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Gilstrap remembers life in ‘hills of Kentucky’

Gilstrap remembers life in ‘hills of Kentucky’
Gilstrap remembers life in ‘hills of Kentucky’
Bertha Lee Gilstrap shows off her recently published book, "Remembering My Life in the Hills of Kentucky," at her New Salisbury home. Gilstrap is pictured on the cover, at age 11. Photo by Ross Schulz

New Salisbury resident Bertha Lee Gilstrap said she has always wanted to write a book and tell her story of growing up in the hills of Kentucky during the ‘difficult’ time period of the Great Depression. And when one of her friends passed away at the age of 87, she realized that, if she was going to write her story, she better get on with it.
So, at 84, Gilstrap completed and published ‘Remembering My Life in the Hills of Kentucky’ and plans to write more in the coming years.
‘It’s something I’ve wanted to do forever,’ she said.
Gilstrap, who simply goes by Bertha Lee on the book’s cover, wrote about everything from the first thing she could remember up until the time she met her husband, Victor, in her mid-teen years.
And considering these events took place more than 70 years ago, Gilstrap remembers and details with exceptional clarity her early days that included an eye accident that caused her to stay in the hospital, away from her family, for an extended period of time. Not long after returning from the hospital, her father died, which sent her life in an entirely different direction.
‘Bert is a young girl growing up in the hills of Kentucky in the 1930s,’ the book preview reads. ‘With a coalminer father and a midwife mother, life was never boring or easy, but with the love of her family anything is possible. When the family falls victim to injuries, illness and a family death, that all falls apart.’
Gilstrap’s family lived in eastern Clay County, Ky., in a modest and humble world with no electricity or roads.
‘Back then, people didn’t have much money, so they traded a lot and they gave their word and shook hands on the trade,’ Gilstrap says in chapter one. ‘Now it takes several pounds of paper and a lawyer or two to make a trade.’
She said it was a rough time in everybody’s life, but they made the most of it. She talks about life leading up to World War II and the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Works Progress Administration.
Gilstrap still travels ‘down home’ to eastern Kentucky to visit with family and friends. Everyone there calls her Bertha Lee, she said.
‘They don’t even know my last name,’ she said.
In her spare time, Gilstrap loves to read, draw or paint. Her home is full of drawings of country settings.
She also enjoys hosting parties for family and friends.
Gilstrap had a book signing Saturday in Salem and may plan another in the future.
To purchase the book, which includes an 11-year old Gilstrap on the cover, contact Gilstrap or visit or Barnes & Noble.