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Enjoying Bertha’s date-filled cookies

By Staff | Apr 10, 2009

While attending Minot State University, I worked part-time at the Coast to Coast Hardware Store which was located in the south end of the Arrowhead Shopping Center. The store was operated by Lando and June Vix-along with Lando’s parents, Albert and Bertha.

Upon arriving for my first day of work, Lando shared with me the duties that he would like me to perform. My parents had a Coast to Coast Store in Underwood, so working here was a natural fit. I was familiar with all departments-including the task of mixing paint.

As I neared the front checkout, I was about to have an experience that would forever change my life. There she sat on a kitchen stool beside the front counter, a light blue sweater around her thin shoulders, her head a little to one side, and her snow- white hair swept up in a bun. In her hands she clasped a yellow pencil, just as if she were ready to take an order. Her eyes were closed in a light rest that one might have thought-what was this whisper of a woman doing at an active workplace?

As soon as she heard my footsteps, she quickly arose and introduced herself. Within seconds, with a fast step, she hauled me over to the housewares department and pointed out a monkey cookie jar. She said to me, “I just wanted you to know what the last guy who worked here looked like! I must say you are a real improvement!” What a baffling twist from the mouth of this elderly, bent body that had the vigor of a teenager!

I knew at once in my heart that Bertha and I were going to hit it off. She was a woman who spared no words, and I truly enjoyed that element of her. In the following years, I learned a great deal from Bertha, and I also learned she was a woman of great strength. Bertha could not be swerved from a purpose that she was committed to. She and her husband, Albert, worked side by side, and they met misfortune head-on.

They, like many, learned to keep their chins up during the Great Depression and press on. I recall them sharing stories with me about their early days in the coal mine business and also when they operated “Eat More Sausage.” Front and center of their business adventures was customer service. They treated folks like they would like to be treated, and their customers never forgot this. Even late in their years, they were still giving wonderful customer service as they helped Lando and his customers in the store.

She was raised in a large family and learned early on if you want to be heard you will need to speak up! Her thunderous voice worked well in the store. There was no need for her to use an intercom. No matter where I was in the store, when she needed help, I would hear her boisterous tone, “Chuck, I need you up front!”

Now, her customers were of two takes on Bertha’s style: Either you were endeared to her, or she could perhaps be like a grain of sand in your shoe. For example, I loved to watch her fill out hunting licenses. Her affection for good-natured teasing surfaced when it came to listing their hair color-naturally, the hunter claimed deep brown. She responded, with a twinkle, saying it looked more gray than brown to her! Once a customer asked her, “Why are you still working?” She responded, “Would you rather have me here or in the nursing home?”

Bertha’s birthday would have been April 1. She was blessed with many years. At her funeral, the Baptist pastor mentioned he was nervous about how he would be eulogizing Bertha. In fact, he worried about it because he knew if it were done incorrectly, he would hear about it later on! He mentioned that while he was driving to Bertha’s funeral he received divine inspiration. On the radio was playing “Candle in the Wind,” Elton John’s tribute to the late Princess Diana. At this moment the pastor realized that if Diana was a candle, then Bertha was a blowtorch! The gathered mourners let out a joyous laugh as we fondly remembered Bertha.

As a friend, I think of her often and recall her spunky attitude with a smile. She could have easily played Sophia on the sitcom, “The Golden Girls”; they looked alike, and both shared a humor that was sharp, witty, and entertaining.

Repnow is a Rugby resident

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