The recent revelation that Loretta Lynn is two years older than the country music star has long claimed means she was 19 years old when she cleaned up at the Northwest Washington Fair, winning several awards for her canning skills.
"I swept the whole thing," Lynn told an interviewer in 1973. "When I found out I won I leaped up in the air; I looked like a clam. They took my picture, blowed it up and had it standing by the gate. I was up in the air, hair going every way, 'Canner of the Year.' I went to the fair every night to see my picture by the gate."
But while the slew of blue ribbons has become a fixture of Lynn's autobiographies and cookbooks, the details of her victory appear lost to history: It's not known what Lynn canned or how many awards she won for her work.
According to Lynn's You're Cooking it Country: My Favorite Recipes and Memories, Lynn's mother, who canned in the Appalachian tradition, was too busy to teach her daughters how to preserve greens and beans. "Mommy would have me washing the jars while she would be doing the canning," Lynn wrote. After Lynn followed her husband to Custer, Wash., where he'd landed a job cutting wheat and baling hay, she befriended Edna Brann, who yearly entered the fair's canning contests.
"Edna showed me how to can," Lynn wrote. "She told me how to put everything in the jars. She taught me everything about canning and, by golly, it didn't take me long to pick it up. I took that canning and run with it. I canned everything I had in the garden, stuff that people wouldn't even think about canning."
The following year, when Brann competed at the fair, she lost to her mentee in every category. Lynn later recalled winning 17 first-place prizes, 13 second-place prizes and seven third-place prizes.
"The lady that taught me how to can, she lost," Lynn told the Weekly in 2001. "She said, 'I shouldn't have taught you!"
Bellingham Herald photographer Jack Carver shot a picture of a triumphant Lynn in her kitchen soon after the fair, an image which was recently exhibited in a Carver retrospective at the Whatcom Museum.
"I was not able to find exactly when the photo was originally taken," curator Jeff Jewell says. "I believe it was one of only a few, out of 60 images in the exhibition, where I failed to deliver the actual day."
Without an original cut line to consult, Jewell wasn't able to determine how many ribbons Lynn won.
Carver, now 94, told Jewell he wasn't sure whether the Herald ran the photograph, although Lynn in 1979 told the Chicago Tribune it was the first picture of her ever to appear in a newspaper. "Certainly I looked through many a microfilm, but did not find it," Jewell says.
Nor did Jewell come across a comprehensive list of ribbon winners in his newspaper search.
"As you might expect from a county fair, it's not exactly above the fold front page material or sent out on the AP wire," he says.
The director of the Northwest Washington Fair did not return multiple messages, but an archivist at the Center for Pacific Northwest Studies said the Fair Association's records don't include any winners' lists.
"I would most certainly be interested in knowing what else you find out," Roz Koester e-mailed.
What is known is that Lynn remained an enthusiastic canner after leaving Washington. Deejays joked about her penchant for showing up for radio interviews with hands stained from berry canning, and in Still Woman Enough: A Memoir, she wrote about her husband's violent "green bean rampage."
This one time I got up at 4 a.m. and canned green beans that I'd picked from my garden. I worked all day to put up a hundred quarts. Supper wasn't ready because I'd spent all of my time canning, and Doo was furious about it. He began to throw them quarts of green beans...Doo just kept getting madder and throwing harder until he broke all hundred quarts...I turned right around and started canning again.