Thursday, October 9, 2008

For Aunt Nevada

One of my aunts, Nevada, died today. Although her name was initially Nevada Ostrom and then Nevada Lewis, the first name she went by was Babe, which sounds kind of funny in this (or any) day and age, and I forget the origin of the nickname. But as I've opined before, you wouldn't think a woman named Nevada would need a nickname of any kind, let alone Babe.

She was a rugged, stubborn sort. She started the only bar-fight I was ever in (and ever hope to be in). Some visitors, bikers, from out of town were in the bar, cursing. She told them to stop cursing (somewhat ironic, since when she was not in a public establishment, she cursed), and one of them called her a c**t, so she slapped him as hard as she could, and the fight was on. My mother, father, brother, and I were in the dining room of the establishment, and my uncle came to get us, telling my father that he needed his help, but giving no details. (Thanks very much.)

So we all went into the bar, where chairs and fists were already flying. My brother and I pulled one biker off some innocent neutral party. My father was knocked under a table, but he got up, grabbed a biker, put him in a bear-hug, and backed up to a wall. The fellow couldn't escape my father's grip, my father's back was to the wall., where he could survey the battle and use the biker as a shield, if necessary. Excellent strategy and tactics.

Eventually it all ended up outside, where my uncle knocked out one of the bikers with a punch that was almost Hollywood-like. Eventually, the sheriff showed up (law enforcement moves at its own pace in the Sierra Nevada). My mother mortified one of the bikers by lecturing him. I felt for the guy. He was a biker from the Bay Area, and this woman was giving him a lecture about civility. I remember her wagging a finger at him and asking, not rhetorically, "Why do you come to our town and start trouble?" He had no answer.

The sheriff took the bikers to the county seat and arrested them, chiefly because there were outstanding warrants on them in the Bay Area. (I like that term, "outstanding warrants"; it makes me wonder what a "truly excellent" warrant is.) No one associated with Aunt Nevada's side of the conflict was arrested, partly because the sheriff had known our family for 30 years (home-field advantage), and partly because the large biker Nevada slapped might have had trouble asserting that he had to slug several men to defend himself from her. I do remember that, for the first time in my life, I later had to fill out an "affadavit." At any rate, wee went home and cleaned up. No one was seriously injured. But no one ever let my Aunt Nevada forget that she had acted somewhat precipitously, especially when she and my uncle were outnumbered in the bar at the time. My Aunt Nevada remained unrepentant. She asserted that she had behaved correctly. No one in the family seemed able to mount persuasive counter-arguments.

In one of those strange coincidences, I'd been working on a poem involving Aunt Nevada just last night. I don't like to make too much of such things, but it does seem a little uncanny, especially since I had not heard anything about her health having suddenly failed. So it goes.

The Compost-Lesson

Aunt Nevada showed me
a compost-heap between
the ranch-house and her garden
when I was 8. I don't remember
what she said. I remember that
she said, talking to me as if
I were older than 8. She was trying
to explain how composts worked
and their relation to gardens.

The sounds of her explaining:
these I heard and liked. They
were human noise in a language
I understood. She was an aunt
providing linguistic nutrients
to a nephew. I remember seeing
a cracked white egg-shell
and coffee-grounds in the compost.
I remember a strong compost-
smell--not unpleasant; earth-perfume.
I saw fat red worms writhe
as if they were having bad
worm-dreams. Around the meadow

where the Zergas had built that ranch,
conifer-covered Sierra mountains stood
stately in full sunlight. Wind made leaves
of cornstalks in Aunt Nevada's garden gossip.

Copyright 2008 Hans Ostrom
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