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Born With a Rusty Spoon: Episode 58

...In the process of loading Phyllis's possessions, P.G. spotted a box destined for the trash. He was pawing through the junk in the box when he spotted just the thing to lift his spirits from the bottom of their sorrowful pit. With a sly smile, he held an old shoulder-length blond wig up and closely inspected it...

Artist Bertie Stroup Marah continues her engaging autobiography.

My folks spent several years working on ranches near Collbran, Colorado, a beautiful little mountain village that sits on the north side of the Grand Mesa. At that time the town was a gathering center for the surrounding ranchers and farmers. On the weekends, we loved visiting our folks there to enjoy the scenery and small town atmosphere.

It was around this time that I met Gloria Tappan, who would become my best friend. Gloria and Tell Tappan had moved from Las Vegas, Nevada to Palisade, Colorado, where they bought a small peach orchard. Gloria worked for Union Carbide and we developed a friendship that has lasted longer than most marriages.

After a couple of years I felt our friendship was strong enough to introduce her to my family. I invited Gloria and Tell to visit the Collbran ranch where Mama and P.G. lived and worked. Gloria was delighted; Tell was reluctant. As he put it, "I don't want to spend the day bored senseless by some old folks."

Boring? I wish!

The day we drove up Plateau Canyon toward Collbran, I became more and more nervous and apprehensive. After all, my folk's behavior in the past did not inspire much confidence.

Anxiously, I blurted out a last minute disclaimer, "I won't be responsible for any bad behavior of my folks. Sometimes they do some unexpected things." I was praying that for once, they would be low key.

Remarkably, Tell and Gloria liked P.G. and Mama immediately. We made it through lunch. But then my hopes for an uneventful "get to know you" were dashed when P.G., after playing the fiddle for his guests, tipped his recliner over backwards, and did a double back flip.

I was amused and amazed. Although my family did things that regular folks might consider outrageous, I found them humorous and loveable. I knew they were using humor to get through life.

Instead of being offended like I thought they would be, Tell and Gloria became friends with my folks. Soon, they met more of my relatives and were considered part of our family. Gloria and I have shared the good, the bad, and the ugly in our lives for the last forty years.

Larry's temper did not improve with time. What had once been sullen silences turned into frequent outbursts of temper tantrums. I tried to short circuit his anger by humoring and placating him. But this just made things worse. For years I pretended everything was all right and made excuses when he created scenes in front of friends and family. As I had done all my life, I tried to smooth bad situations over with the false hope they would get better.

I was determined my sons would have their father in their lives. I remembered Jessie's grief and longing for our daddy and I would go to any lengths to spare my boys that sorrow. Larry's good parenting skills when our sons were little did not extend to their teenage years and there were many unpleasant confrontations in our home. I became afraid of him and at my insistence we went for counseling. It was a failure. From personal experience I have found psychologists to be a waste of money.

During this turbulent time my greatest source of comfort was the love of my sons and working at my art.

I tried to keep Mama and P.G. from knowing the bad times I was facing as they had their hands full helping Phyllis through her divorce from Bill. P.G.'s sense of humor often masked his sensitivity to the pain suffered by those he loved. He was easily overwhelmed by their sorrow and turned to comedy for relief.

He and Mama were helping Phyllis move after her divorce was final. P.G. could not bear to see Phyllis so broken hearted and the thought of her little kids growing up without a dad made him cry. He dealt with the gravity of the situation the only way he knew how—drinking and comedy.

Reita and her second husband, Sam, were helping Mama and P.G. move Phyllis out of her house. Sam was a wannabe cowboy, who worked hard to give the impression that he had just moseyed in from the range.

In the process of loading Phyllis's possessions, P.G. spotted a box destined for the trash. He was pawing through the junk in the box when he spotted just the thing to lift his spirits from the bottom of their sorrowful pit. With a sly smile, he held an old shoulder-length blond wig up and closely inspected it. Fueled by possibilities his monkey mind kicked into overdrive. His eyes were red from crying, but when he stuck the wig on his head and topped it with his old cowboy hat, his face lifted. He looked happier—silly, but happier.

The others were used to P.G.'s antics and paid him little attention. He was disappointed that no one even giggled, and demanded to ride along when Reita and Sam made a trip to the grocery store. Once there, he assured them he would sit in the car while they went inside.

Sam, in his "cool cowhand" mode, stood talking with a man at the meat counter while Reita gathered up items from her list. As she reached for a bottle of Mr. Clean, she glanced down the aisle to see P.G. at the cash register in the stringy blond wig with red-rimmed eyes peering from under his cowboy hat.

The clerk took a step back, but managed to keep a straight face, acting like there was nothing out of the ordinary. Sam stopped in mid-sentence, and quickly headed for the door, ignoring the father-in-law who was tainting his cowboy image.

P.G. left the store frustrated that his attempt at comedy was unappreciated by the straight-faced clerk. But he visibly brightened outside the door when Reita started giggling.

When my sons were growing up they loved to visit Mama and P.G. on the ranches where they worked. P.G., an overgrown kid himself, loved having them around. The kids followed him, helping where they could as he irrigated and did other chores. They especially liked it when they were allowed to ride horses. During their summer breaks from school I would pack their clothes and plenty of groceries and take them to visit for a week or two.


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

To see some of her pictures click on


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