Helena Rodriguez: PNT Staff Writer
A former school librarian has self-published a book of memories and poetry that captures the area’s history through her life story, from her days climbing trees and learning to drive, to a painful divorce and crippling stroke.
At age 79, Bettie Gerber Miller – once considered the “poetry laureate” at Portales High School – has released a 405-page autobiography titled “God Looks Out For Country Girls Like Me.” The book chronicles her adventures since she was born in 1926 to N. D. and Sadie Gerber on a family farm right on the Roosevelt and Curry county lines.
At the prompting of her friend Miriam Deen, a retired teacher, Miller begin writing the book for her grandchildren in 2002 at age 76. Despite suffering a stroke, which made it difficult for her to type on a computer, and losing her husband in August, not to mention a great deal of frustration with the publishing company, this librarian who spent two decades shelving books written by other authors now has a cover to call her own.
Miller said she started off with the intention to just write some of her memories for her grandchildren, but being a person who is well-accustomed to expressing her mind over the years, whether it be writing letters to the editor of the local newspaper or writing her congressmen, she said she kept thinking of more things and got carried away.
“During my teaching days, I didn’t have time to share a lot of stories with my grandchildren, so this book fills in some of those missing pieces; its a form to tie it all together,” Miller said.
Deen, who has also written an autobiography, edited Miller’s first rough draft and served as her cheerleader.
“Miriam told me, ‘If I can do it, you can do it too!’” Miller recalled, so she followed through on the project which she said became a source of therapy for her after she had a stroke in April of 2003.
Miller noted that she is not a professional writer, saying, “I wrote this book by stream of consciousness, just writing whatever came into my head. I know this is not the correct way that I should have done it, but I enjoyed writing it the way I did.”
In her book, Miller includes family photos and talks about the Dust Bowl Days and Depression. She also writes about her parent’s homesteading days near Wheatland, Sunday dinners, being in 4-H, learning to drive and canning. It’s not all peachy though. Miller also includes some of her tough trials in life: Going through a divorce after having three children, financial hardships, going to college late in life, living in Detroit during riots, suffering a stroke and watching her husband, W.F. Miller Jr., as he died of cancer.
“Going through a divorce was a part of my life, but I had to be very careful with writing about it,” Miller explained. “I was concerned about people’s feelings, so I did leave a good part of it out.
Miller also writes about the good times in chapters such as Meeting the New Man in My Life. There are also sections on her square dancing and RVing days across the country where she tells how she and her truck-driving husband logged more than 130,000 miles on their recreational vehicle before selling it.
Miller, who was called Bettie Pearl by some friends, also describes her Minnie Pearl comedy act that she adopted and was known to perform for teachers, civic organizations and at Good Sams rallies that she and her late husband attended.
With a knack for making things rhyme, Miller was constantly called upon during her days at PHS to write poems for people who were retiring, celebrating birthdays or celebrating other special events. Miller’s book includes many of these poems that she wrote for her colleagues; poems for memorable faces at PHS such as Ruth Visage, Alva Carter and Coach Tommy Gruber, just to name a few.
The book also contains some of her more whimsical poems such as: Kentucky Fried Chicken, Bowling, Gossip, Truck-Driving Husband, Reagan for President, Housekeeping and Delta Kappa Gamma, an organization in which she was active.
Visage worked with Miller at PHS for 15 years and said Miller was always coming up with an appropriate poem for the occasion.
“When I retired (in 1985), Bettie wrote a poem for it. It was just very characteristic of her,” Visage said. “She was definitely a good writer and was also good at what I call ‘country humor,’ telling jokes and imitating Minnie Pearl. She would bring a smile to our faces.”
Miller had 150 copies printed of “God Looks Out For Country Girls Like Me.” Copies of the book are $20 and may be obtained through Xlibris Publishing at 1-888-795-4274 or from Miller directly by calling 356-4922. Excerpts from the book can also be seen at the Web page:
Miller was inducted into the Southwest Region Hall of Fame (for educators), and has been listed in many national biography books, including Who’s Who in American Education and Notable Americans of the Bicentennial Era.
After completing this first volume on her memoirs and poetry, Miller said she is now poised to write a part two with even more of her memories and poetry.
“I don’t consider myself a good poet, but it does me good to write,” she said.