One of the things I have learned in my time on this earth is that you can't judge a book by it's cover. In terms of finances I have often found that people who try and impress you that they have money just might not. Some that you think are poverty stricken actually have real wealth.
There was a fellow by the name of Bertram Shelton or Bert as we called him, who came to PBI in the 40's. If you were really brave you called him Bertie! Bert was an incredibly gifted man, fully educated, having attended the prestigious Canadian University, Wilfred Laurier. One of his classmates was Lester B. Pearson who later went on to become the Prime Minister of Canada. Bert felt "led", or was "called", to travel almost 3000 miles from his home in Ontario to teach at the Prairie Bible Institute in Three Hills, Alberta.
He was an extremely short, slight man with a high, squeaky voice. Quiet and unassuming, you would probably never notice him unless he was pointed out to you. For reasons seemingly forgotten at this point, Bert never resonated with the students as an effective teacher. Sizing up his skills and hoping to find him another role on staff, he was given the job of head librarian. In later years he moved on to the vital job of proofreading each and every document that the school prepared to go to print and then on to a wider world.
Bert was as tight as a frog's bum - and that's watertight! This man could pinch pennies like you've never seen. When my wife's grandma turned 100, Bert sent a sympathy card in the mail. He had crossed out the words, "With Sympathy" and had handwritten, "Happy Birthday". On occasion Bert would accompany my grandfather Hugh Norbo and Fritz Honecker to the Coffee Break, a local restaurant. Grandpa was well into his 90's at the time and the other 2 were in their 80's. Fritz would pick them up in his old four door Ford Fairlane station wagon and drive ever so slowly out to the Coffee Break where they would find a table.
When the waitress approached and inquired as to what they would be having, my grandfather and Fritz ordered pie and coffee. The waitress then turned to Bert who indicated in his high squeaky voice, "Water will be fine." She asked if he was sure and he said that he was. Fritz said, "Go on Bert, have some pie", to which Bert replied, "No, no, water will be fine." This dialog went back and forth a number of times until finally Fritz said, "Go on Bert, I am buying." Well . . . Bert quickly had his order at hand which not only included the pie and coffee, but ice cream as well!
When Cathy and I were first dating we would often see Bert out shuffling along fairly late at night as I would drive up to her parent's house to drop her off. On his hands he wore what appeared to be wool socks and he would motor along the sidewalk on sixth avenue getting in his nightly constitution. One day, having observed the sight of the wool socks many times, I said to Cathy, "Poor Bert, the man can't even afford gloves! We need to see that he gets a nice pair." Arrangements were made to send Bert a pair of warm winter gloves in an anonymous fashion through the campus mail. Then the strangest thing happened - night after night we would see Burt shuffling along, still wearing the wool socks on his hands.
As a single staff man, Bert lived as spartan of an existence as you could imagine. His two room "suite" in one of the staff dorms was furnished with a simple table, some bookshelves, a couple of chairs, bed, night stand and little else. His meager wardrobe hung in the closet. Bert was known to stuff his pockets at the Dining Hall where he would go for coffee breaks and his noon meal. This ensured that he stayed in groceries for the evening meal, a late night snack and breakfast the next morning.
When Bert passed on, his will read and executed, we got the surprise of our lives. In his simple, modest room was a trunk, one of those old steamer trunks that had leather buckles and a tray inside. When the trunk was opened there lay not one, but a dozen pairs of beautiful, brand new winter gloves, neat as a pin and never worn. Obviously we had not been the only ones to think Bert needed new gloves! The real kicker came when it was discovered that Bert owned several quarters of land and had a substantial amount of money safely on deposit with a local bank. He had generously left his savings to several good causes. I'm not sure what happened to all the gloves.
© 2010 Stephen J. Rendall - All rights reserved.