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  • Bertha. Otherwise known as Aunt Bert. The name implied the face. Jowly, pale, and to me, always looking old. But boy was she funny. The kind of dusty dry, Norwegian humor that some immigrant smuggled over in a burlap sack.

    She lived to be 97 and worked most of her life for Hormel's Meat Packing in Austin, Minnesota, where the original SPAM was created, grown, concocted. She never married staying forever solo.

    I'm sure Bert had plenty of secrets but a particularly tasty one was that she got hooked on cigarettes while working some mind numbing factory job during WWII and never really quit. None of the family was in on this one because, although she was always at gatherings looking happy and fully engaged, she mostly kept to herself and lived on her own. We only realized she was a smoker after she quit. But this happened well into her 90's and it wasn't actually a decision on her part but rather that one day she simply forgot she smoked. The nursing home staff confirmed that she had been a daily smoker. "Not too heavy", they said, "but not necessarily light".

    Bert was losing her marbles but she never lost her humor. One day, as they were assessing the dexterity of her mind with my mother sitting by her side, they asked her who the current US President was. "Eisenhower?" Everyone in the room was in full agreement that it was, in fact, Bill Clinton. Aunt Bert quietly leaned over to my mother and with a smile on her face whispered, "Just take me out back and shoot me."

    After she passed away, I drove her 1978 burgundy two tone Ford Granada around Minneapolis staying well under the radar for a couple of months before flying back to Australia. It felt good cruising the liberated summer streets, especially the ones that thread between those murky city lakes. I would often roll down the window turn on the classic rock station and search for memory in the humid wind.

    My folks sold it for $500. Great car. Thanks Bert.

    * the song "Exodus" courtesy of George Turnure of the original Merle Morris fame. Thanks George.
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