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Born With a Rusty Spoon: Episode 22

...I melted into tears and showed her my injury. "I think it's broke," I cried.

"Let me see it," she said hugging me. I immediately felt better. I burst into tears and the resentment toward my mother for not being there for me completely vanished.

Mama dressed my injury with some kind of concoction that included vinegar, and brown paper. The medicinal affect wasn't nearly as reassuring as was her love...

Bertie Stroup Marah continues her heart-warming autobiography.

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We lived in Albuquerque for a few months in order to finish the school year. Our time there was made bearable only because Mama's family made music and we all enjoyed listening to them. Uncle Murrel was a natural musician who taught himself to play the fiddle. At twelve years old he won second place in the state fiddling competition. He played in Dick Bill's band, which was well known in the Albuquerque area. It was a wonderful treat when the whole family went to the club one night to watch Murrel perform. In addition to watching him play the fiddle, during the band's break the chubby cook came out from the kitchen and tap danced. He was a marvelous dancer and the crowd went wild, throwing money on the dance floor when he finished.

Murrel would later play fiddle for many well known country music stars such as George Jones, Tom T. Hall, Louise Mandrel, Faren Young, Johnny Rodriquez, and Ray Price. Mama was as proud of him as if he were her own son.

Albuquerque was no place for wild kids like us who had been free to roam the countryside all our lives. P.G. had no luck finding work there, so he decided to return to the Weed area and work in a sawmill. The day after school was out for the summer we loaded our belongings on Uncle Dick's old truck. After we said our goodbye's my brothers and I settled in the back of the truck on some bedding and Uncle Dick climbed into the cab on the driver's side. P.G. and Mama sat in the cab holding Phyllis and Reita on their laps. As we pulled away, P.G. breathed a long sigh of relief,
glanced back over his shoulder, and declared, "I'd rather scratch shit with the chickens than live in this place one more day."

Unfortunately the only available job was at a sawmill in Monument Canyon, which was so isolated there was no school bus service to Weed. So my folks made arrangements for my brothers and me to room and board with a nice widow lady, Annie Van Winkle. Annie had a passel of kids of her own and we had fun living with the family for a while. But what we really longed for was our own stability together as a family.

I was nine years old and had just entered the third grade. Jessie was eleven and in the fifth, Willie was thirteen and in the seventh. That was the year I fell and nearly broke my arm. It was a Friday night, one of those rare occasions when we were able to go skating in the school gym. We usually didn't have the money for skate rental nor transportation to get there. But this night we had both. I was skating around the floor, slowing at the corners and daring to gain speed on the straight-aways. Halfway into my tenth lap, I was startled by a skater speeding past me and fell to the hardwood floor. I landed with my left wrist turned back in a painful position. As I sat on the sidelines I cried because it hurt so bad and I could no longer skate. It so happened that Mama and P.G had come down from Monument Canyon to stay at Delia's for the weekend. Saturday morning, with my arm still throbbing, my brothers and I walked the two miles from Annie's house to Delia's. I wanted sympathy for my arm and the boys wanted to see our folks.

As we walked along I continued to complain about the pain in my arm. "I just wish Mama wasn't so far away," I said.

"Yeah, they could'a picked us up at Annie's before they went to Delia's," Jess complained. "I guess they just don't worry about us much anymore."

On that day Jessie was feeling particularly unloved and I was beginning to follow suit.

"Now Jessie," Willie reasoned, "you know they have to live at the sawmill and we have to go to school."

"Well, I don't care about school anyway and I'm tired of staying with Annie, and besides, Pete's been pickin' on me." Pete was Annie's boy who was the same age as Jessie.

"Now Jess, I saw you pick back a little bit with that left hook of yours," Willie reminded him. So, on we grumbled down the dusty dirt road to Delia's.

What I remember most about that day wasn't my painful arm, but the ache I felt to see my mother and hear her comforting voice. The minute Mama met us on Delia's front porch I melted into tears and showed her my injury. "I think it's broke," I cried.

"Let me see it," she said hugging me. I immediately felt better. I burst into tears and the resentment toward my mother for not being there for me completely vanished.

Mama dressed my injury with some kind of concoction that included vinegar, and brown paper. The medicinal affect wasn't nearly as reassuring as was her love. We stayed the night at Delia's. The next day, on their way back to the sawmill camp, Mama and P.G. dropped us off at Annie's. As they drove away my brothers and I felt abandoned.

I was still nursing my sprained arm when I went to school the next day. The teacher, Mrs. Douglas, who taught first and second grades at Weed, took pity on me. Knowing we were boarding with the Van Winkle's, she asked, "Bertie, would you like to come stay with me?"

I was surprised and flattered she would take a special interest in me, and I was tired of sharing a bed with the two Van Winkle girls and thought it might be nice to stay with Mrs. Douglas for a while. "I think I would like that. If Mama says it's all right."

Mama gave her permission. Arrangements were made, and I went home with Mrs. Douglas. For the next nine months I experienced life as I had never known it.

Mr. and Mrs. Douglas lived in a beautiful mountain home. I had my own pretty bedroom with a rug. I could take baths in a real bathtub. The first thing Mrs. Douglas did was to wash all my clothes and hang them on the clothesline. I was ashamed because she thought my things might be infested with bedbugs. Although I was no stranger to shame, it felt particularly hurtful that day as the realization of my life compared to theirs was painfully apparent.

Mrs. Douglas had gray hair but her age I could not determine. It just seemed she had always been the same unchangeable age—whatever it was. Her years of teaching reflected her solemn personality; she did not often laugh. She was respected for her strict classroom discipline by generations of students. This same rigid guidance continued in her home. She was not prone to show emotion and was more concerned with teaching me how to behave properly than showing me affection.

I learned proper etiquette, both at the table and when interacting with people. The first time she formally introduced me to one of her friends I
blushed and dropped my head. I paid the price for my poor manners. The minute we were alone she scolded, "Bertie, you are never to behave like that again. When you are introduced to a person, you look them in the eye, offer your hand and say you are glad to meet them." I followed her instructions from then on.

I learned to polish real hardwood floors as well as my shoes. I had other assigned chores, and was expected to do them. Mrs. Douglas believed in hard work. I had more clothes than I ever had and learned how to properly care for them. I had jeans and flannel shirts for school and two nice dresses for special occasions. I even had an extra pair of shoes. I would often open the closet door just to look and marvel at my new wardrobe. I loved to touch the dresses and try on my patent leather shoes. As I glided around the room in those shiny shoes, I imagined how good I would look when I could dress up to go to the "box supper and cake walk."

I tend to associate different taste sensations with a specific time and place. So I think of Mrs. Douglas when I eat fresh strawberries. Those berries she plucked from her garden for her homemade jam were the best ever tasted.

For the first time in my life someone actually made me do my homework. Mrs. Douglas even looked it over after I finished. My mother had neither the time nor inclination to do this. Cooking, cleaning, and caring for two toddlers with no modern conveniences drained her energy. She thought it was the teacher's job to teach and ours to learn—without her intervention.


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