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Born With a Rusty Spoon: Episode 3

...Bee had just turned fifteen the following summer and was again working in the bean fields. Although she did not think she was pretty, others did. Baggy work clothes might hide her blossoming figure, but nothing could deny the beauty of her face and lovely smile. She was not prepared for the attention her looks would attract, and she knew little or nothing about sex. In her family, sex was not something "good girls" discussed...

Famous American artist Bertie Stroup Marah continues her wonderfully engaging and entertaining life story.

To buy a copy of Bertie's book please visit

To see some of her pictures click on

During the Great Depression and dust bowl days Mama's family was part of the migration from Oklahoma that forced poor families to leave the state in search of work. From Oklahoma their first move was to the oil field town of Borger, Texas where Grandpa ran a small grocery store. He scratched together enough money to sparsely stock the shelves of a rundown old building he rented. Times were tough and he wasn't a very good business man. Being both generous and impractical, he went broke from extending too much credit to desperate families.

In March of 1933, they packed their belongings in the back of their old Model A and headed farther west into New Mexico. The truck's old four-cylinder engine had a lot of wear and the tires were worn smooth. It was fortunate that the roads were mostly flat for on sharp inclines the old truck, loaded as it was, didn't have the power to make it over the top. To lighten the load they would sometimes get out and push the sluggish vehicle up the hill. They camped along the highways, cooked over an open fire, and slept on the ground. At every stop they asked for work. Some of the people they talked to were sympathetic when they saw this rag-tag bunch while it seemed that a few had to make an effort to hide their disdain. Perhaps these pious few thought they had brought their misfortune upon themselves.

They were camping outside of Corona, New Mexico when an old rancher came by and offered them shelter.

"It ain't got no windows or doors, but it will be a roof over your head and you won't have to sleep on the ground. The only thing is, this place is crawling with rattlesnakes so you'll have to watch out for 'em." The old rancher pushed back his dirty old hat, spit out a chew of tobacco and scratched his scaly scalp.

"I don't have much money, but if you want to build fencing for a day or two I can probably help you out with a few groceries and some gas."

"I appreciate that very much," Grandpa said, "and I'll take you up on your offer." He turned to his oldest son, Horace, "Son, it's gettin' dark, why don't you check out the house before we unload any of our stuff."

Horace disappeared inside the abandoned house. The rest of the family waited. Only a few seconds passed when he came running out shouting,

"Dad! He's right about those snakes! There's the biggest rattler I ever saw coiled up in there!" Grandpa followed Horace back inside. It was a very long five minutes before they returned with a headless six-foot rattler in hand.

In June of 1933, my mother's family got as far as the Estancia Valley in New Mexico in search of work. They were broke with only a loaf of bread left to feed a family of eight. They stopped at a farm owned by John
Casebolt to inquire about work. When he saw the old truck loaded with all their belongings and six hungry dirty kids, he said, "Yeah, my beans need workin' and looks like most'a those kids are big enough to grab a hoe handle." Grandpa thanked John when he brought food to their campsite that night. The next morning at sunrise, Jack and Bertie and their six kids were all at work in those bean fields.

By noon the blisters on their bare hands had broken and turned raw and bloody. They wrapped their hands in strips of rags and continued hoeing until sundown. The next day John Casebolt advanced them enough money to buy groceries and gloves. On Sunday, their day off, they moved into an old empty house outside town.

The Spanish name Estancia means Estate. The natural springs that existed in Estancia were the reason for farmers and ranchers to settle there. At that time dry land farms were still producing abundant beans in the area and Estancia was considered the "bean capital" of the state. Large storage buildings for beans stood next to the railroad tracks. Nearby were holding pens for cattle destined for shipment on the railroad.

State Highway 41 runs north and south; even today it is the main street of Estancia. Most of the businesses have long since closed. In 1933, however, Main Street ran for about two blocks, and the businesses included a drug store, cafe, feed store, hotel, dry goods store, the Busy Bee Saloon, and a grocery store.

The Torrance County Court House sat a block off the main street. The town park had a cement pond that was fed by a natural spring. There were two schools, a baseball park, and a rodeo grounds. At one time Estancia had a hand-operated printing press.

Most of the nine hundred residents lived on the west side of Highway 41 and the railroad tracks. This small number of people supported four churches: Methodist, Church of Christ, Catholic, and Baptist. There was plenty of religion to go around.

It was noted by the members of these houses of worship that the Counts family was in no hurry to join any of their groups. It was also noted that although the Counts were hard working people, they were very poor. Besides they were "newcomers." It was not that the family did not believe in God, for both Grandma and Grandpa had been brought up as fundamentalist Christian, but having perceived contempt by some people during their exodus from Oklahoma for their impoverished condition, the family was not anxious to subject themselves to criticism of the "solid citizens" of Estancia. Instead, they opted to work hard and mind their own business.

My mother's low opinion of religious hypocrites and mistrust of men was further influenced at an early age by a life-altering experience. Had I known her story when I was a child, I would not have wondered why she was so mistrustful of men and churchgoers. I would also have understood her defensive attitude where she and her children were concerned.

Bee had just turned fifteen the following summer and was again working in the bean fields. Although she did not think she was pretty, others did. Baggy work clothes might hide her blossoming figure, but nothing could deny the beauty of her face and lovely smile. She was not prepared for the attention her looks would attract, and she knew little or nothing about sex. In her family, sex was not something "good girls" discussed.

