sleep at the age of 90, according to a statement from her family.

Upon learning of her passing I shed a tear, but for a different reason than you might think. My own mother was born a little more than a hundred miles from Butcher Hollow, where Loretta was born, and she too loved to sing. My mother also had the same Appalachian dialect and I can recall as a young boy lying in bed hearing her sing on a Friday night when company came over. To this day, I am transported back in time when I hear Carl and Pearl Butler sing, “Don’t Let Me Cross Over.”

My mother had a much harder life than Loretta Lynn. She too was born poor but while fate smiled on Loretta, it was cruel to mom, beginning when her father died of pneumonia when she was a young girl. With the loss of the family’s sole provider, she would live in dire poverty for years to follow.

Small and petite, she grew up in East Tennessee in the 50s, where opportunity was scarce for a woman, and eventually married my father. Much like his own father, my dad had a future as a chronic alcoholic awaiting him. He treated mom terribly and she carried that burden until the day he died in 1984 at the age of 54, even after finally divorcing him in 1977.

Mom, as a teen girl

It wasn’t long after being freed of that tremendous weight few can understand having not lived it that mom was stricken with throat cancer. She would have her larynx removed and the loss of her voice was devastating. It took her a very long time to come to grips with that loss but ever resilient, mom found the courage to start using an electrolarynx to communicate. Still, she hated it with as much passion as she hated the “hills of Tennessee,” which brought her so much misery.

Long before being diagnosed with throat cancer, mom had recorded herself singing. She had a couple of cassettes of herself singing various songs and she would occasionally listen to the tapes after her larynx was removed. I would watch her and wonder what she must be thinking.

All of which brings me back to Loretta Lynn. I was listening to her being interviewed a year or so after my mother passed away in 2009 from lung cancer, and just hearing her talk brought tears to my eyes. Hearing that country accent made me think of my mother and how long it had been since I had heard her voice. It also made me realize how much I missed her.

So Loretta, as you go home to our Lord look around carefully for Beulah, a kindred spirit more like you than you may realize who will be happy to welcome you.


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Tom Tillison


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