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Reaching for the pie in the sky

Local baker fulfills dream meeting Loretta Lynn; explains how path leading to her own business wasn’t a piece of cake

By BOBBIE CURD

bjcurd@gmail.com

Lana Rowland describes herself as a down-home, Jessamine County girl who’s baked all her life, now owning and operating CNC Bakery on Main Street in Nicholasville. When she got the opportunity to make two birthday cakes for Loretta Lynn, the country music icon Rowland has followed since childhood, she was ecstatic.

And when she was invited to personally deliver the cakes to Lynn’s Tennessee ranch, being a part of their family celebration, it was like a dream come true.

But for her, every day being able to do what she loves is the real dream, after the odds she’s beat. Technically, Rowland shouldn’t still be alive.

‘Y’all! Loretta Lynn just hugged me!’

Rowland opened CNC, which stands for cinnamon, nutmeg and clove, in September of ’20, “… in the midst of a pandemic,” she adds. But, she says the community has supported the bakery tremendously.

“And Loretta, I’ve seen her in concert in Renfro Valley so many times. I had talked to band members, some who I’m still friends with …” she says. They asked her if she’d ever thought about doing a cake for Lynn, with her birthday coming up.

“They said call this number, I think it was the general manager over her ranch. I did, and they said she would love that.” From there, Rowland and her team planned the cake design, which was a replica of Lynn’s guitar with her name on the neck.

They used a photo of Lynn holding it, plus Rowland’s own guitar she has been learning to play, as a model.

“Yes, I love country music, and yes, I know that surprises folks,” she says and laughs. Rowland remembers seeing “Coalminer’s Daughter” at the drive-in when she was a pre-teen.

“Here I am, this little black girl at 12, singing these Loretta Lynn, Patsy Cline songs at the top of my lungs …”

And nowadays, she says she still gets strange looks at times. “I drive a Ford F-150, four-wheel drive with a pull-kit on it, tinted windows. I pull up somewhere, blaring my country music, and they just don’t expect someone like me to hop out …”

They actually made two cakes for Lynn for two birthday events. The second was a smaller, round photo-cake with Lynn’s picture.

Rowland and employee Bethany Mummert packed the cakes in her truck and took the trip to Hurricane Mills, just outside of Waverly, Tennessee. Although team member Katie Eller also helped, she wasn’t able to make the trip.

“I really wasn’t nervous to go meet her, just excited …” Rowland says, but driving up there, she felt every bump they had to go over “with these two cakes in my truck. Every — little — bump …”

She says Lynn’s “big house” is now a museum, but she lives directly behind it.

When Rowland walked into her home, Lynn was sitting on the couch. “She reached out, grabbed me and kissed me. I put on Facebook, I said ‘Y’all! Loretta Lynn just hugged me and kissed me and said she loved me three times!’”

Rowland says Lynn is “just as real as what you see on TV, that’s her. While I was talking to her, I’ve got one great-grandson tugging on my pants, one of her daughters was cooking and I was talking to her. They were just talking to me like they’ve known me for years.”

Rowland reads a text that Lynn’s granddaughter sent her, explaining how she was talking to “Memaw” about how Rowland made her day, and how Lynn made hers. “And she said her Memaw responded, ‘Honey, that ain’t nothing, saying hi to somebody who’s done something nice for you.’ So that’s the kind of person she is.”

Rowland did not ask for pictures of Lynn out of respect; she didn’t want to intrude on family time or turn it into a photoshoot, but could see Lynn loved the cakes and was humbled.

Next year, Rowland says Lynn turns 90 and wants a big cake. “So we’re going to make her a big cake.”

‘I was ready to be put down’

A Jessamine County native, Rowland, 53, has cleared some major hurdles to get to where she is today. She previously worked in a medical lab, but developed her own medical issues she had to deal with for many years after, forcing her to leave the job.

In 2005, Rowland had a hernia surgery. Then she was bitten by a brown recluse, a spider packing a necrotic venom —  it can cause cell and tissue damage as well as affect the nervous system, interfering with signaling between neurons.

“Then I got MRSA …” she says, referring to Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or staph infection. She had to endure multiple surgeries.

“I was told I wasn’t going to make it and needed to do Hospice,” she says. She was on a walker and a feeding tube. “I walked into the hospital, but I couldn’t walk out.”

She had big holes in her stomach that had turned into bleeding ulcers.

Rowland had a great support system, pushing her to keep going. “But it was a very hard time. I told them — at one point, I was ready for them to just put me down, like a dog. I was just so tired — you get that way. Tired of ER visits, and where I had so many open ulcers, the pain medication physically hurt me. I couldn’t take it.” She had to be given a “cocktail” at the ER of viscous lidocaine for pain, which numbed her internally.

Then a nurse practitioner told Rowland about a specialist in Louisville who wanted to see her. “He scoped me on a Monday or Tuesday, and I was in surgery by Thursday.”

But, thanks to the specialist, and all the people who pushed her to carry on, she says, Rowland recovered. She still has some neurological problems, and her legs don’t work as well as they used to.

“It was either go on disability, or create my own job to where I was on my own pace. Who wants to be on disability for the rest of their lives? I don’t. I won’t.”

After baking all her life and winning contests — Rowland has won the baking contest at the Jessamine Jamboree, for instance —  it’s something that brings her joy, and she decided to pursue it.

In 2014, Rowland walked into culinary school. Two years later, she graduated cum laude from Sullivan University and was in the top 3% of her class. A week after graduating, she went on to baking and pastry school.

Rowland is happy her hometown has supported her new business. CNC Bakery, which is on Main next to the Tap House, is also planning to expand.

Rowland says they will add a full buffet restaurant at the location — aiming to open by their first-year anniversary in September — that will offer “good old country food, like you got at your momma’s house, or granny’s.”

Many she’s close to have told her she should talk more about when she was sick. “I know I should, but it was a very, very hard time,” and sometimes hard for her to put into words.

But she decided to talk about it now, she says, because maybe it will help someone else keep going, and achieve their life dreams against all odds.

Being alive is a blessing, she says; meeting Loretta Lynn was the icing on the cake.

“I’m really happy with where I am. And I’m just happy to be here.”