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A Lady in Boomtown: Miners and Manners on the Nevada Frontier - Page 67

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As the years passed, we hired an assortment of different people to assist with the housekeeping, among them two wonderful Chinese boys and a Bavarian woman who had been a saloonkeeper in Rhyolite, but was an excellent cook. However, she hadn’t been with us for more than a few months before we discovered that she was lifting the fancy canned goods we imported from “ outside” and was selling them to the girls in the redlight. Another of the heterogeneous mass of humanity who drifted out to the frontier for reasons of their own was a Chautauqua lecturer, very much on her uppers. I never discovered how good a lecturer she was, but I soon found out she knew nothing about cooking. An “ unforgettable character” was an elderly Negro woman named Carrie. It is with a feeling of atonement that I offer here a tribute to her gentle spirit. Like the others, Carrie answered my ad in the Tonopah Bonanza. When I saw her at the front door, I was sure she would not do. She was tall and gaunt and homely as a giraffe. But my third child was about to arrive, and Carrie assured me that she was a “ good old- fashioned cook,” so I engaged her. That evening, as Carrie came into the dining room to remove the plates before serving dessert, I looked at the lean, spider like body with its blue gingham apron and was sure I could never make up my mind to look at it day after endless day. The apron could be changed, but what could change that frame? However, the dinner was well cooked, and I discovered that Carrie made excellent bread - surely a boon out here! In order to improve her appearance, I sent to San Francisco for the largest black maid’s uniforms I could buy, together with white nurse’s aprons, the kind with bibs and full skirts that would be all- enveloping. Of course, when the clothes arrived, they were very much too big for her slat- like body, but they were long enough. I got out my treasured little Wilcox and Gibbs sewing machine and took in the seams until the dress fit. Carrie was as pleased as a child with the new clothes , and when I saw her completely dressed, I was delighted. She had smoothed hack her thin grey hair, and the white cuffs on the uniforms took the curse off those long bony fingers. But Carrie’s idea of housekeeping was not commensurate with her cooking. I would chide her for the careless way the silverware was thrown on the table, or complain of the spotted tablecloth that should not have been used again; and she would serve us some little extra treat for lunch, such as corn bread or popovers, for a sort of peace offering. One afternoon I heard Carrie’s slow step coming toward the library, where I was sitting with my younger son. She stopped hesitantly in the doorway and said, “ Mrs. Brown, kin I talk to you a minute?” “ Certainly, Carrie. Sit down.”



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