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Born With a Rusty Spoon: Episode 46

...Locked in a bear hug they circled round and round, each unwilling to let go. Mama finally ended the monster dance in the middle of a whirl when she grabbed the handle of the aluminum coffee pot and whacked P.G. on the back of his head. The pot was badly bent and coffee grounds scattered across the kitchen...

Artist Bertie Stroup Marah, continuing her autobiography tells of a fight involving her hard-drinking parents.

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

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Even as I spoke encouraging words to the students in a speech at my graduation, I was resigned to the fact that I would be unable to achieve my own goals. My loss of hope bred disappointment and despair greater than any I had ever experienced. With few options after graduation, I went to work in a bank. I still lived at home and home was as chaotic as ever.

I had dated Larry Stroup my last two years in high school. He was four years older than I and had come from Texas to work in the oilfields. He worked for the same company as P.G. Larry's politeness and courtesy impressed P.G. who introduced us. That Larry didn't drink or carouse appealed to me. He was also good looking, well- mannered, and he pursued me relentlessly.

Larry was not critical of my family and for that I was grateful. I was enamored with him, and I believed I was in love. I had reservations about marrying, but he would not agree to a long engagement and kept pressuring me to get married. At times our courtship turned turbulent because of his possessiveness and jealousy. I did not recognize his behavior as a warning sign of things to come. Instead, I chose or was naive enough to believe we could make a good life together. Larry and I married a couple months after I graduated from high school. As I said my vows, I was hopeful that I had made a good decision. We moved into a small house in Aztec.

After I left home, my sisters missed me terribly because they had to deal with our parents' turmoil without me. Our bond was strong and even though I was married, my role as a caretaker had not changed and I could not abandon them.

Shortly after the wedding Larry and I were awakened in the middle of the night to find Mama and the girls at the door. I welcomed them but not without some embarrassment—my new mother-in-law was visiting us at the time. She was a devout Baptist and I feared she would beat a quick retreat to Texas. Much to her credit, whatever impression of my memorable family she took away with her, I never heard so much as a whisper.

We sat at the kitchen table while Mama and the girls recounted the events that had occurred earlier in the evening. As usual, P.G. had gone to the lounge where Mama was tending bar. While waiting for her to finish her shift, he drank a few too many beers.

"He got mad when I told him he had too much to drink," Mama said, as she reached for her pack of Kools. "He even accused me of likin' the people in the bar better than him!"

She tapped the cigarette package and grasped the first one to poke out its menthol-tipped head. "I was so pissed off that I had a couple drinks myself when I got off work."

Mama lit her cigarette, and, in bits and pieces, she and my sisters filled us in on what happened next. Mama and P.G. had continued bickering after they arrived home.

While she was fixing something to eat, a struggle ensued in the tiny kitchen of the trailer. Even though P.G. knew from experience that in a physical confrontation Mama would strike first and ask questions later, he failed to use his best judgment. Thinking he had better take control of the situation, P.G. came from behind and grabbed Mama by her ponytail. He might as well have grabbed a tiger by the tail!

"Turn me loose, you bastard!" She twisted around to face him but was too close to strike a blow.

"I will if you'll admit you're wrong and stop bitchin' about what I drink!"

Grunts and groans grew louder as they bumped into the cabinets and refrigerator.

"I'm not wrong. You drink too much. When I get loose I'll make you wish you had a drink!" She took a few sharp gasps of air. "You know not to pull my hair!"

With her arms wrapped around him, Mama clung to the back of his shirt. Rip! His old worn plaid shirt gave way. The pearl snaps in front had released their grip early on, leaving him with just the patched sleeves intact.

"Now look what you've done, tore up my best shirt."

"I'm gonna tear up more than your shirt! I'm gonna tear up your ass like a wild sow's nest!"

Locked in a bear hug they circled round and round, each unwilling to let go. Mama finally ended the monster dance in the middle of a whirl when she grabbed the handle of the aluminum coffee pot and whacked P.G. on the back of his head. The pot was badly bent and coffee grounds scattered across the kitchen.

Phyllis and Reita slept in bunk beds in a room just off the kitchen. "I was asleep," Phyllis said, tucking her hair behind her ear, "until some coffee grounds hit me in the face." She made no attempt to hide her disgust.
"I was already awake," Reita informed us proudly, caught up in the excitement of the tale. "I heard the ruckus from the beginnin'."

"You noticed he didn't want any more of me after I whacked him with that pot," Mama said, with a small half laugh. Evidently P.G.'s fighting spirit diminished faster than the lump on his head.

"We told Mama that we should just come to your house 'til things simmer down," Phyllis interrupted.

At the urging of the girls, Mama consented to stay at our house for the rest of the night. As usual when P.G. and Mama fought, a truce was soon to follow. Both would later laughingly recall P.G.'s remark when they were shopping for a replacement for the ruined coffee pot. "Bee," he pleaded, rubbing the knot on his head, "please get a smaller one this time."


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