FIT FOR A QUEEN

For years, Loretta Lynn has opened her home to her fans. So how does she ever get any privacy?

In 1966 Loretta Lynn and husband Mooney bought a 14-room, pre-Civil War plantation home outside Nashville in Hurricane Mills, Tenn. But with a busy touring schedule, the Coal Miner's Daughter rarely saw it. "I really never did live in that house," admits Loretta. "It was the house I bought to retire in."

But she never really retired. In 1988, however, Loretta found a way to see her fans and get a little downtime at home when she and Mooney, nicknamed Doo, opened the mansion for tours. The plantation home is just one of many attractions on Loretta's 6,500-acre ranch, which includes a Western store, an 18,000-square-foot museum, a campground and an outdoor stage where Loretta performs.

Just behind the plantation house, which Loretta still calls "the big house," the couple built their own private residence, a sprawling ranch-style home where Loretta still lives. (Mooney died in 1996.) It's not a part of the ranch tours -- but Loretta recently opened her door to Country Weekly for a rare glimpse inside.

"I think this is the prettiest room," notes Loretta, sitting on the couch of her formal living room, decorated with a wash of pastels. The afternoon sun streams in through the windows and casts a spotlight on a portrait of a young Loretta dressed in a white pinafore, standing near an old mining shaft.

"This is the only thing Doo took out of the big house when we moved," she explains. "The boy who painted this was only 22 years old at the time. He only had a head shot of me. He said, 'I didn't know whether to give you any jewelry or not because I didn't know if you had any.' And I didn't. That pinafore -- that's what Mommy used to make me out of feed sacks."

Throughout the house are dolls Loretta has received from fans. "Doo got my first doll for me in 1963 -- it was the queen of England," recalls Loretta. "After that, people started buying me dolls. My assistant saw that I had them in boxes because I didn't want them to get dirty. He started putting out some of my favorite ones, and now he's fixing me a dollhouse over at the big house. I bet you I've got a hundred dolls!

"There's one special doll I got from some fans," she says. "They insured it for $10,000 -- and these people were pretty poor. But they made this doll's clothes from their grandmother's wedding dress. And they had their grandmother's hair from when she'd cut it when she was a little girl. It was long, red curls. The doll is beautiful."

The rest of the dolls are in Loretta's museum. But dolls aren't the only attraction there. Throughout her 43-year career, Loretta has assembled thousands of collectibles from her own storehouse plus obtained countless others from fellow entertainers. "There's nothing in that museum that anybody has given me that I don't share with people," states Loretta. "We have vaults that stay the same temperature all the time. When we take something down for a while, we put it back in that vault. We keep changing the stuff so that every artist who's given me something can get a chance to be in the museum."

The museum is an ever-changing history of country music. "I once had Faron Young's Nudie pants that said 'I'VE GOT FIVE DOLLARS AND IT'S SATURDAY NIGHT' down the side of them. Back then, they all wore Nudie's pants," she says, referring to the late designer.

"Trisha Yearwood sent me a poster and Keith Urban gave me a picture for the museum," adds Loretta, "but I want something else from them, too -- like a shirt or something they used to wear. Usually that's what you have in a museum."

Loretta walks to her kitchen and starts a pot of coffee. "My favorite room is the kitchen area," she reveals, "where we sit and watch TV. It's so comfortable in here. I love to watch the History Channel. I like to watch the news. I'm hooked on the news. But I also like to watch the Discovery Channel."

Pouring coffee, she's reminded of the many mornings she'd make breakfast for herself and Doo, before he died of complications from diabetes. "He'd shout, 'I don't hear no pots or pans rattlin'," she laughs. "That would be every morning. And usually I'd have the cooking halfway done and he wouldn't hear me.

"Doo loved to cook, too," adds Loretta. "I'd come in and he'd have supper ready for me. He cooked anything and everything. He had all these cookbooks. He loved that Joy of Cooking book. I like beans and taters, to tell you the truth. But he'd have stuff fixed for me that you've never heard of. I'd say, 'What in the world is this, honey?' It'd be a meal that you might not like, but you'd eat it. You don't want to make the cook mad! It sure was funny. I sure do miss him."

Walking through her house, Loretta basks in the memories. Pictures of family, friends and celebrities, and homemade gifts from fans are a testament to a lifetime of dedication to her music. Surely she must be tired of the constant presence of fans on her ranch and campground.

"It doesn't bother me one bit," she emphasizes. "That's why I built it -- because I wanted them with me when I couldn't go be with them."

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