Pine Nuts: Christmas up on the lode


This is the hardiest lot in the country today. They are the whole-hearted few that see winter through up on the Comstock Lode, the squirrels that wear dusters. They make their money in the summer, then squirrel it away to see them through a cold Comstock winter. Consequently, when Christmas Day rolls around, these robust souls are in possession of fertile imaginations when it comes to extending Yule Tidings.

Which brings us to Charles Nathan Squeeb of Virginia City, also known as “Squeebee,” a handyman who can size up any job, give a reasonable estimate, then retreat to the library to try to find out how on earth to complete that job.

Squeebee wears a tin cup on his belt, a tradition for handymen up on the Lode, and so he’s not the first to earn the title, “Tin Cup.” The tin cup is for coffee in the morning, and once the noon siren sends its sonorous wailings sailing across the tailings, something other than coffee goes into that tin cup, though its contents remain a secret between himself and his maker.

For life’s loners Christmas can be a disheartening time, a painfully dispiriting time up on the Lode, where the Washoe Zephyr comes whistling through chinks in the timber, causing cabins to creak and cry. But Squeebee is one of those hearty spirits who thrives on adversity and laughs at poverty in all weathers. He loves Christmas for the sheer challenge of it. You see, Squeebee singles out one individual whose lot he figures is hard as a three-pound drilling hammer, then he goes about ciphering a way to brighten that person’s Christmas.

This year Squeebee picked Isaiah William Snuggle, known to a few as, “I. Will Snuggle,” whose job it is to replace the candles deep down in the Chollar Mine, candles that cast shadows on the foot tours.

Squeebee does not know Isaiah well, though sometimes, while working late on locomotive engine #18 of the V&T, he catches sight of Isaiah entering the Chollar Mine with his candles.

Squeebee pulls a book down off his bookshelf, and looks at it long and hard. Roughing It, a first edition, the only first edition he has ever owned, signed by the author, Mark Twain.

Squeebee wraps the book in a page of the Comstock Chronicle, tucks it under his arm, and walks to the Chollar Mine, where he lights a candle and makes his way down into the bowels of the earth. At the end of the drift he lays the book beneath a candle anchored in the granite wall, lights that candle with his own candle, and goes back home.

On the day after Christmas, Isaiah William Snuggle walks into the Virginia City Library to show the librarian his new acquisition.

Pushing her glasses up off her nose, she announces, “Isaiah, this is a first edition, signed by Mark Twain, it’s worth more than your truck.”

“Worth more than my truck?”

“Much more than your truck.”

“Well, to me it’s worth more than anything — so I’m keepin’ it.”

“Isaiah, how wonderful, was this a gift of Christmas?”

“Found it under a lit candle down in the Chollar Mine.”


“Who knows … Billy Chollar … Santa maybe.”

As the noon siren sends its sonorous wailings sailing across the tailings, Squeebee smiles, pours his coffee out onto the ground, and refills his cup with contents that remain a secret between himself and his maker.

Merry Christmas from the squirrels that wear the dusters up on the Comstock Lode. Christmas reminds us forgetters of the forgotten.

(To hear the audio:

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