The funny thing about a box of left over memories that you never open—the contents are only missed when the box is no longer available for digging through. Something spooky always happens on Nevada Day (Oct. 31) and this year, it seems I have been hitched by an eerie weirdness again. And, right now this box would be helpful to fill in the factual information behind this story, which in my wild mind, is handy but not necessarily required, for a three yard long yarn.
It begins some Nevada Days ago. It was a pretty fall day. October 31 and the year I do not remember. I was trying to find some space between myself and my desk at the Tonopah newspaper office and I wandered down to the Tonopah cemetery. I wasn’t a frequent visitor but it seemed the place to visit that day. I went in search of some dead relative gravesites. One grave which I located belongs my great grandmother Onarina Quintilla Bertolino.
I never knew the woman who migrated from Italy to make her home in nearby Peavine and raise her children in Central Nevada. She died when my father was but half way through childhood. What I knew of her now, and that fateful day, was and is still limited, most of it is in the unreachable memory box.
Did I mention it was October 31—Nevada’s birthday, and upon locating Onarina’s gravesite I discovered it was also her birthday. Funny I should visit the gravesite of a relative I never met, on her birthday and without knowing it was her birthday. More funny is that silly girl fate, that it was Nevada Day, perhaps one of my favorite “holidays.” I did not call myself the wild Nevadan yet…but perhaps it was a precursor to my fate?
Anyhow, the discovery that day made me feel strange and not at all like returning to my desk so I made some excuses and headed out for a desert romp. The target was Lone Mountain and the way to which I had never really been able to find before. I would get out there on those old dirt roads and find myself headed away rather than toward the destination; or in some tight little spot in the road I did not feel comfortable enough to cross. It all changed on that Nevada day.
On that pretty little Nevada day and Onarina’s birthday I decided it was just the task to take on Lone Mountain again.
Strangely, I twisted and turned and found myself right there at the bottom of her (Lone Mountain). The road ended and I released my hounds and we began a little desert walk up and across some rugged boulders. Some place in the moment the sound of shattering rocks brought my heart to my throat and I found that my dogs and I had surprised a big horn sheep and in its haste to make its way away from us, he sent some rocks flying and rolling.
I was still stuck on the strange coincidence of earlier in the morning. I had my great grandmother on my mind. And, the only other place I’ve witnessed the big horn was Peavine, where my Bertolino relatives and Onarina lived. For a moment I felt very close to this ancestor I had never met. I imagined her walking in the canyon of Peavine, trying to escape her woman’s work and her hounds startling a big horn and being surprised by the boulders that crashed and banged their way down the rugged terrain as that magnificent beast made its way away from her. The way her heart must have beat hard like mine did, even after we discovered that there was no danger and only wonder to behold before our eyes. It was Nevada’s birthday and I am so lucky enough to make contact with her state animal, a big horn sheep.
For a moment my quick heartbeat could have been that of hers. I felt for a moment that the blood that coursed through my veins did come from another, and because of the days’ strange circumstances, probably her. It is not often we actually feel the genetic connection of a blood relative that we never laid eyes on. I can accept and recognize the traits I have inherited from my own grandparents, yes, because I had a personal relationship with each of them. The hair I have on my chin that my Grammie had.
Or, the strange comfort I find in large, empty wild places was passed to me by the original Wild Nevadan, and my paternal grandfather Jim Kiehlack. Perhaps my love of fish and garden and the smell of moo-moos was from Onarina’s son, my grandfather, Pete Bertolino. But, I never met Onarina. I cannot even image what traits she passed forth to me through Pete and then my father, Charles Bertolino, and finally to me. And it is not like anybody ever once said, “Heidi, you are so like your great grandmother Onarina.”
Anyhow, it was a special Nevada day for me. One I will never forget. I bring it up now because Fate is a funny, funny girl. Last weekend my Hon and I took the boys out to Peavine and past the old Bertolino place. We hung around the campground where I sort of wallowed in some very special of my own childhood memories. I was wallowing because for all its glory I only had the camera on my phone to document it. My camera was being cleaned…
Nevermind the wallow. I was present for a proud moment when my kids kicked off their boots and before I could object or tell them they were going to catch the death of cold, ran stark naked to splash and play in Peavine creek.
Ahhh, to be a child and completely oblivious to cold, in the joy of squishing your toes in the mud and feeling water rush across your bare legs.
The moment was romantic. I could not help but pause for a moment to think about all the Bertolino’s who played in that creek….from my great grandmother all the way down to my own boys who have been inheritently mixed with at least one or two Bertolino genes.
And, then, this week an acquaintance surprised me with a short visit and a gift. She said she had been going through some things and come upon a table runner that had been given to her by my great-grandmother Onarina when she was a young woman. As this story goes, she had stopped by that old Bertolino place in Peavine with her new husband or her betrothed and upon hearing the news of such a special occasion, as a new marriage, Onarina had gifted her with the handmade treasure. She said she thought of me when she found it and then she turned it over to me for the keeping.
I am a blessed wild Nevadan girl.
This story is long and it only gets a little bit more spooky. Today, when I checked the mail I found in my box a package notice. I know it is my camera, to which I have to pick up tomorrow on Nevada day. I have anticipated this day much like my own birthday. To have and hold my camera (in perfect working order) is a gift in and upon itself. To receive this gift on the anniversary of Nevada’s statehood (the wilds of Nevada being my favorite subject matter) and on Onarina’s birthday is perhaps as much a coincidence as finding out it was her birthday on her birthday and meeting up with a big horn sheep? I do not know. I do know it makes my Bertolino feel special and a part of something worth pride and ownership and the passing on of love.
So, in honor of Nevada and my great grandmother I have cataloged two ordinary but extraordinary things to which I found myself proud of this week that came upon me through my little boys. Benign in and of themselves but ever so more cherished, because it is that special time of year when I feel so connected to Onarina and the Bertolino blood that courses through me and is genetically entertained within my children, her great great grandchildren. Happy Birthday Woman!
AND Happy Birthday Nevada, to you I give the talents of two Wild Nevadans in training...