Bessie: Stories From the Cutting Room Floor


We arrived at Bessie White’s house (down a dirt road off county BB) at 9am. It was over an hour drive from where we were staying in Durango. We spent the whole morning with Bessie that day; hearing her story, seeing pictures of her life and watching her bake her strawberry rhubarb pie. She gave us a small hand pie on our way out, and I made a mental note to arrive early at the farmers market the next day so I could buy the larger pie (our pie) that we made together — or rather that we had seen her make. She said that she usually sells out.  After all, at $6.00 a pie, it is quite a steal. But she said that she wants to be fair. Luckily we got to the Cortez Farmers Market (a sweet market right off the main street that takes up the space of the courthouse parking lot) right on time. She had three pies left. I bought mine.

All together, we filmed six hours with Bessie. The short film we made was six minutes. It took me a week to whittle the footage down to that sweet video you see about our visit. There were many stories and anecdotes that she shared with us that day that didn’t make it into the piece. Like when she walked into her 80 acre back yard and up to an apricot tree and said “this tree is like me, it’s not young anymore”. Or when we were in the middle of chatting and she realized mid sentence that she had forgotten to check on her pie in the oven and worried that it had become “a black and blue pie”.

She also talked about how she used to know all her neighbors — and everyone in the neighborhood grew their own food. You just didn’t get anything from the store. She reminisced about her dad, who would tie a belt up to their old Studebaker car and use that to process their corn. Friends would come by and bring their corn to grind. And if someone didn’t have a lot, her dad would share his. That’s just how they did it back then. These days she doesn’t know her neighbors very well, and the community isn’t what it used to be. “People miss a lot“, she told me. She also told me about her sister Velma, who we got to meet at the same farmers market that the two of them helped to create 43 years ago. They come from a family of nine children. There are only four of them left, and they all live nearby. Velma is three years older than Bessie, but said that her younger sister is the more bossy of the two. They’ve always been close.

The sisters bring more than just pies to the market each week. They make tea towels and pot holders out of cloth flour bags. Bessie gave me one that I was eyeing during our time together. They both do needlepoint (another thing that their mother taught them growing up) and are quite good at it. Velma needlepoints designs of animals on sweatshirts and Bessie puts her designs on the tea towels. Velma also brings flowers from her garden (which is apparently, really beautiful…though we didn’t have a chance to go visit). 

I loved spending time with Bessie, and I wanted to include all of her stories in the short film. But part of the editing process is often letting go of pieces of interview that you had hoped would make it in.  You have to choose which angle to take, which story to include… and go from there. At first her film was about her dad’s car, and then it was about the apricot tree and then, finally, I realized that I couldn’t include them all. Though they aren’t in the finished piece, they are strong in my memory, and I tell anyone who brings up Bessie. 

When we were at the farmers market that second day of filming, I walked around to some of the other vendors to get shots of the scene. Before filming one particular egg vendor, I walked up to explain what I was doing there, and why I wanted to get a shot of him. “I’m here to film a story on Bessie White”, I told him and was surprised when he responded with: “who?” I turned and pointed to the two sweet women half a parking lot away, who were sitting on the back of a pickup truck behind their stand. “Those two women over there started this farmers market 43 years ago.”  He had no idea. I told him he should go meet them. 

Bessie in her earlier years
Bessie’s kitchen table
The finished pie