A Lady in Boomtown: Miners and Manners on the Nevada Frontier - Page 39
Chapter 6 Women in Tonopah… Desert Housekeeping… The Great Laundry Fiasco… Indian Annie’s Father… Banquet on Oilcloth… The Wonder of Ruby Silver… Shakespeare and a Dogfight…“ The Never green Tree”… Concert, in Miner’s Boots and Organdy WHEN MY THOUGHTS RETURN to the women of Tonopah, I recall how my sympathy went out to the brides. As soon as a young man made a stake, he invariably went back for the girl he had left behind. Many were entirely unfitted for the life of a mining camp. The older women, wives of engineers, mine officials, and tradesmen, seemed adequate, but you could almost tell by looking at the brides whether they would be able to stick it out. The problems of housekeeping on the desert were very real. During the bitter cold winters the wind moaned and whistled through the cracks in the board-and- batten houses. In the terrific summer heat, you had to cook over a wood stove with one eye always watchful for insects. Have you ever inadvertently crushed a stink bug and lived with that stench for days? Have you ever turned suddenly to look at your baby on the floor and found a scorpion on his arm? Have you ever found a bed bug on your pillow and faced the task of getting rid of the pests? The women used to say it was no disgrace to get bedbugs, but it was certainly a disgrace to keep them. We were successors to that wonderful race of pioneer women who have been scattered over the West since the western trek began, women who brought their babies into the world in lonely places, women who cooked for their sick neighbors. These were women who washed the dead and laid them out, and rode horseback for miles to help a beleaguered home. Jen Stock and her mother belonged to that race of women. Jen became my most intimate friend. She had a keen mind and a grand sense of humor. She did much to smooth that first year when I wrestled with new problems. She taught me to darn, to make soap, to wet paper and sprinkle the bits over the floor before I swept so that the fine talc- like dust would be kept down; and best of all, she taught me to make bread. But there was one thing she didn’t teach me. She didn’t teach me how to wash clothes, because I was ashamed to confess my ignorance to my more experienced neighbor. Once I had called in Annie, an Indian woman, who looked a thousand years old though she was probably not as old as my own mother, but things were in such disorder by the time she was through that I could not think of having her in my neat little kitchen again. I watched Jen and other neighbors hang out sheets, tablecloths, pajamas, shirts, until every bit of linen I owned had been used up in an effort to post- pone the evil day. At last I tackled it. If other women could do the washing, I could.
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