They really do look wonderful together, Loretta Lynn and her mother, Clara Butcher, sitting in the splendor of a spring day, smiling into the camera perfectly poised, whiling away the afternoon, waiting to go to the White House.
And as they talk, it doesn't take long to see why Lynn chose Clara Butcher as the "teacher who played the most significant role" in her life, the one to accompany her to the South Lawn last night as part of the seemingly endless round of ceremonies inaugurating the new Department of Education.
Blue eyes mirror each other and the Cherokee blood is reflected by the same high cheekbones in both their faces. Sitting together on the couch, they seem genuinely comfortable with one another. There is love there, but that's often tricky between mothers and daughters; what is rare is that there seems to be quite a lot of liking as well.
She still calls her Mommy. "She was a hard worker," says the Queen of Country Music. "She learned me to cook and to sew. I guess what was most important, is that she made do with whatever she had, and she didn't have much."
Her daughter has it all of course, the money, the mansion, the ranch in Tennessee, the loyal following, the fame that came not only from the songs she wrote about her life and the movie made of the book, both of them titled, "Coal Miner's Daughter."
"Clary" Butcher, who celebrated her 68th birthday a few days ago, is asked if any of this surprised her, that her eldest daughter should reach such heights from the hard scratch for life in Butcher Hollow, Ky., while her youngest, best known as Crystal Gayle, is also rising toward celebrity faster than a creek after a mountain storm.
No, she says, "Loretty always acted like a star, from the time she was 5. I made dresses out of crepe paper for her and she would sing and sing."
It all sounds so warm and kind and loving, just like, well, just like the movie, and so Mrs. Butcher is asked about the impossible times, the awful interlude when girls are turning toward womanhood and mothers spend lots of time looking exasperated.
There is a slight pause and a smile smaller than Butcher Hollow. "She wasn't with me long enough for that, remember. She was so young when she got married."
She was 13 when she married Oliver Vanetta Lynn Jr., "Doolittle" to his wife and Mooney to just about everybody else. They youngest of her six children, twin girls, are already 15. "I don't worry about the older kids," says Loretta Lynn, who is now in her mid-40s. "They remember what it was like when we were poor.But the twins have always had everything they ever wanted.I feel sorry for them."
The poverty is invoked as if it were a talisman, as if the memory of the hard days can provide a protection against the difficulties of the easy ones. The observation that her youngest children had very little of what she so cherishes in her own mother, a visible place in her life, brings a quick intense glance.
What of the movie, she is asked, that has so recently splashed her life's story even to those few souls who had not heard of her throughout her reign as the top of the country music charts.
She loves it, she says. She's seen it six times, including on the trip from the West Coast to Washington two days ago, where it was the featured film. And yes, it comes very close to the truth of her life though there is one scene that rankles her. "It's the one where they have me pulling Doo out of that car that he's in with that woman and I say something and then she say's something about how if I had paid more attention to him he wouldn't have been there in the first place. Wel, if that had really been me, she wouldn't have had no chance to say that much."
"Except maybe when she woke up in th e morning," says Mrs. Butcher, laughing.
"After all," says her daughter regally, "I didn't write 'You Ain't Woman Enough to Take My Man' for nothing."
Which seems as good a place as any to ask the whereabouts of the celebrated Mooney, who seems to have built something of his own legend during the long arcing rise of his wife's career. As Lynn herself puts it in the introduction to her autobiography, "You'll hear a lot of stories about Doolittle if you hang around Nashville long enough. Some of 'em are true and some of 'em ain't."
"Oh Doolittle?" says Loretta Lynn airily. "He's out in California looking for a boat. How many boats has he got now, Mommy?" Mrs. Butcher shrugs, "Oh well, I guess it's better than collecting women," says her daughter. "Though I wonder which is cheaper, women or boats?"
Their relationship, says Lynn, is pretty much as it always was, as peaceable as is possible between two strong-willed, hot-tempered people who happen to love each other while hating to be told what to do. "Except I don't fight with him as much now," she says. "When he starts in, I just walk out the door."
Loretta Lynn spends most of her time on the road these days, and the bus in which she tours is the closest thing she has to home. On stage, she says, is the only place she feels completely in control of her life, but that in itself is horizons ahead of the performance several years ago, when she collapsed on stage.
There have been as many explanations of what happened as there are songs in Loretta Lynn's repertoire, but this is the one she gives.
"When I first started singing, I figured, 'well, I'll do this for a couple of years and then I'll go home to my babies. And then it was two more years and then two more. And then I discovered that time didn't wait for me, they were all growing up. And then I just had to take time. I had to learn to live each day to the fullest. To have a good time -- because before you know it, it's over."
"Yes," said her mother, looking gently at her. "You should start missing them the day they're born, because every day takes them further and further away."