My good friend Bertha

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It seems like just yesterday that I met my good friend, Bertha. Just out of high school, I was looking for a job. A neighbor mentioned a business about three blocks away from my home. It was in a small business section of Philadelphia I’d never even noticed.

On my first try I was successful, being hired to do clerical duties. I also became the assistant telephone operator, substituting for Bertha on her breaks and at lunchtime. I just loved this part of my new job. Back then they used one of those telephone keyboards you see in old movies, using plugs and switches, none of this normal easy to use electronic “stuff” we use today.

However, I always felt like I was part of some movie scene whenever I took over for Bertha. Then something happened and I was fired. At some future date, I’ll tell how this ended with the owner of the business offering my job back. My friend Bertha helped me as good friends do as I left. The whole scenario was like a bad movie.

It was some years later when my husband, Don Sr. and our two young sons, had finally left a terrible apartment we’d lived in for four years. We’d purchased an adorable little two-bedroom bungalow and were settling in a suburb of Philly called Roslyn.

Don was at work and I’d taken the boys out in our 1940 Ford to food shop. As we were leaving the parking lot a black coupe passed us.

A “coupe” seats only two people and has a large trunk area in the backend. All I could see was a lady driver and two little heads sitting on what was usually the back shelf of the car. These two heads, a boy and a girl, were talking. I found out later that the back shelf had been taken out. The two “bodies” had their legs stretched out into the trunk area.

Our new Roslyn home was in a new area of about 40 new homes built exactly like ours, each on its own special little lot with pretty grass lawns and nice sidewalks. Driving up the first street heading home, I spied that silly black coupe and almost stopped. It was just then that a lady came out of the front door of her home, heading for that silly car. I couldn’t believe my eyes.

Holiest of cows! It was my old friend Bertha. I jammed on my brakes. It wasn’t long — as the days went by — that I found out that Bertha had one major problem. Bertha couldn’t buy a car that wasn’t what we call a “lemon.” I think if she had enough money to buy a brand new car, it would have a problem that no other car ever had. It was just that way with Bertha.

One day, when the kids were in school, we’d been shopping and Bertha was dropping me off at my home. She had stopped to let our neighbor pull out of her driveway, and then she pulled forward by my house. There was a noise and we both looked at each other. A man driving by stopped. He looked perplexed. He politely asked, “Does that battery sitting in the street belong to either of you?”

Bertha got out of her car and pulling up her seat looked down. She said, yes, it was hers. It had simply fallen out of the car. It gets better. The coupe went the way of old cars and Bertha bought one of those cars with wooden sides. The door handle on the passenger side didn’t work. Turning it, it just kept going around and around.

One day we were getting ready to pick up the kids and were late. Bertha had started the car and kept asking me to get in. Flustered, all I could say was, ”I’m trying.” She then realized that she had to reach across the seat and open the door. But her last car I remember was some big thing that seated eight people.

Bertha had to have that big monstrosity that its’ previous owner had never had any trouble. My friend Bertha hadn’t driven down to the local store on the first day she owned that huge — what turned out to be a piece of junk — that it stalled. The fuel pump wouldn’t work, or something. It didn’t matter, that “thing” just knew that the new owner was my good friend Bertha.

Edna Van Leuven is a Churchill County writer and columnist. She may be reached at


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