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Born With a Rusty Spoon: Episode 48

"A year after Larry and I were married, at age nineteen, I gave birth on August 7, 1959 to our first son, Monty, a beautiful blue eyed baby whom I loved more than I ever thought it possible to love anyone,'' writes famous artist Bertie Stroup Marah.

I was happy to stay home with Monty his first three years. Looking back at those years, I realize I must have felt some loss, too, because I had given up pursuing my art. When Monty was small, I enjoyed drawing objects and animals for his entertainment and education but that was the extent of my artistic endeavors. And although my marriage to Larry was not going well, I was determined to give my child a better childhood than mine. With this commitment, divorce would never be an option.

In 1960, Mama turned forty-one and my folks moved to Hobbs, New Mexico. In Hobbs, Mama tended bar at a nightclub where her younger brother Murrel, now twenty-seven, played the fiddle. P.G. worked intermittently in the oilfields. Mama, P.G. and my sisters shared a house with Grandma and Murrel and his wife, Maggie.

The nightlife atmosphere fueled the turbulence in their lives and created a living hell for Phyllis and Reita who were fifteen and fourteen, respectively. When the nightclub closed down around one o'clock in the morning, Mama, P.G., Murrel and his wife Maggie, would come into the house making noise and sometimes Murrel would invite other musicians to jam and party until daylight. With the loss of sleep the girls had a hard time maintaining passing grades.

P.G. worked for a brief time on an oil rig but the rest of the time he sat in the nightclub while Mama worked and after work she tipped a few herself. That's when arguments would start. In one instance a drunken fight broke out between P.G. and Murrel that ended with Murrel beating P.G. so badly that he required medical treatment. The girls were terrified and would later tell me that they were thinking of running away to come stay with me. But by far, the worst was yet to come.

P.G tried to shoot Micky, a musician in his twenties, for trying to persuade Phyllis to run away with him. Because they lived in close proximity to the nightclub with all manner of clientele, Grandma Counts kept her shotgun behind the front door for protection. Micky ignored P.G.'s warning to stay away from his teenage daughter. When Micky came to the house to get Phyllis, P.G. grabbed the gun and walked toward his car. If Mama had not grabbed the gun just as P.G. fired, the blast would have struck the man in the head instead of just shattering his car window.

P.G. was thrown in jail until the judge set a date for the trial. The seriousness of their situation finally brought Mama and P.G. to their senses. They did not want to lose their daughters and in the nick of time had a real "come to Jesus moment." They made the decision to turn their lives around.

This change included a move to Delta, Colorado, in 1961 where, with the small insurance settlement for their injuries in the wreck, they made a down payment on a small place on Garnett Mesa. Delta, a farming community, was completely different from the New Mexico oilfields. Both parents liked living in Colorado. Once again, Mama stopped drinking and tried to get P.G. to do the same. Phyllis and Reita were happier and liked going to school in Delta; it was a better place for them to live.

On a visit to my folks, Larry and I fell in love with Colorado. Part of this love affair might have been the fact that I was overjoyed to find Mama and P.G. sober and leading a peaceful life—a life many families considered normal. But for us, normalcy was nothing to take for granted.

My parents were a pleasure to be around. They were farming their small property, raising a garden and had a horse and chickens. Phyllis and Reita were enjoying going to school and had made new friends.

When I found out I was pregnant again, I went to work briefly to earn money to help pay the expenses of having another baby. On May 30, 1962, I had my younger son, Kelly who added to the love in my life. My children became the light of my life—my reason for living. I was grateful for their love and blessed by their presence.

Larry had started a trucking business in Aztec but oilfield work in the area was in a slump and we were facing financial difficulties. Kelly was five days old when we moved to Delta. Larry got a job with the forest service, but he knew nothing about cleaning up logging areas. When that job failed, we were forced to declare bankruptcy and live with my folks for a few months.

Larry had a winning personality but it was around that time that I was forced to realize that Larry did not always tell the truth, especially with regard to business dealings and money. I turned a blind eye to this in the hope he would change but his lies sowed the seeds of disaster and were the beginning of real problems in our marriage.


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

To see some of her pictures click on


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