Tante Austra

This is a compilation of written and performed work from Nell’s IMT workshop tonight.

Tante Austra is a delicately boned, white-haired woman with a Germanic accent. Her skin is wrinkled white, like porcelain gone through a meat grinder and magically turned into translucent rubber. It all holds together.

She is very old now and has spent the evening singing Latvian songs in celebration of Janitsfest (the Summer Solstice celebration). She sits placidly in skirt and blouse and flower wreath on Angela & Jan’s tin-roofed front porch. The rain is pouring down, causing a din that’s almost impossible to speak over. I am twisted up in my chair, straining towards her with my digital recorder, trying to capture every precious word falling like jewels from her mouth.

She calmly switches between Stalinist purges and Nazi attacks and tales of her husband. He has been gone a few years now; the Stalinists, longer. Which is more immanent in her mind’s eye? In her heart?

Her job as a young girl, as the open truck rolled away from her village for the last time, was to pull the pin on the hand grenade and throw it at the Nazis as hard as she could if they came any closer.

She knows she is of a dying race at the end of her days, her husband gone and her family not prone to listen. She asks me if I am married. I say no, I came close once but he went away. “Such a shame,” she shakes her head. “Such a nice girl.”

Tante Austra is like fine china with a core of steel.

I am in the presence of living history and she is at peace.

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