43-4. Nonagenarian Notions: The word “Donner” sent me down memory lane

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I guess that’s why the name Tahoe Donner Bridge Club jumped out at me in a list of Google citations.  In 1948, I drove over that Donner Pass, en route with my just married husband to San Francisco area. My father, a history buff, upon learning of our proposed route from Long Island to San Francisco said, “You’ll have to stop at a library in Nevada and read about the Donner Party.”

Bill thought that was kind of strange parting advice, but I had grown up on Seth (my father)  reading history and novels about places as a preparation for travel. When we visited Maine, my father first read Kenneth Roberts historical novels for instance. So I got it. And we did stop at a library in Reno to read about that Donner Party.  As Seth predicted, driving over that pass with that tragic story in mind DID make it far more vivid and memorable.

Somewhere around here I still have the long “reporting” letters I wrote to my family as we drove cross country back then which my mom and dad avidly read and kept for me. A trip cross country just after WWII was a big deal and for my father I think he imagined himself taking it with every letter he got.  We visited Bill’s Army buddies in Wisconsin, a wheat-growing cousin of my father’s in North Dakota, a State Dept girl we both knew from being stationed in Germany after WWII (now living in a Light House on Presque Isle) — oh the memories!

Would you believe that introduction to “armchair travel” I learned from Seth led–some 50 years later or so–to choosing travel bibliography as topic of my first serious stab at self-publishing? Traveler’s Reading Guide: Ready-made Reading Lists for the Armchair Traveler was its name. First I did a 3-volume self-published series of paperbacks; then Facts on File picked it up and I got a contract to edit two hardcover editions for them in the late 80s and early 90s.

Beyond its gruesome end, as I remember the part of the Donner story that Bill couldn’t get over was, that they  had to literally take those covered wagons apart, carry them piece by piece over the pass and reassemble, in order to continue on to California. And here we were whizzing in our 1937 Ford coupe (as I remember) over that same path to the Golden State.

That’s over 60 years ago! Has Federal highway money and safety standards flattened the grades, or taken any curves out of that Donner road from Nevada to California?? I would love to know.

Sorry for the digression, but that’s why I call this part of my blog “notions”–it’s where this nonagenarian can self-indulgently write about anything that comes to mind.






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