In 1914, a few months before World War I broke out in Europe, a tall, slender, brown haired, green-eyed twenty one year old farm girl turned school teacher got on a train near her home of Caneyville, Kentucky. She was leaving behind her parents, her siblings, her fiancé, and all she had ever known, heading to Montana, where she would find her destiny.
Standing five feet ten inches tall, Bertie Mae Layman had already taught grammar school for four years, after graduating from the Western Kentucky State Normal School in Bowling Green, Kentucky in 1910 before she became eighteen years old. On July 31, 1910, Bertie had her eighteenth birthday and began her first teaching job, a one room grammar school for children.
Bertie was born in 1892. Her father was Newton Layman and her mother was Martha Eleanor Wortham Layman. She was the middle child of five children, having old brother Milt, older sister Gay, younger sister Nettye, and younger brother Dewey. They were dirt farmers, raising garden crops. They had a milk cow, raised chickens, and produced some cash crops, such as watermelons.
They lived in a modest two bedroom farm house without indoor plumbing or electricity. The kids helped with chores, inside the home and on the farm. Bertie preferred working outside with her dad. Older sister Gay preferred working with their mother, inside the home. They milked cows, made butter, cooked on a wood burning stove, and tended the working animals.
Bertie was an accomplished horsewoman. She could care for a horse, saddle it up and ride it. She could hitch up a team of horses or mules and drive a wagon as good as any man. She was not afraid of hard work. She relished it. Working alongside her dad, she would toil bringing in crops and helping her dad get them into town.
When watermelons were in season, Bertie and her dad would load up the wagon with them and head to town and nearby communities. He would sing little made up songs, hawking their watermelons to children and adults in earshot. "Waaa-ter-mel-ons," he would sing. Buyers would hear them, come out to the wagon, and buy a tasty treat for their families.
Bertie was especially close to her father. She had an older brother, but he had mental issues and at age fourteen had to go to a state run facility they called the Insane Asylum in those days. The remaining brother, Dewey, was the youngest sibling, so it fell on Bertie's young shoulders to rise up and become her dad's number one helper on the farm. She did it with joy and determination.
Bertie was tall and strong. Her light, almost white complexion was tinged with color resulting from working in the sun. Her hair was brown, made lighter by working outside. They were of English heritage, long transplanted to America by ancestors many generations removed.
(The end of Part I. See Part II next week)
© 2013, Jim “Pappy” Moore,
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