“You’ll never know you’re not in your own bed,” Loretta Lynn said to me.

It was April 1974, and we were lying on her tour-bus bed, a king-size that snapped together from the walls and filled the rump of the bus. The walls themselves were upholstered in puckered white leatherette and oozed recorded sound from tiny metal speakers. “Satin Sheets” was playing as I boarded.

A row of Styrofoam heads held her many wigs, on a vanity dresser. Loretta herself was the centerpiece, wearing a sheer nightgown, which revealed her many caesarean scars. Her face was pale and gaunt, her high cheekbones reflecting her Cherokee ancestry; her voice, that deep Kentucky twang. “You’ll sleep in ’ere with me!” she invited. “You’n me, we’re just like sisters.”

Lynn at home in Hurricane Mills, Tennessee, 1988.

Loretta died this past October, and I lie sleepless, remembering my nights on the road with her. She was 42 years old, and I was 27, on assignment for a magazine. Her publicist had declared, “Loretta Lynn is a populist example of a pristine way of life.”

I imagined Loretta in gingham, strumming a guitar, in a tour bus decked out with blue checkered curtains. The reality was startlingly different, and far from “pristine.” I was ushered onto the bus by her driver-bodyguard, a big man with an Elvis-style pompadour and a gun tucked into his armpit. He was too tall for the bus, and his hairdo flattened against the ceiling.

The midsection of the bus was sleeping quarters for the band. The men lay on shelf-like beds, their cowboy boots poking out, tiny TVs dangling before their faces. Given the choice of my own shelf in this male-musician dorm or accepting Loretta’s invitation, I went into her bedroom and onto her bed.

Loretta was instantly unexpurgated. She handed me the most recent magazine article about her and asked, “Does it say anything about orgasms?” It didn’t, but she had plenty to say about them and many other things, none of it printable. I was stunned that she was so open and unguarded. It’s what a journalist hopes for and seldom gets, but she was so warm and welcoming that I felt protective toward her.

“You know, you should be more careful,” I told her. “If you don’t want to see something in print, you can say, ‘Off the record.’”

She nodded, but I wasn’t sure she’d retained the information. I’m not sure she could read; she ordered from the photos on a take-out menu. A coconut-custard pie, popcorn, and chili. All of which she offered to share with me as we lay on her bed. All of which spilled on the giant mattress and rolled toward me on the fast turns.

Lynn and Conway Twitty at the American Music Awards in 1977. The duet won favorite duo in the country-music category.

I believe I was with Loretta at her most disoriented, a time captured in the fine film Coal Miner’s Daughter, when she wandered dazed onstage, begging her fans for help. The movie was excellent and truthful as far as it went, but the world of country music that Loretta inhabited was grittier, her marriage more troubled, her emotional and physical health issues more severe than they could show.

Loretta told me she was only 13 when she married, not 15 as reported. (There are varying accounts of her age, and news sources settled on a 1932 birth date, which made her 90 when she died.) She told me she had six children by the time she was 32 and a grandmother at 34. Known for the song “The Pill,” she said, “I would have been popping those pills like this popcorn.”

I was stunned that she was so open and unguarded. It’s what a journalist hopes for and seldom gets, but she was so warm and welcoming that I felt protective toward her.

She was tired. “I never open the blinds,” she said. “I’m sick of places.” She said she was lonely and offered me a job to stay with her. Various people hopped on and off the bus, and we stopped to pick up a male country star with whom she flew into an immediate embrace and who lay down between us on the bed. I bunched up against the far wall. She looked over his shoulder and winked at me as she said, “Off the record.”

There were guns, a suitcase full of “medicines,” and lots of talk about sex. To say that she and her husband did not get along is an understatement. “I was in a boat with him when it turned over, and he dove into the water to save the cooler, not me.” She saved her own life, as she continually did.

Lynn waves from her tour bus, 1999.

“He’s cheating all the time. For years, I had a detective follow him,” Loretta told me, “and then she slept with him, too. I had a stack of photos, and then I thought, What am I collecting them for?”

“Crazy ole mens,” she said with a sigh. “All they know is they got a long thing and wimmins got a hole to stick it in.”

Now Loretta is being iconized and airbrushed. It is not only the justified glory in her voice but her uncensored asides that remain cherished in my memory, and this despite the fact she was no angel, and supported Trump. “He’s the only one who’s going to turn this country around,” she’s been quoted as saying.

On that tour bus, the man with the gun scratched his shoulder holster and said, “Nobody write nothing bad about Loretta.”

Unnerved, I jumped off the bus at a stop in Flint, Michigan.

Loretta called after me. “Stay!”

What stayed is the memory of her kindness, honesty and confusion, her being either unable or unwilling to dissemble. And tonight, I do mourn her.

Laura Shaine Cunningham is the author of the memoirs Sleeping Arrangements and A Place in the Country, and the play Cruising Close to Crazy