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Born With a Rusty Spoon: Episode 10

...Jessie grasped the dangling harness chain and hung on with all his strength. The mule sped up, dragging him along the rutted bumpy road—all the way back home.

Physically, Jessie suffered only scrapes and bruises, but his pride was more seriously damaged by the family's laughter...

Artist Bertie Stroup Marah continues her vividly-told and hugely entertaining life story.

To buy a copy of Bertie's wonderful book please visit

To see some of her pictures click on

We had a pair of stubborn mules that were the source of amusement as well as pain. Although they were Jennies, the term used for female mules, their names were Buck and Rowdy. This left us to wonder if their previous owner was blind or just resented names usually assigned to the female weaker sex.

Buck and Rowdy hauled heavy loads around the farm. One day, after the mules pulled several loads of posts to a spot where RG. and my brothers were putting up fencing, they unhitched them and climbed up to ride Buck and Rowdy home. Taking the rutted dirt road, the easiest route, they didn't see a problem with leaving the harness chains dangling in their wake.

RG., following closely in the old Model A, became impatient. The mules and riders needed to get a move on or get out of the way. The Model A had "occasional brakes" and no horn so he banged on the outside of the door shouting, "Hurry it up, boys, you got chores awaitin'."

The noise and hollering spooked the mules, and Rowdy, Jessie's mount, started to buck, kicking her back legs high in the air.

"Hold it, Rowdy," Jessie cried, but he was already tossed off and headed for hard ground.

"Don't run over me," Jessie screamed at RG., knowing all too well the failure record of the Model A brakes.

Jessie grasped the dangling harness chain and hung on with all his strength. The mule sped up, dragging him along the rutted bumpy road—all the way back home.

Physically, Jessie suffered only scrapes and bruises, but his pride was more seriously damaged by the family's laughter. At times like those, Jessie missed his Daddy even more. Hollan would never have laughed at him.

Our daily lives on the farm were a constant source of entertainment and fond memories for me and my brothers. Mostly because my folks did not drink at Delia's because she did not approve of it. The birth of baby pigs and calves and the hatching of chickens were exciting but the arrival of a new horse was really special.

Darrel bought a fine looking sorrel gelding with a white blaze face and stocking legs. "Rooster" stood over 16 hands and regarded the world with unusually intelligent eyes. Although attempts had been made, he had never been broken to ride. One night at supper Darrel confidently announced, "I've decided I'm gonna start breakin' old Rooster in the morning." We all looked forward to watching Darrel's attempt to gentle this fine looking animal.

After breakfast the next morning, we could hardly wait for the big event when Darrel would climb aboard Rooster.

Pushing away from the table Darrel boasted, "The show's about to start, folks." We cleaned our plates in a hurry and dogged him to the corral, not wanting to miss even one second of the action.

A lean-to shed, used for milk cows, bordered the corral. Its roof angled low toward the back. Out front it was high enough to allow clearance for a horse and rider. Inside were four stalls, each gated and opening into the corral.

We kids and grownups climbed up on the corral fence to watch the show. First, Darrel lured Rooster with a bucket of fresh molasses grain in order to slip a rope around his neck. All the while, Darrel kept sweet-talking Rooster in soft reassuring tones.

"Easy there, boy, easy." As he crooned, he eased a saddle blanket on Rooster's back. Next, just as gently, he managed to throw on a saddle and tighten the cinch.

Rooster snorted and looked wall-eyed back over his withers at Darrel, who seemed to have lost just a little bit of his confidence. Finally, Darrel got his left foot in the stirrup. Old Rooster was whirling in a circle. Darrel swung his right leg over and took a deep seat. The show did indeed get started. Rooster lowered his head, farted and started jumping like a frog.

He bucked and snorted his way around the corral until he came to an open gate leading into one of the milking stalls. With no warning, he made a sharp right turn into the stall, which was empty except for a milking stool.

"Oh, shit!" Darrel bellowed. He clung tightly to Rooster who bucked into the back of the shed. Afraid of getting thrown off, kicked, and trampled in the close quarters of the stall, Darrel hung on precariously. Every time Rooster bucked, Darrel's head and shoulders were rammed into that low hanging roof. The pounding abuse Rooster inflected continued for what seemed like an eternity. Finally he lunged through the gate and with one super-horse jump, unloaded the battered and bruised Darrel onto a large mushy cow patty.

