I Have a Friend

by Robin Bonner

Holiday Sing-a-Long
I have a friend, and her name is Bertha. I met Bertha in December 2009 at a seniors’ independent living center in Schwenksville, PA. I had organized a holiday sing-a-long there for the day after Christmas. I figured that I like to play Christmas music and a lot of people like to sing it, so we might as well have a good time doing it together, right? So, with the help of my husband Gary, daughter Sarah, friend Margie, and Sarah’s friends Peter and Kelly, that’s what we did.

While our group stood up in front, I played my guitar and we all sang, and the residents sang too, tapping their feet and clapping their hands in time to the music. Some hadn’t seen their families for the holidays, and others have no family other than their friends at Highland Manor, but while reading the lyrics along in the little song booklets, I think they were able to forget about all of that for a bit.

Kelly, Peter, Sarah, Margie, and Robin at Highland Manor, December 2009.
After we finished singing, we served everyone the punch and Christmas cookies we had brought along. When asked, I said, yeah, it’s all homemade—between “Mrs. Landis” (a local supermarket) and me, we baked everything! Then, the musicians mingled with the folks attending. (My companions were a stalwart group, if I ever saw one. Gary doesn’t sing; I told him to lip-synch.)

It was then that I saw Bertha.

She sat quietly by herself, so I sat down across from her. “Hi! Did you enjoy the sing-a-long? What’s your name?”

“Yes! I’m Bertha. I don’t hear too well.” With a pretty silk scarf placed jauntily around her neck, she was as cute as a button.

She couldn't walk very well, either. I spied her walker nearby. “Bertha, can I get you some punch and cookies?”

So, it turned out that Bertha didn’t have many friends there at Highland Manor. She doesn’t hear very well and so can’t join in a conversation very easily. She doesn’t play bingo—one of the residence’s few community activities—because she can’t hear the numbers as they’re being called. She doesn’t like TV but she does like to read, especially mysteries. It appeared that we had a lot in common. In fact, Bertha was a member of St. Mary’s Church, where I attended (and played my guitar at Mass). She didn’t get there very often, though, because she didn’t drive. I took her phone number.

Breakfast in the Afternoon and Other Adventures
After the caroling party, I thought about Bertha. She mentioned that she was going to be 88 in a few weeks, so I decided to call her. I’d invite her to Mass and then out for brunch. She was happy to accept! Our Sunday outing to St. Mary’s Church and the Lederach Tea Room was a big success. Bertha couldn’t hear much of the Mass, but she was happy to be there. And afterward, she ate her bacon and eggs with gusto.

So, about once a month, I give Bertha a call. “Do you want to have lunch?”

“Sure!” she replies. Bertha especially likes breakfast, but only if it’s served in the afternoon. (She likes to stay up late at night, then sleep in the next day.) We’ve been to all the local eateries that serve “breakfast all day.” It’s hard for her to fit me into her busy schedule, though—home health aides and “Meals on Wheels” come to visit her almost every weekday, and her son comes with groceries on the weekend.

In truth, though, Bertha doesn’t get out much. So, I make it a point to take her out. We’ve been to lunch, and out for ice cream. When the local ice cream parlor was closed, we went to Rita’s. Bertha’s not much on water ice, but she likes hot fudge sundaes. (Did you know you can get a hot fudge sundae at Rita’s? I didn’t!) We’ve been to Ott’s Exotic Plants, a local greenhouse and area attraction, and sometimes we’ve just driven around the country roads in our area, looking at the creeks and woods—a beautiful sight at any time of the year!

Bertha likes to read, so I took her to the library and got her a library card. Sometimes I take her over there to choose books, and later I take the books back for her. She goes through books quickly, though, and doesn’t remember much of what she’s read—not even the titles. Sometimes, the book swap at Highland Manor is all she needs. But, winning the goody basket the library raffled off for Mother’s Day last year certainly made Bertha happy!

Last July, when I called Bertha to get together, I couldn’t reach her. I know she doesn’t check messages (she’s not big on anything technological), but after a few days passed—and knowing she doesn’t go anywhere—I called Roseann, the office manager, to see if everything was all right. Highland Manor is not a nursing home, so the managers don’t keep track of the residents, but Roseann called Bertha’s son, Rob, who called me back. Apparently, Bertha had taken ill and spent some time in the hospital. She was convalescing about a half hour away. I went down to see her, and she was pleased to have vistors!

Last week, I took Bertha to Gretchen-Elizabeth’s, a local salon, to get her hair done. After she had her hair washed, with wonderful-smelling shampoos and conditioners, and enjoyed an expert haircut and styling by Gretchen herself, Bertha felt like a queen. She looked like one, too! I should have taken a picture.

A Year Gone By
By now, Bertha’s been to our house, and this year, Gary and my brother Mike picked her up and brought her over for Christmas dinner. She enjoyed the excitement of Christmas with our family. Our daughters and son-in-law were there, and my brother and his family were visiting, as well. Bertha couldn’t get over the fact that Laura was Mike’s wife and not his daughter. (Laura isn’t much younger than Mike, but the years have been kinder to her.)

John, Alan, Robin, Sarah, and residents at the “second annual” Highland Manor holiday sing-a-long, December 2010.
And, this past Christmas, when we had our sing-a-long at Highland Manor, Bertha was there, sitting in the front row. In fact, Gary and Sarah had gone down to her room to fetch her while the guitarists tuned up. Her friends thought it was cool that she was tight with the musicians. She gave me a pair of her own earrings as a Christmas gift. I opened the present while having punch and cookies.

In January, when Bertha turned 89, she and I went to the Lederach Tea Room for brunch once again, to celebrate. I gave her a pair of beautiful pink faux pearl earrings, to replace the ones she had given me. She’s still as cute as a button. I look forward to our adventures. Where will it be this month?

Robin Bonner is editor of Empty Nest. For more about Robin, see About Us.

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