Tomorrow morning, I'm going with a group to Walla Walla, Washington, for a tour of the wine country there. SInce I spent ten years of my life in Athena, Oregon, which is 26 miles from Walla Walla, I have lots of memories of this area. We'll be there from Monday through Wednesday, and I am very much looking forward to the trip.
Most of my memories of Walla Walla have to do with shopping trips to that "big" city to spend my pea harvest earnings on new school clothes. We'd occasionally go there for a church meeting or our high school team would play a nearby town in football or basketball. Walla Walla was definitely the big city for us; it was slightly bigger than Pendleton, it had the Washington State penitentiary there, and two colleges. It was far more sophisticated than Pendleton, which only had the RoundUp and the Woolen Mills to recommend it.
Pendleton was closer to Athena but not as intriguing. Walla Walla also had the Whitman Massacre memorial, where the Cayuse tribe, infected with disease by the incessant stream of white settlers on their way to Oregon, did away with Marcus and Narcissa Whitman and their family and friends, an event that was not quite accurately reported for many years, in an effort to downplay the negative effects of white settlerism on the Oregon Trail, which crosses the Blue Mountains between Walla Walla and Pendleton.
Nowadays, Walla Walla has improved its reputation quite a bit more, with the popularity of the Walla Walla sweet onion, the zillions of wineries which have found the hot summer days and cool nights to be good vineyard conditions, and the influx of wine industry mavens. Property and housing prices have shot up drastically, fine dining is actually a possibility, and the Marcus Whitman hotel has become quite the lodging house.
I remember driving with my sister to Walla Walla to buy school clothes before my senior year in high school. I had not had my driver's license long and on the way back home, we were overtaken by one of the legendary dust storms that hit the area occasionally in the summer. All I could do was stop the car, roll up the windows, and hunker down and wait till it blew over. My sister's version of the story has us creeping along the highway in the swirling clouds of dust; I am more inclined to like my version, which seems more characteristic of who I was in those days. Dust storms were pernicious; even with tightly closed windows, we were filthy when we got home much later. The storm would have likely lasted for a couple of hours. And driving in it down a narrow two lane road would have been suicidal, for humans and for the car's engine. Hunkering was about all we could have done. But my sister's versions of our childhood are often more colorful than mine, so I don't argue with her much!
Anyhow, I'll be gone till Wednesday night, so don't wait up.
"I see the valley of the Double Wallas, Double Wallas, Double Wallas,
I see the valley of the Double Wallas, Walla Walla, Washington.*
*what we would sing when we topped a rise north of Milton Freewater, OR, and could see Walla Walla ahead of us.