I am taking a break from raging against the Catholic church and breathing feminist fire to sing a little song of Walla Walla, Washington. I am here to do a book signing at Book and Game Co on Main Street and to stay with my college roommate Putzer, the attorney, and her husband, Jim.
My earliest memories of Walla Walla are from the late 50s when I was five or six years old. My great-aunt lived on Marcus Street next to the foot bridge that crosses Mill Creek. My Aunt Ann was the most elegant of Victorian ladies. College kids have long since taken over her former house and now it’s as unkempt as a dorm room.
I have my little rituals when I come to Walla Walla. I walk across the Marcus Street foot bridge. I visit Pioneer Park to commune with the huge, gnarled trees and talk to the ducks. I cycle to Mountain View Cemetery where are buried the grandparents I never knew. I always make a tour of the Whitman College campus and spend some time wandering along Lakem Duckem. I go into the college bookstore to inspect the most recent promotional memorabilia and alumni crap. This trip I checked to see if my book (99 Girdles on the Wall in case you’re new here) was on the alumni shelf. It wasn’t because it had sold out (yay!) so I left more copies.
Walla Walla has undergone a renaissance in the past 35 years since I was a student. When I was in school, there were plenty of wheat fields but no wineries. The ratio has flipped. Now there are 150 wineries and a dwindling number of wheat fields. Main Street is full of tasting rooms, coffee houses, and boutiques. Falkenburg Jewelers and Baker-Boyer Bank are the only downtown businesses I recognize.
I applied for my first credit card at the bank. In the 70s, it was hard for a single woman to be approved for a credit card. If you were of the female species, you could be attached to your husband’s credit card but you couldn’t have one of your own. However as a Whitman graduate in Walla Walla’s own Baker-Boyer Bank I had hometown cachet and was issued a Mastercard. I suppose they thought that a Whitman education was so impressive that even a single woman could get a decent job with it.
I always bring my bicycle to Walla Walla. I know of no other place so conducive to bicycling. Commodious streets with large leafy trees and very little traffic make it a pleasure to meander or run errands. In Seattle on Thursday morning I lashed it to the bike rack with half a dozen bungee cords. I further secured it with a length of rope wrapped so thoroughly as to almost obscure the bike. My neighbor Gwen who knows something about just about everything came over to see me off.
“Do you think the bike will stay on?” I asked.
“I think the car will probably fall off first,” she said.
There was a thunderstorm coming in over my shoulder when I was untying my bike in Debi’s (that would be Putzer’s given name) driveway. Who would have thought a bunch of granny knots would be so hard to wriggle free but I got the bicycle unhitched just before the squall broke.
I abandoned Debi and Jim to pick up Katie, my former piano student and soon to be Whitman graduate. We went to dinner at Olive’s on Main Street and shared a fabulous asparagus and bacon pizza. A long time ago just before I graduated in 1976, Olive’s was called Merchants, was half as big, but just as good. From dinner, Katie and I went to a poetry reading at Hunter Conservatory. On the corner of Boyer and Park, Hunter conservatory used to be the Hall of Music and the little Victorian era stage was called MacDowell Hall after the little Victorian composer Edward MacDowell. As a student at Whitman, I sang in recitals on the little Victorian stage. The offices upstairs used to be practice rooms. I practiced singing and piano in those rooms. The piano I learned to play on, and which stands in my house today was once in the Whitman Hall of Music.
I will skip over how much I enjoyed the readings to complain about the One Who Read for Too Long. The poets had been publicly reminded they should read for no longer than seven minutes and everyone did fine until near the end, someone read a piece about the Titanic that went on for longer than it took the ship to sink. It was during this presentation that I felt myself crashing. I needed an early night because I had to get up at 4:30 the next morning for an early morning TV spot to promote my book.
I laid everything out for the next morning in the order that I would be donning it or putting it in my hair. I fiddled with the bathroom shower fixture which looked like Sputnik. Not wanting to have to solve a space-age dilemma at 4:30 in the morning, I padded down the hall to Debi and Jim’s room and knocked.
Debi poked her head out, a toothbrush in her mouth.
“Can you show me how to use the shower?”
“Is it 4:30 already?” she asked.
“Ha ha, very funny. Better I ask you now than tomorrow morning while you’re still in bed.”
Debi showed me how to use the shower and I went to bed. Therein endeth the first day.