Humble barfly cherished for small acts of kindness
Jerk. Idiot. Alcoholic. These are the words that Brian “Berger” Westberg uses to describe himself. Although he spends most of his free time on his specific stool at his favourite bar, there’s a lot more to Berger than a bottle of Old Vienna.
“My dad drank it, so I drink OV,” he said.
Berger has a gravelly voice but bright, happy blue eyes. His dad passed away suddenly of an aneurysm at age 39 when Berger was three years old. “There’s a picture at home somewhere. My dad passed out with a stubby bottle of OV. So I started drinking OV.”
Berger is an interesting man. He only leaves Huron County a couple of times a year, including once annually to go to Detroit to see a ball game with a few of his friends. He tips in candy and hates the number 13. He celebrates his parents’ dog’s birthday, Jan. 9. Somewhat of a superstitious man, every Sunday he brings a newspaper to The Blyth Inn and gets the servers to read what he refers to as his “horrible-scope” and theirs. He’s such a regular at The Blyth Inn that on the Google Maps street view of the restaurant, he can be seen leaving. He is his own worst critic.
Berger has lived in Blyth, Ont., almost all of his life. Born in Collingwood, Ont., on New Year’s Eve of 1964, he moved to Blyth when he was three with his family. His mother took him to get registered for kindergarten and he recalls tripping down the last three steps of the school and breaking his collarbone.
He also recalls his aunt making the same joke every year about how his birth ruined her New Year’s Eve party because she had to drive from Blyth to Stayner, Ont., to babysit his three older siblings while he was being born.
His tanned, lined face is all smiles. “You damn little brat, you ruined my New Year’s Eve party,” he remembers his aunt saying.
“How did I ruin it? You didn’t have to babysit me,” he fires back.
Berger remembers his mother saying that he was born 15 days earlier than his due date and had he been born on his due date, he would have either been born at home or in a snowbank. It was a rough winter that year.
He works at Howson Mills and has been there for 18 years as a packer and loader. He does shift work, and when he’s not working he can either be found walking his mom and stepdad’s dog, Jessie, or in “Berger’s chair” at The Blyth Inn, aka the Boot.
“Lived here all my life. I’ll never leave,” he said about Blyth.
What Berger perhaps doesn’t recall is all of the ways community members of Blyth and the surrounding area view him.
Lauren Vanderwal, a server at The Blyth Inn, has known Berger for five years and met him during her first shift. Instead of tipping in cash, he buys candy for the servers at the Boot to keep under the bar and munch on. Vanderwal said her first reaction to Berger was something along the lines of, “Sweet! We get candy!” despite thinking it was strange at first.
“But he seemed like a nice guy and was nice looking, not what I’d expect for a regular at a bar,” she said. “Everyone else seemed to love him so instantly I had a good view of him.”
Shelby Hakkers, another server at the Boot, said she was intimidated at first and didn’t want to get his beer order wrong. But when asked about how many times she has seen Berger do something selfless for somebody else, she happily responded, “All the time!”
Between all of the servers at The Blyth Inn who see him on a daily basis, one could compile a book of stories about Berger and his acts of kindness.
“I remember Mother’s Day, he brings in chocolate for all of the mothers that are in that night,” Hakkers said. “It was the Merci chocolates. I think he pretty much just went up to any woman that looked the age of a mother or even a grandmother and I think too if the kids were around he clued into that. And so he would let them pick a chocolate from the box. So he does that, like, every Mother’s Day.”
“Sometimes if he knows a family that’s in with kids on any regular night, when he goes out and gets us candy, he’ll get the kid candy too,” Hakkers added.
She said his presence at the Boot is an extra friendly smile and that sometimes he greets people when they come into the restaurant.
Vanderwal recalled other times Berger has been his normal helpful self.
“He has his specific chair that he sits in but if any outsider comes in, he jumps right up to give them his seat,” she said. “Also, there have been a few times when there’s been someone sketchy or unpleasant hanging around after we close. Berger will try whatever he can in a polite way to get them to leave. But if they still won’t go then he stays as long as it takes until that person leaves. He always looks out for us girls and we appreciate him.”
The Boot has no lack of barflies. There are a number of people who frequent the bar numerous times a day, making small-town chit-chat with one another and the servers. However, what sets Berger apart from the rest is, according to Vanderwal, his really good heart.
“He has never been creepy. He’s most like a big brother. And, of course, the fact that our dogs are friends makes him even better.”
He once offered to leave the bar and walk home and back to get a safety pin for a wedding party member who happened to be staying at the inn and suffered a wardrobe malfunction.
He, on occasion, has even answered the phone when a lone waitress was busy serving a table. “Hello, The Blyth Inn, the waitress is busy but she’ll be right there. This is Berger.”
One of his favourite memories is even based on helping others. Down the road from the Blyth Inn is where the old fire department of Blyth used to be. Fire alarms would go off and Berger would leave his spot at the bar to go direct traffic because the intersection that the trucks had to turn onto normally was a nightmare. Someone associated with the RCMP took note of this one day and bought Berger a beer in appreciation.
“Why did you do that?” the man asked.
“Look how big those trucks are, how heavy they are. How much time it takes for them to stop and get going again. Those couple of seconds could save my life, could save your life, could save your mother’s life, anybody’s life,” Berger replied.
He chalks his kindness up to being how he was raised.
“It’s the way I was brought up. My grandfather and uncle … It’s just the way I was brought up. You know the old saying, ‘Do unto others how you’d have them do to you’ or however it goes.”
Lover of animals, helper of strangers, “horrible-scope” enthusiast; Berger claims he doesn’t have much of a life. However, it is clear from the way that his face brightens when he talks about Jessie the dog or the toy fire truck he still has that he got as a gift for being the ring bearer at his uncle’s wedding that he, himself, has a lot of life.
Thoughtful. Generous. Caring. Friendly. Social. Unique. These are all words used by others to describe Brian “Berger” Westberg. It would be impossible to count how many times his feet have crossed the threshold of The Blyth Inn or how many OVs he’s sipped in his stool at the bar. What can be said for certain, though, is that he is much more than the beer he drinks.