She was flattered when Dewy Blancett, the twenty-five-year-old son of a preacher, started noticing her. Dewy was working in the fields hauling beans to the storage buildings in town. He planned to follow in his father's footsteps to one day become a preacher. He had perfect manners, he didn't swear and he had a future ahead of him. In short, he was good husband material.

The first time she saw Dewey, Bee was standing at the end of the row of beans, wiping her forehead with a handkerchief. As he drove past and glanced her way, his mouth opened. About fifteen feet down the road he slammed on the brakes, put the truck in reverse, and backed up.
"You better start wearin' a hat to protect that pretty face," he said as he looked more closely. He seemed even more astonished when she smiled, showing perfectly white straight teeth.

"I know," Bee said shyly, "I just forgot it this morning." She was embarrassed and surprised that anyone would notice her, much less pay her a compliment. As he drove off she was flushed with pleasure as she continued hoeing in the hot sun. That was not the last time Dewey would make an excuse to talk to Bee.

At fifteen, Bee was not allowed to date. Her parents would certainly not have approved of her seeing a man in his twenties. This did not prevent her from being attracted to this charming man with his sparkling green eyes, curly brown hair and easy smile. She found herself looking forward to being near him more and more as they worked in the fields. The hard work and hot sun in the fields was made more tolerable at the thought of seeing Dewey.

As she began to fall in love with him and their romance blossomed, they found ways to meet in secret. It was not difficult in these stolen moments for Bee to be seduced by this handsome older man.

Her parents knew nothing of the affair until, during a hospital stay for an emergency appendectomy; the doctor came into the room and asked without fanfare, "Did you know that Beatrice is pregnant?"

Bee was as stunned as her parents. In her ignorance of matters sexual, she had no idea she was with child. Grandma put her hands over her face and started crying. Grandpa's voice was shaking when he finally spoke. "Sister Girl, tell us how this happened and who is responsible." Bee felt ashamed as she haltingly confessed to her affair with Dewey.

After her mother finally stopped crying and wringing her hands she turned to Bee and shook her head. "Well Beatrice, if you don't get married you'll just have to go to that home for unwed mothers in Albuquerque." Her voice cracked as she said, "This is a disgrace."

"Oh no, she won't, Bertie," Grandpa cut in. "She'll stay right here with us," he said as he patted his daughter's hand. "My girl ain't bad and we're gonna see her through this."

Grandpa's support at this critical point in her life might explain my mother's dedication to him when he grew old and sick and had no place to go. Grandma's condemnation would cause an unspoken rift that would last a lifetime.

Dewy's father, the preacher, held great sway over his son as did his mother. Dewey was dedicated to his parents and did not wish to disappoint them. When they learned of Bee's condition, his father forbade him to marry her. Whether their opposition to the marriage was because my mother's family did not attend their church or the fact that they were poor was never made clear. Whatever the reason, the results were devastating for my mother. She felt betrayed by the man she had innocently trusted. In spite of their professed beliefs, Dewy and his parents showed no intention to do the right thing by her. He ignored her for the most part until three years later when he asked to see the child she bore. By that time it was too little too late and she sent him on his way. Never to be a part of the baby's life.

She came to believe, for the most part, that many people attend church just for show. Her own situation was proof of that. At fifteen she had to face her situation alone and with a broken heart. She was robbed of her innocence and the man she loved. Her strength grew as did her resentment and distrust for men and "church people" in general.

She became a mother at fifteen and gave birth in her parent's home. Only her mother, who had resigned herself to the birth, and Dr. Wiggins were there. Because of her young age and unmarried status at the birth of my older brother, Willie, Dr. Wiggins begged her to let him have her beautiful
baby boy to raise as his own. What he didn't realize was that Mama would never give up any of her children under any circumstance. She felt it was her duty and responsibility to raise and protect them; to do less would be nothing short of an unforgivable sin.

"No, doctor, I could never abandon this baby," she said as she caressed Willie's small head. "He's mine to take care of." In a soft but firm voice she continued, "I'm not a shiftless no-good, I just made a mistake."

Mama fell in love with Willie at first sight. He would always be her special child. He was a beautiful baby who turned into a handsome youngster with wavy hair and green eyes. Everyone in Mama's family loved Willie, especially Grandma. Once she held him in her arms, she was just as much in love with him as Mama. As he grew older his easy going nature, generosity and sense of humor made those around him adore him completely.

Mama rarely went anywhere after Willie was born; but when he was about a year old, she went to a rodeo in Estancia along with members of her family. Of course, she took Willie with her. She had turned sixteen and though simply dressed, was pretty enough to attract the attention of Lee Hollan Tracy, who was then only nineteen years old. He was a contestant in the rodeo, tall and handsome with black wavy hair and brown eyes.
Much to Mama's surprise when Hollan started to the chutes to mount his horse, he walked to the bleachers where she was sitting and tossed her his hat. When she caught it, he winked and smiled. "Ma'am, would you hold on to this while I bust this bronc out?"

Mama, flushed with pleasure, sat speechless.

After finishing his ride he returned for his hat. "I'm Hollan Tracy, and I've noticed you around. What's your name?"

Mama smiled at him, blushing slightly. "I'm Bee," she said quietly, "and that baby settin' on his Grandma's lap is my boy, Willie."

This did not ruffle Hollan one bit. He just smiled and said, "Well, I'd like to get to know you both better."


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