The milking stool in the stall was left splintered and broken with legs that wobbled much like Darrel's.

In spite of his injuries Darrel vowed, "Someday I'll break that red son of a bitch." Eventually he did and rode Rooster everywhere.

One day, carrying Delia's grocery list in his pocket, Darrel rode him from the farm over to the sawmill commissary. Darrel tied Rooster to the hitching post and went inside to shop. When he ambled outside with a burlap sack of groceries, his horse was nowhere in sight.

"Damned if someone ain't stole old Rooster!"

The sawmill was located over the mountain just south of Weed. Aiming to outsmart the thief, Darrel muttered to himself, "I bet that damned horse thief is headed for Weed."

He hitched a ride in the back of a pickup and arrived at Cordelia's Bar in search of his horse and the reward of a cold beer. "I'll be damned if I wudn't right," he grumbled, as they pulled up in front of Cordelia's. There stood Rooster tied to the bar's hitching post, twitching his tail at the abundant and annoying flies.

With or without provocation, Darrel loved to fight. The theft of Rooster was certainly more than enough to provoke righteous anger in Darrel, who hopped from the bed of the pickup, took the stairs in threes, and tossed his sack of groceries on Cordelia's porch.

"You thievin' son of a bitch, what are you do in' with my horse?" he shouted, stomping toward the bar's lone customer.

Darrel's first punch hit home, but the thief stood tough and defiant.

"Well, you ain't got what it takes to get him back," he smirked. '"Sides, I just borrowed him."

The two men lunged at each other, and ended up tangled on the barroom floor. In the writhing and confusion, Darrel mistakenly grabbed his own foot, tugged off his boot—and then realized he could use it to wop the thief into submission.

Victorious, Darrel took possession of Rooster, swilled a beer, tied his sack of groceries to his saddle, and proudly rode home.

We loved living on the farm but occasionally I got bored staying at the house while Mama and Delia were busy with cooking, canning and cleaning. To get me out from under their feet Mama would insist Willie and Jessie take me with them when they went off to explore the countryside. In turn, my brothers grew weary of having me tag along, trailing them like a blood hound, and reporting back on all our activities, Willie found a solution when he noticed some prickly pear cactus growing near the edge of the cornfield.

"Hey!" he said, "there's a prickly pear! Boy, those things are good to eat."

He carefully removed a fruit and peeled and ate it, as though it were the best tasting delicacy he had ever tasted. I took the bait, and I could hardly wait to gobble one down.

"Get me one," I whined, "get me one." He carefully picked one just for me. Instead of peeling it, he plopped it into my open mouth spines and all.

"There ya go," he said pleasantly. But I was already screaming as the tiny cactus spines dug into my tongue.

With my tongue protruding, I ran crying and babbling to the house mumbling, desperately, jumping up and down, pointing to my swollen, stinging red-hot tongue.

When Mama figured out what I was trying to say, she marched me to the front porch, and with bright light and tweezers, was able to extract the spines.

After that I didn't rejoin my brothers, who were not punished. Mama figured correctly that they were fed up with my tattling tongue; and, for once, were able to silence it.

"Don't get in the tank, 'cause it will muddy the waters and the cows won't drink it," Mama repeatedly warned us about Delia's earthen water tank. But the water was so tempting on hot summer days. On one such day in mid August, we were playing near the tank, busy catching horned toads. We liked to put them on their backs in our hands and rub their soft bellies. They closed their eyes and were perfectly still as though in a trance. We would then let them go and watch them scurry to freedom. By noon the temperature had become increasingly hot and we finally surrendered to the lure of the tank's cool water.

Wading around the muddy edge of the water Jessie observed how good the black mud felt as it squished between his toes. "Boy, it's fun to make tracks in this goop."

"Yeah I bet it would feel good to wade in the water a little bit too," I agreed. We discussed the matter and finally decided to take the plunge.
We voted to leave our dry clothes on the bank. That way, we could put them back on after our adventure and no one would know what we'd been up to. That settled, the three of us stripped down and waded right in.

