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A Lady in Boomtown: Miners and Manners on the Nevada Frontier - Page 41

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So I went at it, making myself as small as possible and hoping no one would notice me. But alas for foolish wishes, that afternoon a lady knocked at the door. She was the wife of the bank cashier, and, I had been told, the granddaughter of a Virginia City millionaire. That day she was elegantly dressed in soft brown wool under a sealskin coat. “ Oh, Mrs. Brown,” she announced gaily, “ I’ve wanted to come to see you ever since you arrived, and when I saw you out washing your windows this morning, I said to myself, “ There now, I’ll go this very afternoon.” I’m sure she washed her own windows, and I was relieved to think she didn’t know how mortified I was. But gradually I learned it was not the doing of the menial labor that was " déclassé ," but the not doing it. I learned to discount the toll of my complexion and the awful things that happened to my fingernails ( Hugh never did get over regretting the condition of my hands), and never since have I been able to recapture the importance of such things. There is very little in the way of physical labor I haven’t done, even chopping wood for the cook stove. I love to swing an ax! Two more incidents of emotional impact come to mind. One was the sight of what I thought was an oriole.* [* I have since been told that it was undoubtedly a woodpecker I saw. They do get through to the desert occasionally.] There are almost no birds on the southern Nevada desert, yet here he was, perched on the uncertain branch of a sage brush. Where had he come from? Where would he go to find a drink? I had wept a little alone in the house, for I missed my mother’s affection, but the sight of that beautiful black and yellow bird triggered my first real battle with homesickness. On another occasion, as I was washing my breakfast dishes, there was a faint tapping at the window. I looked up and was startled by the sight of an old Indian woman peering through the glass, cupping out the light from little sunken eyes with hands that looked like bird claws. Straggling wisps of grey hair hung down from a dirty head band. She opened her mouth and poked a brown finger into a toothless black hole. I realized she was telling me she was hungry, so I fixed some food on a plate and gave it to her at the back door. It was a frightening and depressing experience, and I’m sure I knew all the paralyzing fear early settlers must have felt when they looked up to find hostile Indians at their windows. “ Pooty good eat,” she said, as she handed back the empty plate and dragged herself to her feet by the stick she carried. My back window became a regular port of call for her, and I became really fond of the innocent old creature. Speaking of hostile Indians reminds me of Annie’s father. He sat on the hillside behind my house, for his daughter worked for my neighbors, and she would bring the old man along every day, taking bits of food to him at noon



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