How – and Why — I Remember Bev Bertram

“We are waiting for Deneen to get here from Red Deer,” Brandon informed me. “Brian and his family are already on their way.” A gathering of the Bertram clan because Bev was on his way out. It was Tuesday April 26th 2016 and outside the world carried on, oblivious to what was happening with the people gathered in a room at the University Hospital in Saskatoon.

Bev Bertran had not been feeling all that well for about a month. The Friday before Bonnie – his wife and support – insisted he go to the hospital. Reluctantly he allowed her to drag him there. Bev was never one to particularly appreciate or trust doctors. It likely had something to do with him having had polio as a child.

Grandpa Bev and granddaughter
Grandpa Bev and granddaughter

The hospital in Watrous immediately transferred him to Saskatoon where his conditional weakened.

Hooked up to life support to breathe, his bowel was perforated and it had poisoned his system. He quietly slipped into a coma, never to wake again.


“I’d like to say goodbye,” I choked through my tears.

“Do you want me to put the phone up to his ear or to put you on speaker?” Brandon asked.

“Oh, what the hell, may as well be speaker as what I want to say isn’t exactly private.”

Even though Bev likely couldn’t hear me, I told him how important he had been in my life as a teacher, a mentor and a friend. It wasn’t a rehearsed speech, rather it was a blithering emotional outpour. A message I wanted to send into the cosmos.

Back on the line Brandon commented, “Thanks for that. It made Mom cry, too. I think she appreciated it.”

Meeting Bev Bertram

In December 1967, the Hanson family moved to Watrous and I started school at Winston High in January 1968. That was one of the most traumatic experiences of my life, but a story I have told elsewhere.

In September 1968 – I had moved up to Grade 10 by then – Mr. Bertram was my English teacher.

About the time Mr. Bertram became my English teacher.
About the time Mr. Bertram became my English teacher.

To me, as a fifteen year old, Mr. Bertram was a larger than life character. He told us stories; he made us laugh; he was sarcastic; he challenged us. Most importantly, he taught us how to write and how to question. He also brought out an appreciation of literature in me, and that is one of the most treasured gifts I have ever received.

Then I graduated from high school and wandered off in search of adventure. From time to time I thought of Mr. Bertram when I was working on an essay for a university class. But he sort of faded from my active radar screen.

Reencountering Bev Bertram

In 1992 I bought an A-frame house on Mart and Wayne Potter’s farm about 15 km south of Watrous. It served as an ideal Canadian base for 19 years until, that is, the badgers became neighbors and I sold it.

I happened to be in Watrous for Mr. Bertram’s retirement dinner. As I walked to the Civic Center with my parents, I recalled the influence he’d had on my development. His was the sort of contribution that needs time and distance to appreciate, as high school students aren’t generally that good at reflection. Not their fault, however, as they don’t have the necessary life experience.

At the retirement dinner Mr. Bertram presented Bonnie – his second wife after Iris died – with a massive bouquet and publically announced how important she was to him. He was a generous spirit who could give praise when and where it was due.

Bev holding up the moon with the tip of his finger.
Bev holding up the moon with the tip of his finger.

A couple of years later — about 1995 or 96 when I was teaching at the University of Waikato in Hamilton, New Zealand — I was at my parent’s house in Watrous.

“I’m going to call Mr. Bertram and see if he wants to meet me for coffee,” I announced as I picked up the phone.

Bev Bertram
Bev Bertram

We met that afternoon and it was when he morphed from being Mr. Bertram to becoming Bev.

“You know, Squirrely” – which had been his nickname for me in school – “you have done well. I might not have picked you as the one in the class to go on and get a Ph.D, but you could write reasonably well.”

“That was because I had a good teacher.”

One of the highlights of Bev’s academic career was doing a master’s degree at the U. of S and he enjoyed talking about his graduate work. Since I was teaching at a university we shared common interests.

And so it became a habit. Whenever I was in Watrous, I would ring Bev and we would get together at the Peppertree. Always at 15:00 and generally in the same booth. But such is coffee row in a small town.

Then Bonnie started to join us and I got to know and appreciate her.

Somewhere in this timeframe Brandon – Bev and Bonnie’s youngest son – appeared on the scene. We both love travel and share an interest in the developing world. I advised Brandon that the only way he could make a living overseas was to get a CELTS certificate and teach English as a second language.

“Paying for him to get the CELTA certificate was the best money I ever spent on that kid,” Bev announced a year later.

We moved from the Peppertree to their house where we would wile away the afternoon hours talking about whatever subject that came to mind. Usually Bev and I would agree, but not always.

Bonnie wanted to travel; Bev hid behind medial insurance being too expensive. But she did manage to convince him to go on a cruise through northern Europe. He, somewhat begrudgingly, admitted that he had totally enjoyed it.

For the last couple of years the pattern shifted and the Bertrams took me out for a long, chatty lunch. Sometimes Brandon was there. Not that we ever coordinated our visits, it just sort of happened that we were in the same place at the same time.

Spending time with Bev, Bonnie and Brandon – if he was in town– became a must-do highlight of my annual sojourn to Canada.

Grieving for Bev Bertram

“He wasn’t old. And he was one of the kindest souls I have ever met,” sobbed Tatiana, my young friend in Medellin, Colombia and the reason I learned about Bev’s situation.

So how does a student from the class of ‘71 get to know her high school English’s teacher’s son’s former girlfriend?

