Saying good-bye and moving on

Wednesday, I had to revisit an old life. It was something very hard for me to do but I came out of it feeling better. A good friend had passed away and I felt the need to go to his memorial but, in doing so, I had to go back to a loss I had just a year ago in my own personal life. My husband of almost 10 years died a year ago on April 24 and one day after that anniversary, I hear about losing Don McBride, someone my husband and I loved and respected so much.

Don, owner of the world famous Bucket of Blood in Virginia City, died last Thursday at 78, in my estimation, somehow, too young for a man that had been so vital and instrumental in reviving the town to the thriving community it is today.

I met Don when I first met my then to-be husband, Gary Tanner. It was 1994.

Gary had an advertising specialty company, providing hats, T-shirts and numerous other advertising specialty products for businesses all over the Reno, Carson, Douglas County and the Virginia City area. The pride and joy of all of his accounts was the Bucket of Blood, not because of the notoriety of the place, but because of the people that owned it and the primary person he liked the most was Don.

On my first meeting with Don, it was like I had known him all my life. He was a very special man. He had just lost his wife and was in the transition of handing the reigns of the famous saloon over to two of his three sons, Steve and Marshall Don, which afforded him the leisure time when we would make deliveries to talk about the history of Virginia City and of the memories he had growing up there. He would tell us stories about the town and the Bucket of Blood. I just wish now that I could remember every word.

Don was just 3 years old when his father bought the place. He had been born in Winnemucca in 1928 and his father bought the historic establishment in 1931. Don would tell us stories of living above the bar. He went to school in the Fourth Ward School which is now an historical landmark due to his efforts to preserve it. He grew up in Virginia City and never had a desire to leave. It was through his dedication that Virginia City survived the decline of its world-famous mining days to become the tourist attraction it is today. It was Don's love and enthusiasm for the area that kept Virginia City from joining her mining-boom counterparts like Bodie, Aurora, Belmont and Gold Field, and fall into arrested decay or disappearing altogether. Virginia City was on the fringe of doing just that in the early 1950s and 1960s. Don was humble about his accomplishments and would always contend that things got done because of everyone else around him, but we all knew he was the pilot light igniting the furnace.

As I sat at his memorial my mind drifted back to all the times my husband and I had made an early morning delivery and there Don would be, at the end of the bar, fresh popcorn in bowls that we munched on as we had a cup of coffee and listened to his stories.

Popcorn was a big thing to him. He had practically turned it into an industry in the town. He was a connoisseur of the white puffy stuff and the thought of having it with coffee was a little hard to take at 9 a.m., but there he would be, popping those puffed up kernels into his mouth, drinking his coffee, ready to tell us just about anything we had a mind to listen to.

His memorial was held at Piper's Opera House, another place he fought so hard to preserve and protect, and his efforts are visible today. Squeak LaVake played the piano in her unique style accompanied by Gary Greenlund with his banjo. David John and the Comstock Cowboys sang a song. He was remembered fondly by people who had the courage to step to the podium in front of a standing-room-only crowd. The bagpipes were played, and as I stepped outside in front of the opera house after the celebration of his life, I looked over C Street, one block below me, with the Bucket of Blood in view, Sugarloaf Mountain in the distance, the back of The Delta Saloon where Gary and I were married May 31, 1997, remembered all the wonderful talks we had with Don over a bowl of popcorn and I knew all was well and I was able to move on. Don and Gary are probably having a bowl of popcorn right now ... and all along I was thinking those were only clouds in the sky.

Thanks for the wonderful memories Don.

n Jonni Hill can be reached through The Record-Courier at or by calling 782-5121, ext. 213, or after hours at


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