At the first whiff of smoke, I would rush to the kitchen and grab an innocuous-looking checked apron and a baggie holding a crumbling piece of candy that has been stashed in my freezer for seven years.
I should explain. I was a writer at Rolling Stone for fifteen years. I’ve interviewed hundreds of musicians, but in 2004 I received a dream assignment: a day with Loretta Lynn at her Tennessee home.
I grew up listening to Ms. Lynn and consider her one of our finest American songwriters. Still, I was jittery as I made my way up the driveway. I needn’t have worried. Cheerful and welcoming in a sparkly purple shirt and black pants, she gave me a big kiss and then hustled me directly into the kitchen. “You hungry?” she said with concern. She pointed out some bologna and mayonnaise in the fridge and a loaf of bread she recently baked. I wavered: Should I? Then I thought: a country legend is inviting you to root through her fridge. Get in there! As I happily demolished a sandwich, I saw her visibly relax, clearly relieved that I wasn’t some uptight vegetarian from New York.
Then she made a thrilling suggestion. “Hon, why don’t we make some peanut butter fudge?” As we charged around the kitchen, pulling out sugar and throwing butter and hefty blobs of Jif into a pot, she regaled me with tales of her friend Tammy Wynette. She was so absorbed in the telling, and I in the listening, that we both lost track of the candy, and the whole concoction boiled over. The fudge came out in crumbly nuggets, but the good-natured Lynn just shrugged and got two spoons. We sat barefoot on her couch and ate it like cereal.
Then, a week after I returned home, I received a package in the mail. Inside was a cheery red and white checked apron, an aromatic box of fudge, and a note on stationery marked with a large, cursive ‘LL.’ I hope you like this fudge much better! Ms. Lynn wrote. I wanted to send you some to show how it’s supposed to be! We really had fun. Love you, Loretta Lynn.
It can be a dicey prospect to meet your idols. It’s rare that they live up to your expectations, nor is it fair to expect them to do so. But Lynn the woman turned out to be as unforgettable as Lynn the singer. It’s impossible to imagine a contemporary artist sending this humble, homemade gift. I ate all the fudge but one small chunk, and I take out that apron and look at it every once in a while. I can’t bear to use it, although Loretta would probably laugh and tell me to just put the dang thing on, already.