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Born With a Rusty Spoon: Episode 42

Celebrated artist Bertie Stroup Marah, continues her account of a turbulent upbringing, explaining how her wonderful book got its title.

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It was around this time that Willie got married. He was only seventeen but he had been earning his own living since leaving Weed. Even so, Mama had to give her written consent for his marriage. She went with him and his future wife, Mary Jo, to the Justice of the Peace who performed the ceremony.

Willie would later say, although he and Mary Jo were in love, that if his home life had been decent, he might not have married so young for there was no unplanned pregnancy involved. It was a good thing he had always shouldered responsibility, for the marriage would certainly demand this and more. He worked hard and supported Mary Jo and the three children they would later have.

In the middle of the school term P.G. was released to go back to work. My folks moved back to the Farmington area; this time with a small trailer purchased with state compensation money from P.G.'s oil rig injury. I was allowed to stay with Grandma Counts in Artesia to finish the school year.
I loved living with her. She was always partial to me, made me feel special, and comforted me when she thought my folks were treating me unfairly. She had a great influence on my life, giving me self-confidence and self-esteem. Although she encouraged my siblings, she showered more attention on me.

Grandma also offered guidance and good advice. To make a point, she once said to me, "Bertie, a long time ago when a child was christened it was a tradition for the godparents to give a silver spoon as a gift, if they could afford it. A child born in a rich family did not have to wait. That's where the saying 'born with a silver spoon in their mouth' came from. Now the way I see it, Bertie, you never had any rich godparents, so instead of a silver spoon, I reckon you were bom with a rusty spoon in your mouth. But that should not dictate the outcome of your life if you choose to change your fate and work toward that end."

She also used to tell me, "Bertie, you be a good girl. Don't be smokin', cussin', or drinkin'." You're too good for that. A female with a cigarette looks like a slut. Cussin' show's you ain't smart enough to say anything worthwhile and, well, you know what drinkin' does to people. You hold your head up high and make somethin' of yourself."

I believed every word she said.

Grandma proudly hung my fifth grade award-winning painting, ribbon and all. She encouraged my artistic talents and supported me in pursuing them. My father sent me a set of paints for Christmas that year. I loved them, and was disappointed when the paints and paint'by-number designs were all used up. Grandma bought me a few inexpensive drawing tablets and some pastel drawing chalk and I continued to work at my art. She bought me some tubes of fabric paint, made me a skirt and blouse out of plain white muslin and had me paint butterflies and flowers on them. I wore that outfit with pride. Her praise, attention and encouragement convinced me I could do anything I set my mind to and she is responsible for much of my success.

When school was out I begged to continue living with Grandma but Mama insisted I come to live with the family. I was disappointed and angry. P.G. and Mama continued drinking and living a turbulent life. As time went on, their drinking and fighting escalated to the point of where we feared physical confrontation and were helpless to stop it. Although it rarely came to that, the threat was always there. I finally realized that it was good that I was home to be with the girls and help stabilize their lives for they still needed me.


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