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A Lady in Boomtown: Miners and Manners on the Nevada Frontier - Page 40

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The water, remember, was in a big barrel in the kitchen. Once a week a man came up the hill behind a team of mules struggling against the weight of a wagon loaded with six huge barrels full of water. He’d stop as close to the front of the house as the uneven ground would allow, prop the back wheels with a wooden wedge, and empty one of the barrels through a bunghole into buckets. Then he came teetering into my kitchen, carrying two buckets at a time, from which water spilled across the floor, but ultimately most went into my barrel. Each week I paid him a silver dollar. Every bit of water we used was lifted out of that barrel. Bathing was not too difficult, for we had two oversize tea kettles. One of these, heated to boiling, then poured into the big galvanized iron tub on the floor and cooled with more water, was not too hard to handle. But for laundering I had to lift the kettle from the stove to a tub balanced between two kitchen chairs, scrub the clothes as I had seen Annie do, then dip the water out with a pitcher until the tub was light enough to drag along the floor and empty out the back door. I repeated the filling process to rinse the wet, heavy sheets, not to mention the terrific effort of getting them hung on the line, and then mopped up the water that had splashed on the floor! This was more than I had ever bargained for. The task was not half complete before I had rubbed the skin off the backs of my fingers, and when the job was done, my body ached in every joint. When Hugh came home, I cried in his arms. Poor man, he didn’t know what to do with me; but that night, when I lay in bed, my hands throbbing with pain, I made a vow: I would never try it again! Tomorrow I’d go down to the little cubbyhole on Main Street that passed for a dry goods store and buy bed linen. My husband ( as if it were his fault) would have to get his shirts washed in the same way he had managed before I arrived, and everything else would go to a Reno laundry and back by stage. Reno was two hundred miles away. It took two days for the laundry to get there and a little less than three weeks for it to return, but I’ve never been ashamed to confess I didn’t do my washing myself. After I maneuvered Hugh into carrying the package down to the stage office, he decided to send his own linen to Reno, too. For the next two years the arrangement was a great comfort to both of us. Washing my windows was the next source of humiliation for me though without quite serious repercussions. I had been reared by a Victorian mother who insisted that no lady should ever be seen doing menial labor. I had no hesitancy about doing the necessary scrubbing and polishing indoors - in fact I loved it - but it did give me a sense of degradation to realize I would have to go out on the porch in full sight of the whole town to wash those windows. Should I hire old Annie? Unthinkable. I’d have to do it.



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