Photo and painting created by Bertie Stroup Marah
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Bertie’s book synopsis, “The story begins with Bertie recalling a day in 1942 when she was three years old and pees her pants to gain the attention of her mother, Bee. Bee had led her own tough life when her family fled from Oklahoma to New Mexico during the dust bowl and depression era. At age fifteen, Bee is seduced by an older man and becomes pregnant with her first child, Willie. The father of her child comes from a strict religious family, but refuses to marry her and abandons her and the baby.
Bee later met and married a handsome cowboy named Lee Hollan Tracy, who accepted her son as his own. Bee and Hollan have two more children, Jessie and Bertie. Hollan was a government trapper, which caused him to move his family from one trapping camp to another in remote areas of New Mexico. The children make the best of their isolated world by creating imaginative adventures. Unfortunately, the fairy tale marriage of Hollan and Bee ends when Bertie is four years old after Bee discovers her best girlfriend’s silk pajamas in Hollan’s bedroll. The distance, animosity, and subsequent divorce bring grief for Bertie and her brothers and sparse, bittersweet visits from their father.
Bee’s second marriage to P.G. Anderson produced two daughters and more hardship as they drifted from one inferior shanty to another. For a brief time they gained reprieve from their desolation by staying at P.G.’s mother’s farm in the Sacramento Mountains near Weed, New Mexico. On the farm they savored all facets of farm life until the family was forced to leave the mountains so P.G. and Bee could find work. The only home they could afford was an abandoned boxcar in Artesia, New Mexico. It was in Artesia, that P.G.’s drunken brother nearly killed Bertie’s eight-year-old brother, Jessie with alcohol poisoning.
After unsuccessful employment, Bertie’s family then returned to the mountains where they lived in a tent in a sawmill camp. There, she and her brothers enjoyed running free and playing in the forest. That is, until her parents turned to drinking for relief from their dire circumstances. As a result of the heavy drinking they were forced to move to Hot Springs, New Mexico for P.G. to receive treatment for a kidney disease brought on by alcohol.
There they lived in a tent on the Rio Grande River, catching fish to supplement their diet, and bathing in the hot springs because they had no running water or showering facilities. When they ran out of food and money, Bertie’s mother went to work in a night club rolling dice in illegal gambling games. In return for cleaning house for an elderly couple the family was allowed to move into their garage. At seven, Bertie and her brothers helped care for their two younger sisters while their parents worked long hours and spent longer hours drinking at the bars. Their poverty resulted in humiliation for Bertie at school when her teacher made fun of her stringy hair and when she had only a dime to spend on a Christmas gift exchange. Desperate for food, Bertie describes the shame of becoming a “criminal” after stealing a candy bar from the local store. One night at work, Bertie’s mother found a twenty dollar bill, which allowed the family to move to Albuquerque, where they stayed briefly with Bertie’s grandparents. Their poverty was made more bearable by the family’s love of music, singing, and dancing.
After moving back to the Sacramento Mountains, Bertie’s stepfather found work at a remote sawmill camp and Bertie and her brothers boarded with a widow and her family in order to attend school. Mrs. Douglas, a school teacher, invited Bertie to live with her and she was introduced to a life unlike anything she had experienced in her nine years. Mrs. Douglas taught her manners, replaced her ragged clothes and bought toys for her. In spite of all this new life offered, Bertie missed her siblings and concern for her younger sisters’ well being compelled her to go back to her family. Upon returning to the family she took on even more duties as caregiver while her parents continued to drink heavily and work long hours.
Life grew more turbulent as she and her siblings were exposed to bar fights, which usually spilled over to their home life. Through all of this, humor helped the children cope. Bertie describes in hilarious detail the home dances they attended and the mischief her brother, Jessie got into, including setting the house on fire.
During all this time, Bertie knew she was talented, but did not have the materials or encouragement to become an artist. In the fifth grade she won a prize for art and was convinced that her talent was her way to a better life. When her older brother Willie was offered an educational opportunity by one of his teachers their mother refused permission for him to leave home. After that Willie lost interest in school and left home at sixteen because he could not tolerate his parents constant drinking and fighting.
Bertie was eleven, and her brother Jessie thirteen, when the family left the mountains for the last time to move back to Artesia, New Mexico. This time though, Bertie and Jessie refused to go with them. Instead of forcing them to go, Bee left them to fend for themselves in a house without running water or electricity. After a couple of weeks Bertie agreed to go with the family, and a month later Jessie followed after their beloved dog, Sarge, was poisoned. Their poverty was not improved by their move to Artesia and their clothes invited ridicule.
The family then moved to the oilfields in northern New Mexico where they, once again, lived in a tent, but were close to relatives. Shortly after that move, Jessie, who had grown intolerant of P.G.’s drinking and abuse, went to live with his father, Hollan.
Although Bertie wanted to stay with her Grandma Counts, who instilled confidence in her, taught her to sew and encouraged her to become an artist, she realized that because of her parents’ unruly life style and drinking, that her younger sisters still needed her stability.
At thirteen, Bertie enrolled in the eighth grade at the local school. She was determined to shed her earlier traumas and humiliations. In a period of four years Bertie made cheerleader, majorette, homecoming queen attendant, carnival queen, and even performed in class plays. Her sewing ability came in handy and she designed and made many of her school uniforms and clothes. Bertie continued to draw and paint with cheap paper and pastel crayons and was proud to show off her efforts. This was a happy time in her life in spite of her parents’ drinking and violence.
Disappointment came when Bertie graduated from high school and realized she had no means to obtain formal art training. It would be years before she could overcome her despair and work to become an artist. With limited opportunity and to escape her turbulent life at home she married Larry Stroup and had two sons.
It was after a move to Western Colorado that Bertie’s parents decided to change their chaotic lifestyle. After visiting them and witnessing the positive change in their lives, Bertie fell in love with Colorado and moved her family there as well.
Bertie worked to help support her family and continued to help her parents when they moved from one old house to another as part of P.G.’s ranch jobs. She continued her close relationship with her siblings and shares many funny antidotes of their lives together.
In addition to raising her sons, Bertie gradually started working at becoming an artist, joining artist groups and painting on her own. Unfortunately her marriage was steadily deteriorating.
In 1982, after a neck injury and with her marriage failing, Bertie, 43, began to suffer from severe clinical depression. Without the proper medication, and unable to fight the pain and despair of depression, she attempted suicide by shooting herself in the chest. A divine intervention from God allowed Bertie to survive and after receiving the correct medication for depression and recovering from the gunshot, Bertie made changes in her own life. She ended her bad marriage, quit the job she disliked, and started painting full time. Her paintings rapidly improved and so did her health, both physical and mental.
A year later she met and married Mike Marah and started realizing her dream of becoming a successful artist. Bertie has been published in magazines, conducted workshops, did solo shows, and was kept busy with gallery demands. A serious bout with breast cancer in 1993 could not throw her off course. She underwent chemotherapy and has been cancer free ever since.
In 1990 P.G. died of cancer. He faced death with a courage he had never shown in life. Her mother, Bee lived another ten years. Bertie took care of her mother at the end of her life. It broke her heart to watch this strong, determined woman reduced to one dependent on others for her every need.
Writing this book was painful for Bertie at times and although her family was uneducated, anti-social, neglectful alcoholics, deep down they had loving hearts and helped make her the person she is today. It is with pride that she tells their story.”
She discussed her life now, “My life today is good. I force myself to replace bad thoughts with positive ones. I encourage everyone to do the best they can to be happy, forgive
themselves for making mistakes.”
Her closing words, “I have always used humor to get through the tough times in life.
Laughter is the BEST medicine.”