Why A Visit To Loretta Lynn's Tennessee Home Is Good For The Soul

Pay homage to "The Coal Miner's Daughter" among the waving trees and watering holes of Hurricane Mills.

The entrance to Loretta Lynn’s Ranch in Hurricane Mills, TN
Photo: Cedric Angeles

I remember the first time I made the pilgrimage to Hurricane Mills, Tennessee, to pay homage to the “Queen of Country Music,” Loretta Lynn. It was mid-July in 2014; my husband, Jeremy, and I jumped in our beat-up car, needing to get out of Nashville for the day to clear our heads. We grabbed our guitars and packed lunches consisting of sandwiches, chips, and a pack of cigarettes. As we trucked westbound along I-40 and passed the towns of Pegram, Burns, and Dickson, we spent our time listening to deep cuts on Honky Tonk Girl: The Loretta Lynn Collection. I turned up the volume on her song “When I Reach The Bottom (You’d Better Be There)” on the blown-out speakers. I had always loved her music, but starting around 2012, I had become somewhat obsessed with her legacy. 

Loretta’s memoir Coal Miner’s Daughter drew me into her musicality and her life even deeper. I had seen the biopic with Sissy Spacek when I was just a little girl, and it had always been one of my favorite movies, but when I got my hands on her book and read it in her own voice, with her distinctly Kentuckian delivery, it was like a salve on my wounds. The fact that she had children before she made it big was encouraging to me. You could be a mama and a musician and actually thrive in your middle age. Loretta broke the mold and made the blueprint for so many to follow. She was first, great, and different. I studied her recipe for success to create my own version and kept adding in ingredients until it tasted just right: a little sweet, a little spicy, and of course, make sure you don’t get the sugar mixed up with the salt. 

As Loretta found the perfect turn of phrase, singing, “The night I let you hang my wings upon your horns,” the CD started to skip. (The album we bought at Cracker Barrel was pretty scratched up from lots of wear and tear.) But it didn’t even matter; we were already there. 

We got off the exit and followed the road past creeks and winding trails; big, waving trees; and inviting watering holes. There was an ATV race going on in the campground with motocross bikes and three-wheelers speeding around and doing tricks on the dirt paths. I wasn’t expecting that, but it felt natural and reminded me of being at the demolition derby with my uncle. I thought it was so cool that she had just invited all of these strangers to convene and camp in the acres of fields surrounding her house. It was wild and down-home—and definitely country.

As we passed a collection of smaller buildings, I could see a white, Graceland-looking mansion nestled off the road. On the closed gate at the entrance were the words “Coal Miner’s Daughter” with some cowboy and cowgirl silhouettes welded on the front and decorated with little black music notes.

I stared at it in awe, feeling choked up, especially knowing where she came from and where she was now. I waited there for a moment, hoping to catch a glimpse of her working in her garden. There were several small groups of people hanging out along Hurricane Creek and launching themselves into the water off some rope swings. Jeremy and I grabbed our sack lunches and guitars and went searching for a place to cool down and write a song (if we were lucky.) It felt like we were surrounded by a peaceful energy just being on her property, and bathing in the water was good medicine. We took off our shoes and picked some tunes, laughed and talked, sang and smoked, and pretended to be Loretta and Conway Twitty—or better yet, Loretta and her husband, Doo—for the day. 

Before we left to head back to the city, I asked Jeremy to take a photo of me in front of the wrought iron gate. He happily obliged. I was wearing a little cream dress, old-timey shoes, and a Minnie Pearl-type hat. I laid down my offering of homemade peonies at the entrance along with a little note I had written to her. I stood there for a long time, in total silence, making promises to myself in my head.

We finished our evening by going into a gift store and restaurant. I got a cup of coffee with a delicious piece of pie and bought a coffee mug for my grandmother. Then we went back to Nashville to chip away at an elusive dream, with visions of Loretta dancing in our heads.

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