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She had her first hit song when she was in her twenties, but her life hasn't always been easy. Faith is what kept her strong.
If I'm anything in this world, I'm a wife and mother. I do enjoy my performing and musical career, but it's my family that means most. We had six kids, and my husband and I have a special, mystical bond with each of them. That bond is the only way I can explain what happened with me and my boy Jack.
The strange story started with my mystery illness on a summer Sunday a few years back. I'd done a concert at the Kansas City Opera, the last stop on the tour. We were on the bus heading home for Tennessee when out of the blue I started feeling bad and went to lie down. Early the next morning, my friend Lorene Allen woke up with the feeling she should check on me, and it was a good thing she did: I was having trouble breathing. The bus had pulled into a truck stop in Illinois, and Lorene got off, hollering, "Call an ambulance!"
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At the emergency room they thought I was already dead, but the doctors didn't give up. They worked till I started breathing again, then admitted me to intensive care.
I hardly remember anything in intensive care until the fourth day. My husband, Doolittle, had come up from Tennessee to tell me what had to be told. "I got news, Loretta, and it's bad," he said. "Jack's dead."
And it was like I died all over again. There's no pain on this earth like losing a child.
Jack was different from my other kids in one way. The others all wanted to follow me in their own singing careers. But Jack's main interest was farming. He had the same love I do for planting and doing with my hands. Jack, who'd married a pretty little girl named Barbara, had a girl and a boy—and had a new little redheaded baby girl named Jenny. They lived on Barbara's grandmother's farm just up the road from our ranch, so Jack was over at our place often, helping out with the planting or in the stables.
To this day I believe the moment I collapsed on that bus was the moment my boy died. And when Jack died, a piece of me left with him.
On the Sunday I got sick, Jack had been visiting campers on our ranch. By the time he was ready to saddle up and ride home, it was dusk, so he decided to take the shorter way back and ford the river. But there'd been heavy rains and Duck River was swollen. Jack and his horse never did make it across.
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They didn't find my boy for three days after he drowned.
Little things came back to me, like the honeybees when Jack was just a tyke. Back then we lived in Washington State in a house that was real tiny. It had two bedrooms and the bathroom was back outside. I mean country. Jack was 2 then, and Betty, our oldest, was 3. Those kids loved to play outside. The man we rented the house from had honeybees. Well, those kids were fascinated, and so Betty took a stick and stirred up those doggone bees. I was in the kitchen when I heard the commotion. And here comes those two little kids across the yard, lickety-split, hollerin' and cryin'. Jack's little legs weren't long enough to get moving right. So he got stung up the worst. Thing is, I felt those stings worse than Jack did.
If, 30 years later, I could still smart from those bees, how could I ever get past the sting of knowing my boy had suffered and died all by himself?
I tried hard to remember the good times, how Jack was no trouble growing up. He did good in school. He liked football, but baseball was his favorite. He was big and strong and happy. Just like his daddy. The spittin' image. In fact, in some ways, he and his daddy were too much alike. Sometimes they'd just butt heads.
I couldn't help but remember the bad times, too, like when Jack got older and began drinking too much. When I tried to talk to him about it, he said, "Momma, I just drink till it stops hurtin'." It made things real hard for him and for the people who loved him.
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Finally I just had to leave Jack and his alcohol problem in the hands of God. That's where I'd learned to leave problems ever since I was little, going to a Baptist church in the Appalachian Mountains of Kentucky. And I do believe God was watching Jack carefully, because his life changed. For one thing, he met Barbara. But it was more than that.