I feel as if I should know this nostalgic character, Gravel Gertie, as she was a recurring figure during my formative years. As a child, I would more often than not hear my mother's words, "Candy, come over here. For goodness sake, you look just like Gravel Gertie." or "Lemme just freshen up, I must look like Gravel Gertie." Message here: Gertie was a hot mess.
So I decided to dig a bit deeper to find out who or what exactly is a "Gravel Gertie". Wiki defines Gert as:
Gravel Gertie - former criminal and now wife of B.O. Plenty. Introduced in The Brow episode. In 1944 She is a widow for thirty years after her first husband sold her farm rights for a gravel pit and then died when his car backed into his own gravel pit. Tried to hide the Brow from the police after she found him in wrecked car; arrested when her hair from her clothes brush matched gray hair found near burning car. In a comic relief the Brow flees in terror when he catches his first glimpse of his guardian angel. In his struggle to escape an old fashioned lamp is knocked over; her shack burns down and her long hair is burned off. Later married B.O. Plenty and became mother of Sparkle Plenty. In a later continuity, it was established that Gertie had spent part of her childhood in an orphanage; while she was there, criminals shaved her head and tattooed onto her bald pate a treasure map showing the location of their buried loot, then allowed her hair to regrow to conceal the map ... which was belatedly rediscovered well into Gertie's adulthood. Dick Tracy was a popular strip for the railroad workers, and Gravel Girtie is the affectionate nickname of a part of the Clifton Forge line of the C & O Railroad. It stretches from Hinton, West Virginia to Clifton Forge, Virginia and delivered limestone gravel quarried from Fort Spring to the iron furnaces of Virginia as a fluxing agent.
Does this help to answer my age old question of who this character is and why I would never want to look like her? Not really. What I find fascinating is that I know Gravel Gertie at all. A minor player in the Dick Tracy comic strips, yet omnipresent in my life's script. Poor Gert, she didn't win the pretty olympics and was orphaned and abused. Her head shaved by criminals, it was tattooed with a treasure map then allowed her hair to re-grow to conceal it. Then after marriage and motherhood her hair is burned off in a fire. Tragic figure at best. I get it now, keep your hair coiffed and keep your enemies at bay. Kind of.
I once asked my mother who Gravel Gertie was and she told me that it was someone her mother warned her to never look like. A generational warning, passed down through the years. Have I passed on the tradition? I may have uttered those, "Good Lord Frick, you look just like Gravel Gert." warnings more than a few times, but I think it's safe to say the line ends her for the legend of Gravel Gert in my family. Just like the old Dick Tracy comics, my kids think Dick Tracy is a movie with Warren Beatty and Madonna.
But to me Gertie will always be something more and after today, I may just be proud to look like Gert every now and again. She was a survivor, a mother and wife, from another era who earned the right to look like a hot mess. Even thought she was a character in someone's mind, I now have my own picture of who Gravel Gertie is.
I gotta tell my mom. I just may wear the Gravel Gertie moniker as a badge of honor.