"I can teach you to float on your back," Willie promised, "just let me hold you up out of the water." I had fun up until he let go and I sank into the muddy water. After coughing and spitting out the stinky liquid, I was more than ready to go to the house.

Our plan almost worked; although our clothes didn't give us away, our red eyes, sunburns, and mud-spattered hair did. Mama lined us up along Delia's picket fence, and then she silently paced in front of us like a drill sergeant. After an eternity, she stopped. "Do you think you need a spankin' for not mindin' me?"

My brothers whimpered, "No, ma'am," eyes down on their muddy feet. I, however, hadn't really experienced much of a spanking and, feeling bad for all of us, said "Yes." The punishment must not have been too harsh because I can't remember it. But I vividly remember the dread at being found out and having to answer to Mama.

I loved helping Delia. After she put fresh warm milk into the machine that separated it from the cream, she would then churn the cream into butter in her old fashioned churn with the wooden handle that lifted the agitator up and down. When the cream turned to butter, she would scoop it into a wooden rectangular box that formed it into pound blocks. Sometimes I was allowed to do the churning.

Delia had an old washing machine powered by a gasoline motor. It sat on the back porch, along with two tubs for rinse water. I liked the smell of the soap and bluing used in the wash, and I was fascinated with the way the clothes were fed through the wringer and dropped into the tubs of rinse water. I could only watch because Mama was afraid my fingers would get caught and pull my arm into the wringer. I did get to help her hang clothes on the line to dry afterward. I would hand her items from the laundry basket and she would secure them to the line with clothespins.

Delia's cellar smelled delicious from the apples, onions, and potatoes she stored. I didn't go there often because I was afraid of the spiders that hid in the dark. But, the smokehouse's aroma of bacon or ham always made my mouth water and it wasn't as scary as the cellar.

Delia led a life devoid of frills. Her only indulgence was a flower garden by the side of the porch. It was tightly fenced to prevent her chickens from destroying it. She had to carry buckets of water but managed to grow some beautiful hollyhocks and morning glories that climbed on the old picket fence. The colors in her flowers appeared vibrant against the graying wood of her house and fence. As a result of these early visuals, hollyhocks are one of my favorite flowers.

Willie and Jessie liked to sneak into the corral and ride Delia's calves. Mama warned them many times, "Don't be ridin' those calves, you might get hurt and you'll ride the fat right off of 'em." Like all other warnings, they paid no attention. One day they came up with a new idea; one that included me. They figured if I were an accomplice, I would be less likely to tattle or maybe they just wanted to have as much fun as possible before Mama lowered the boom. Either way, I was glad to be included.

Delia had an Angora goat that ran with the milk cows. One of the cows, called Heart, had long scary horns and an equally mean disposition. She was named for the shape of the white spot on her face, certainly not for her aggressive attitude. I was terrified of Heart.

That morning the boys kept the goat in the corral when they let the cows out to pasture for the day.

"Boy," Willie said as he eyed me. "This goat has the softest hair I ever felt."

"Let me touch him," I pleaded.

The boys held onto the soft, fluffy, luxurious mohair goat. Happily stroking, I murmured, "It feels so soft."

In a persuasive tone Willie assured me, "It's even softer when you sit on it."

The gate was closed, so the goat couldn't join the cows. I felt perfectly safe in allowing the boys to set me astride the goat to feel for myself just how soft he was. However, before I could get a deep seat, Jessie, ambled over to the gate, swung it open and shouted, "Turn 'er loose!"

The goat bolted and I clung with both hands to his coat, laughing as it bounced along. Swiftly he carried me toward the open gate. The closer we got to the gate the more terrified I became for I knew that goat was headed for the cows. My fate, at the end of Heart's horns, was not looking good.
My giggles turned to screams. "No, no, no," I yelled, "make him stop."

The only thing to do was to dive off the goat's back onto the soft corral ground; otherwise, I would land on the rocks in the path leading to the pasture. I dove and fell headfirst into a fresh cow patty.

My tattling tongue was in overdrive when I got to the house. "Mama," I cried, "look what they did to me," as I swiped at the green stinky mess that covered the front of me. I was no longer green with envy at my brothers' calf riding experience—just green with cow dung.


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