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Born With a Rusty Spoon: Episode 9

...P.G. had a great sense of humor inherited from his father, Drewy Anderson. In his younger days, Drewy "cowboyed" with Will Rogers in Oklahoma. The story goes that after Will became a well-known performer, he sent a man to Weed to persuade Drewy to join him in Hollywood.

Drewy, having ridden his horse to Weed, listened to the proposal and said, "As much as I would like to see old Will, you tell him I just can't leave Delia and the kids to go on a wild-goose chase."...

Bertie Stroup Marah continues her vivid and fabulously entertaining life story.

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

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Mama's brother, Dick, met P.G. Anderson when they were in Army boot camp at the start of World War II. Dick learned that P.G was from the Weed area. While looking at family snapshots together, Dick pointed to one and said, "Those're my sisters, Beatrice and Virginia."

P.G. pointed to Mama and said, "Boy, I'd like to meet that one."

Dick laughed and said, "I don't think so, she's married to a big son of a bitch and has three kids."

Later when they both spent their furlough in Weed, Dick did introduce P.G. to Mama. She was still married at the time but her marriage was falling apart and she would be divorced before she saw P.G. again.

After they divorced in 1943, we struggled to get by on the money Daddy sent and the little help Mama's family could spare.

That same year P.G. received an early medical discharge from the Army because of a broken hip that did not heal properly. His courtship of Mama began when he dropped by the house one day to ask about news of Dick. After inviting him inside Mama was apologetic, "I'd offer you a cup of coffee but I ran out a few days ago." P.G. guessed correctly that coffee was not the only thing we were short on when he saw our meager meal of biscuits and beans.

"Would you mind if I go to the store and get some coffee and a few groceries for you?" P.G. asked politely. Mama wanted to refuse the offer but concern for her hungry kids overrode her pride and she responded with a blush, "I guess that would be all right."

He went straight to Goss's store and bought a bill of groceries for us. This act of generosity and concern won over Willie, Jessie, and me instantly. It was also the beginning of a brief courtship that ended in marriage.

Grandma and Grandpa Counts had not yet left the area so the day they got married P.G. and Mama took us kids to their house to stay the night. They did not have a car of their own so their friends, Rordan and Rosalie Bevels, took them to Alamogordo where a Justice of the Peace performed the ceremony. They had very little money so a honeymoon was not even a consideration.

P.G. had a great sense of humor inherited from his father, Drewy Anderson. In his younger days, Drewy "cowboyed" with Will Rogers in Oklahoma. The story goes that after Will became a well-known performer, he sent a man to Weed to persuade Drewy to join him in Hollywood.

Drewy, having ridden his horse to Weed, listened to the proposal and said, "As much as I would like to see old Will, you tell him I just can't leave Delia and the kids to go on a wild-goose chase."

P.G. learned from his parents the importance of loyalty. He never looked sideways at another woman after he married Mama, and P.G. tried to provide for us. But he took no responsibility for our discipline; that was left to Mama. He made it clear that honesty was crucial to integrity, and said many times, "You are only as good as your word." He was an honest man.

P.G. was soft-hearted. Although he drank his share, he didn't turn mean, and was usually jolly. He could see humor in nearly everything and used it to his advantage. The sky was the limit when it came to making other people laugh or making them the brunt of his practical jokes. Mama would scold him for his childish behavior on our behalf, but secretly I believe she was amused by it.

When they were first married, Mama refused to drink with P.G. and she tried her best to discourage him from tipping the bottle. However, as the years wore on, and she wore down, she gradually found herself giving in. She didn't drink as much as he did mind you—but more than she should have. Her mistrust of men prompted her to stay close by his side whether it involved manual labor in a sawmill or going to the bar on Saturday night. She considered herself equal to any man and, even as she approached middle age, continued to prove it.

P.G. kept strong ties to his family who had always lived on the 360-acres homesteaded in the 1800s by his maternal grandpa Strang. The farm lay in a valley with pine and pinion trees covering the mountains that bordered the fields. The hillsides were green and after a rain, the air smelled fresh. He had no desire to leave his family or the Sacramento Mountains in spite of the hardships of trying to eke out a living in the area.

Times were hard during the war. P.G. sought whatever odd jobs he could find and that meant we were always on the move. From time to time, during the first three or four years of their marriage, between jobs, our family stayed with P.G.'s mother, Delia, on the farm. The length of our stays varied from a week to a couple of months, depending on P.G.'s jobs. While living there, P.G. took whatever odd jobs he could find and worked around the farm when he was not otherwise employed. Mama loved and respected Delia and helped her with the chores and meals. She was grateful for Delia's generosity and they never had a cross word.

The intermittent times we spent with Delia on the family farm were some of the best in our lives for in her home we were warm and had plenty to eat compared to our world of desolation, cold, and nothing to eat but beans. She would meet us at the front gate with a welcoming smile. "How are y'all doin'? Come on in and I'll fix you somethin' to eat." Those became our favorite words.

