From the Play
Bertha Doesn’t Live Here Any More
A Stagetale by D.D. Delaney
Lancaster County, Pennsylvania
The Driver: You know, madness is a strange thing. People don’t really know what it is. And that makes it kind of scary.
But here’s an interesting fact. I’m sorry if it’s a bit grim. Did you know that Hitler borrowed the whole idea of exterminating the Jews from the German psychiatric profession? Those shrinks were killing off mental patients in Germany when Hitler was still hanging wallpaper!
I read that in a newspaper called the Madness Network Newsletter. It’s a small publication that advocates madness liberation. They don’t publish it any more. They haven’t published it for years.
Actually, though, I’m very much in favor of mad lib.
Bertha was a friend of mine. She used to ride in my van.I drove a van that took people home in the evenings from a psychiatric day-care center in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, my home town. It was a part-time, it helped keep body and soul together while I was working as a volunteer editor at the Lancaster Independent Press—or LIP, as we called it, for short.
Bertha lived in a nursing home run by a couple, a pair of Pennsylvania Dutch fundamentalists. Martin, was their name. They had a big, old, converted farm house that sat by itself on top of a hill north of the small town of Ephrata. You couldn’t see it from the road. In the winter when it snowed, you couldn’t even get up the driveway.
I used to play the radio all the time in the van. Top forty. It was a distraction for our minds. Most of my clients didn’t like silence. I didn=t really like it either. Silence isn=t so enjoyable for people with disturbed thoughts.
There was this one song that was popular at the time. Maybe some of you remember it. It had a chorus that repeated itself over and over. ‘Enjoy yourself, enjoy yourself.’
Bertha questioned me about it.
‘What is that song saying?’
‘It’s saying, ‘Enjoy yourself. Enjoy yourself.’
But the next time the song came on, she asked me the same thing.
‘What is that song saying?’
‘It’s saying, ‘Enjoy yourself.’
‘It’s saying, ‘Poppa’s dead.’
What am I to make of this? I let it go. I’m only the driver. All I’m supposed to do is get these people home in the evening. Just deliver their bodies.
But one day soon after that Bertha asked me another curious question.
‘Where do they get the things they play on the radio?’
I started to explain to her about radio stations, recording studios, big cities, money. But Bertha wasn’t interested in those things. When I looked in the rear view mirror I saw that she was just staring out the window.
There was another song that was popular at the time.
‘Torn between two lovers, feeling like a fool.’ Remember that one?
’Where is he?’
‘Where’s who, Bertha?’
‘My brother! They say my brother is dying, but I don’t know where he is.’
‘Do you mean they’re saying that on the radio, Bertha?’
‘Yes. They’re singing a song about it.’
‘Actually, Bertha, if you listen I think you’ll realize that this song is about how the woman loves two men and just can’t….’
But Bertha wasn’t listening.
Now, as it usually happened, when I drove into the country north of Ephrata Mountain all the radio stations from the outside world cut out. All I could get were local religious stations. So I turned the radio off.
‘Oh, thank goodness. Listening to that radio all the time drives me crazy!’
‘Don’t you like the radio, Bertha?’
‘No, no, they just keep talking about my life. They certainly do know how to torment a person.’
Bertha liked to know what I was going to have for supper. It gave her a vicarious pleasure, I guess. She said she never got enough to eat at the nursing home.
‘They never have dessert. We always had dessert in my home.’
So I stopped at a Dairy Queen outside of Ephrata one day and bought her an ice cream cone. She stood in the parking lot, holding her cone, her blue eyes shining.
‘God bless you, Mr. Driver,’ she said.
So I guess maybe Bertha came to trust me. Maybe that’s what happened. She must have thought I was someone she could tell her secrets to