Minden, Nev., Nov. 23 – It’s Black Friday, the marketing device the Madison Avenue flim-flam machine foisted on the day after Thanksgiving, and we’re getting ready to head south toward Las Vegas and beyond.
With any luck, we’ll be out of here by the middle of next week.
We arrived Tuesday afternoon, visited with Max’s cousins Alex and Taylor before they left Wednesday morning with their father, Brian, for the Bay Area to visit their grandparents. We spent the balance of the holiday week hanging with Becky’s sister, the unimpeachable Donna Harker.
Nice place, Minden. Wherever you go, you can’t get away from the hulking, snow-covered peaks of the Sierra Nevada. They provide a permanent backdrop to the unseen drama bubbling beneath the surface of placid Minden town.
We have found ourselves here often during the last decade. We first visited in 2002, just before Christmas. Alex was, 4. Taylor was 5, Max’s age. Becky and I had been together for oh, a couple weeks, and Donna acted as lead prosecutor for Breslin Family, Inc., which wanted answers about the dubious fellow who had stolen their favorite daughter away and spirited her across the country.
She asked, among other things, about the state of my sperm count. And I’ve loved her for it ever since, even if I was a bit uncomfortable on the stand.
We visited twice in 2009, and have stopped by the neighborhood twice this year.
As Max might say, you need the love of family in this uncertain world.
Scary how fast it goes. Sometimes I think I can feel the grains of time slipping through my fingers. Can’t help but think of the haunting question posed by Our Town’s Emily Webb; “Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it? — every, every minute?”
It is a hard thing to accomplish.
On Tuesday we ate dinner at Francisco’s Mexican restaurant, which inhabits a century-old brick building. Francisco’s commands a prominent corner on U.S. Highway 395, aka Main Street. The building dates to 1910, when it sprang to life as The Heidelberg, a German-style saloon built by Fritz Dangberg. The Dangberg clan had its fingerprints all over early Minden.
Laid out in neat, orderly German precision, complete with a town square, Minden was the brainchild of H.F. “Fred” Dangberg Jr., Fritz’s cousin. Fred Dangberg was the son of a rancher who came here from Germany and settled just west along the East Fork of the Carson River in 1857.
Provided a nice head start by their industrious father, Fred Dangberg and his brothers, John, George and Clarence, expanded the family business into a booming livestock and land concern and, eventually, the town of Minden itself. Fred Dangberg convinced the Virginia and Truckee Railroad Company to extend a branch line here from Carson City by donating a right-of-way through their expansive property, and Minden was officially born in the summer of 1907.
When strolling the streets of Minden, it’s easy to get lost in a somnolent “Our Town” reverie. Everything’s just so clean and gosh-darned pleasant.
Historical markers offer brief lessons regarding the tidy, one-story homes dotting Mono Avenue and elsewhere. For instance, the Joe Cardinal House at 1614 Mono was built in 1908.
Cardinal was the first manager of the Minden Flour Mill, which meant he had to negotiate an onerous two-block walk to work every day. His daughter Gretchen was the first child born in the town of Minden. That was 1909. One hundred and three years hence, Minden remains well-scrubbed and winsome.
Somewhere, Fred Dangberg is smiling, if a trifle wanly.
It seems as if Minden had been invented out of whole cloth, dropped from the sky onto virgin land just waiting for good, wholesome inhabitants. Of course this is never true. Wherever you go here in old Mexico, you cross trails with Native American ghosts. (For some reason, primarily my abiding ignorance, it surprised me to read that all of Nevada was part of Mexico before we annexed it in the audacious land grab we like to call the Mexican-American War. Say what you want, naysayers — no less than future Civil War hero and U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant called the war “one of the most unjust ever waged by a stronger against a weaker nation” — it is impossible to deny that the National Park system profited immeasurably from our conquest of Mexico. So, USA! USA! USA, bitches!
Ah yes, the natives. The Washoe hunted and fished around these parts and generally had a good time of it when the pesky Pauites weren’t making life miserable for them. British-born writer and defrocked Methodist preacher George Wharton James, who traveled among the Washoe and rival Pauites in the late 19th century, described the Washoe as a “peaceable and inoffensive tribe.”
They shared their stories and customs with him, and he paid them back how? By blithely trashing them and their silly little culture. Here’s the charitable way he described the Washoe:
“In appearance they are heavy and fat, though now and again a man of fine, muscular form and good height is found. The women have broad, shapeless figures and clumsy, deliberate movements. The older they get the more repulsive and filthy they become.”
I’m guessing the broad, shapeless Washoe squaws were just not that into Georgie boy.
Oh well, they got theirs.