Willie, Jessie and I spent much of the time outside playing and exploring. While the boys were interested in stink bugs, spiders and other insects, I was more inclined to pick, smell, and study the shapes and colors of wildflowers. When there was a breeze, the pine trees made a comforting rustling sound that I loved to listen to as I watched the branches gently sway.

We still had no electricity or indoor plumbing and the water came from a cistern by the back porch and it took a lot of elbow grease with the hand pump to fill a bucket.

Delia cooked huge meals and made biscuits that she baked in the oven of her wood cook stove. They were delicious with her fresh churned butter. As we hungrily watched, she would make a little extra dough and brown it on top of the iron stove then she would divide the pancake among us kids for a snack before supper. It was heavenly. Although Delia was not one to show affection by hugging, touching, or using words of endearment, she demonstrated her love by providing shelter and food and these things made us love her.

She also made her own soap, which was the custom in those days, from rendered fat and lye. Each batch was cooked up outside in a huge black iron pot. To get the process going Delia would stir up the troops.
"Willie, you and Jessie carry some chunks of wood to the back yard and we'll get a good hot fire goin' under that old iron pot. And Bertie, run get me some matches to start this fire, and put that can of lye down, you'll burn yourself."

To me, Delia was the most comforting figure in the world, in her cotton print housedress, apron, her heavy flesh-colored stockings, sensible lace-up shoes and her ever present cotton bonnet. She was a symbol of stability that was otherwise often absent in our lives.

Delia could ride a horse or hitch a team as good as any man. She had this in common with Mama—both could stand their own against a man. Each day we enjoyed hearing her read the Bible. She took living by its commandments seriously. I know of only one time when she displayed anything other than patience and goodwill. That was when her beloved Tom, a yellow tabby, who spent many contented hours on a cushion beside
her chair, sneaked into the chicken house and killed her freshly hatched baby chicks.

Delia's response was unexpected to say the least. She marched around the house to the front porch where old Tom lay sunning himself. My brothers and I watched speechless as she yanked him by the scruff, proceeded directly to the woodpile, and grabbed the axe. Her next action was so swift we had no time to protest—she threw the cat across a stump and chopped his head off. "You son of a bitch," she muttered, as she walked away, "You won't be killin' any more of my chickens."

I felt sad for old Tom and wished Delia had given him another chance. But our food source had to be protected. Needless to say, Delia, commanded respect from everyone who knew her. When she told us kids to jump, we sprung high as frogs.

Drewy died in 1943 of kidney disease leaving Delia a widow. Because I was the only girl, I was allowed to sleep with her at night. It was heavenly to sink into the softness of the feather mattress and inhale the aroma of line-dried sheets. I liked being covered with her artful patchwork quilts made of their many shapes and colors. I was always careful not to flop around in bed for fear she would take away permission to sleep with her.

There were many things to do on that farm, from swimming in the earthen stock tank to carving stick horses from limbs off the old apple trees. Willie and Jessie and I were always careful to carve our very own "brands." In spite of the bellyaches they caused, we would eat green apples with chips of salt from the blocks of salt meant for the livestock.

Sometimes while staying with Delia, P.G.'s brothers, Darrel and Doyle, lived there as well. Everyone had to help with the chores and the jobs included chopping wood, milking cows, gathering eggs, hoeing corn and butchering hogs. Hoeing corn was a hard, hot job and we all had to help so that we could can corn for the winter and roast ears in the summer. We also had to store some corn in cribs for feeding the farm animals.

One of the chores assigned to my brothers the summer of 1944, when they were seven and nine years old, was to herd the grazing milk cows from the mountainside to the barn where they would be milked before supper. One evening, after Willie and Jessie had been gone a long time gathering the cows, Darrel, said with a mischievous grin, "Wouldn't it be funny to scare those boys a little bit?"

Ghost stories, told around the fire at night instilled us kids with a healthy fear of the supernatural. With this in mind, Darrel hatched a plan that he was sure would scare the wits out of my brothers. He cut eyeholes in an old worn sheet and then snuck up the hillside to the grazing area. He found himself a hiding place behind some boulders and when my brothers and the cows came into view, Darrel rose from the rocks and began to wail and moan. Apparently he sounded more like a demented lunatic than a ghost.

Not easily frightened, Willie recognized something familiar about the raving apparition. He turned to his startled brother and grinned.

"Jess, that's just ol' Darrel under that sheet."

With that, the boys began pelting the sheet-covered fiend with rocks. Jessie's deadly left-handed aim found its mark several times, and a bruised Darrel ran down the path with his hand on his head yelping, "Stop! for God's sake stop, it's me, Darrel!"

He ran so fast his sheet tripped him up. When he stood and began running again, the eyeholes had shifted out of place, rendering him temporarily blind. For the rest of the way down, Darrel stumbled and rolled and fought with that sheet. Not surprisingly, Willie and Jessie made it back to the house first and they regaled Delia, P.G., Mama and me with vivid descriptions of what happened. By the time Darrel limped in, bruised and rubbing the knots on the back of his head, he was greeted with good-natured taunts. That night he made good use of Delia's homemade liniment.


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