Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Who Is Gravel Gertie?


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.

24 comments:

Cowguy said...

I'll be danged... She had completely left my punkin, until your blog post, but I do remember her.

Amazing.

Joanie said...

My mom used to say the same things! Haha!! Thanks for the memory!

sybil law said...

I love random stuff like that!
Never heard of her before, but it's pretty cool. :)

SkylersDad said...

I used to read Dick Tracy way back when and never remember hearing of her.

Cora said...

B.O. Plenty is my ex-hubby's name. Go fig.

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Tiffany Pugh said...

you have no idea how insightful this was, my nana used to tell me when my hair was a mess that i looked like Gravel Gertie! I found myself saying it to my daughter this morning and had no clue who Gravel Gertie was how interesting! Thank you very much!

carols cheeks said...

Ever the jokester, my dad just said that my mom looks like Gravel Gertie and laughed. He said that his dad, my grandfather used to say it all the time but no one knew what it meant! thanks to your site we all know who gravel gertie is now!!!

Anonymous said...

For years I heard my mom say someone looked like Gravel Girtie and didn't know who she was. The funny thing is I find myself saying it too. Today when I told my much younger co-workers I needed to get a hair cut because I looked like Gravel Girtie, they remarked, WHO? So I decided to look her up to see who she was and where the saying originated. Thanks so much for the info. I now have a clear picture of poor old Girtie. May her legend live on!

Marion said...

This is hilarious! My husband started talking about Gravel Gertie at dinner. Whatever conjured that up is beyond me but it certainly brought back memories of my mother referring to Gravel Gertie now and then. I am still giggling . . .

Anonymous said...

once i said to my mother why do you keep cutting your hair. leave it a little long, at least to your shoulders. she replied, that she didnt want to look like "gravel gertie". i always thought that gravel gertie was a real person that either raced cars or was married to someone who raced cars. someone who was sexy in her day and didnt want to let go. in my opinion, like zsa zsa gabor. only not as glamourous!

warren.breuer@yahoo.com said...

Took a little gal out
on a date last night;
Next to her Gravel Gertie
But she looked alright;
Now I say Lord forgive
this no count sinner;
Give me one more chance
to let another guy win er.

Anonymous said...

This was very insightful, my mom also used to tell me on my bad hair days I guessed, that my hair looked like Gravel Gertie. I just remembered it and did a search and found this:-) Poor Gertie, she endured a generation of abuse.

Anonymous said...

Hello! From time to time the name Gravel Gertie comes to mind. There have been people who have reminded me of her, yet I had no recollection what she looked like- just that I've been reminded of her because of someone's teeth! (hmmmmm)- anyway, we just adopted a sweet dog and when he shows his teeth I think of Gravel Gertie- finally, I googled the name and came upon your blog! The face has not set off any bells for me, but I will forever think of that name when I see a certain pair of teeth...go figure.
Thanks for posting the photo as well as a bit of history! You've made my day and I wish my Parents were still here for me to ask a question or two. Obviously, they put something in my mind and it will be there forevermore.
Have a great day!
J'ai :-)

Anonymous said...

From the time I can remember anything, my grandfather, whom we called Ta-Ta, gave me the nickname Gravel-Gertie. For all of my childhood and most of my adulthood I have been annoyed by the name. My grandfather passed away a few years back and I have just now been curious of who she was. I now know that I was lovingly given that name because I always looked disheveled. (as most children do when playing hard outside). I had decided in the later years of his life to take him in and care for him. When he was nearing the end of his life he was in and out of the hospital frequently. His mind had been overcome by dimentia and Alzheimer's. His sight was almost gone from cataracts as well. When the nurses would call and ask how to get him to take his medicine my reply would be, "tell one of your nurses to tell him you are Gravel Gertie and give the medicine to him." Worked like a charm everytime. In fact, if I told him my given name, he wouldn't know who I was. Thank you for your article.

Anonymous said...

So my rather new but fairly serious boyfriends mother always calls me gravel gertie and I never knew what it mean so I did some research and found these comments and my question is should that be taken as insulting or not? The nickname truly irritates me and more often than not she uses it in place of my name.

Carol Bonham said...

I found your blog while trying to find a book on manners that I remember from my childhood. Gravel Gertie was a disheveled character in the book, but there were others who had bad manners and funny names. One who was nosey had a rubber neck that grew so long she pushed her head around on a little cart in front of her. Anyone else born in the 40's remember this book?

Jerrod Green said...

Funny! My parents called me that when I was a kid too..thats why I googled it