After he got the CELTA certificate, Brandon taught ESL in Calgary where he met Tatiana. When they parted ways they stayed friends and when I moved to Medellin we met.

“I already knew about you,” Tatiana told me at our first encounter. ”When I was in Watrous, Bev and Bonnie often talked about you.”

In times of grief we turn to those who are important to us, so Brandon sent text messages to Tatiana and she passed the information on to me. And so that is how I was able to say “adios” to Bev. Something that was very important to me.

I will miss Bev as my teacher, my mentor and my friend. His legacy for me Is of writing, enjoying literature and debating. And they will live on.

Thank-you for touching my life – and that of so many others — Bev Bertram. Go well.

Bev as a young and idealistic teacher.
Bev as a young and idealistic teacher.



Drinking beer and solving the problems of the world.
Drinking beer and solving the problems of the world.

This, That, Next

Day Trip to Santa Fe

“This has been an almost perfect day.” I quipped to my friend Rob from Amsterdam, “Getting out of the city, having a great Spanish lunch and wandering around Santa Fe has been such fun.”

Downtown Santa Fe
Downtown Santa Fe

Before lunch we had wandered around and acted like tourists, which is about all there is to do in Santa Fe. And since the place is so small it doesn’t take long.

The paella – think seafood mixed with rice – at Sabor Espanol was fantastic. Camilo – our attentive waiter – made our lunch even more interesting as he chattered away while diving up the food. And from the menu I learned that the recipe for paella was concocted to make use of the leftovers for the week. It is sort of the Irish stew of Spain.

Camilo serving up the food.
Camilo serving up the food


Then we got on the mini-van to go back to Medellin. There was a little girl of about two who cried and sniveled while her mother played with her phone and ignored the brat. No, no, no, this simply wouldn’t do.

So in my best teacher voice – with my left eyebrow raised for added effect – I stared at the kid with a piercing look and said, “Little girl, enough.” She stopped mid-whine. I didn’t waved in my gaze and she shriveled up.

The woman beside me laughed and patted my knee in approval. The mother suddenly remembered she had a child.

Children in Latin America are generally indulged and caregivers rarely discipline them. Rob – who is a psych nurse – figures I may have traumatized the little girl forever. She may well go running down the street when she sees red-headed foreigners. Perhaps, but at least we had a quiet trip back.

There are more Santa Fe happy-snaps at the end of the blog.

Introducing Raul

That is amazing, “Rob commented. “When Raul sees you his eyes light up enough to brighten the whole street.” Raul – whom I think is 92, but he could be 82 – spends his time wandering about the streets in el centro of Medellin.

He can’t walk properly so he sort of shuffles along. Nor can he talk, instead he mumbles and drools. His sister is in even worse shape and walks with a cane, but we don’t see her much anymore as she is generally sick at home. They must have money to pay a housekeeper as Raul is always dressed in clean clothes and smells like he has had a recent shower.

It started out that I would shake his hand when I saw him. Then it moved on to a quick hug. Now I ask him how he is and we hug for about a minute or so.

Raul and J.
Raul and J.

People have asked how I can possibly hug a drooling old man. My answer is that it takes nothing on my part and it makes his evening a bit better. When I’m old and decrepit – some might argue I’ve already reached that stage – I hope people will continue to hug me.

Such is the street culture of the neighbourhood of Boston.

The World of Visas

My next move – or at least that is the plan – is to relocate to Lima, Peru at the end of August. Medellin is a great place and I would stay if it wasn’t for the visa problem.

There are 17 different kinds of visas in Colombia. Alas, I only qualify for two: tourist and student. In most countries in the world, people can get a 90-day tourist visa, exit the country and re-enter for another 90-days. Annoying at times, but do-able.

In Colombia, however, people can get a 90-day tourist visa, and extend for another 90-days. The law is that unless people are married to a national, have 200K to invest in a business or have a huge pension they are stuck and have to leave the country for half the year.

At the end of August last year I became a student at Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana. When that visa expired I did a run to Panama to get a fresh stamp for 2016. It expires on September 8, nine days after I get back from Canada. So although I could become a student until 2017, it is too expensive and the classes just aren’t worth it. And riding the bus is a teeth -jarring experience. The drivers think they are Formula One drivers and go lurching around the corners and flat out on the straight sections.

I was in Lima in 2012 and really liked it. And the food is so good. Can one ever have too much ceviche – seafood cooked in lime juice? I don’t think so.

In Peru they will issue 183 day visas – about six months — at the border.  At the end of that time I can scoot across the border to Ecuador or visit friends in Chile and re-enter for another six months.

I want to find a small apartment in the Barranco – which means Bridge of Sighs — area of town. It is considered the “bohemian” barrio so I figure I should fit in reasonably well. I still break out in a red rash and get itchy when I think about the suburbs.

So now I expect kith and kin to mark Lima on their travel maps and start planning a visit. The only people who came to see me in Medellin were Amber, her two guy friends and Rob. My cousin, Linda, did get reasonably close when the cruise she was on stopped in Cartagena.

By the time you get to Lima I should have the town sussed out and will be able to take you to all the interesting places. Ah yes, another adventure waiting to happen.

Pics of Santa Fe

Locals stroll around.
Locals stroll around.



The main square.
The main square.
Cobble stone streets don't make for good walking.
Cobble stone streets don’t make for good walking.
Rob and J doing selfies in a mirror.
Rob and J doing selfies in the mirror.



The church.
The church.
Toasting our trip and the food.
Toasting our trip and the food.












An old door.
An old door.