For my annual pilgrimage to Walla Walla, I decided to fly instead of drive. I hadn’t flown since 2009 so I was rusty on the procedure. I scored an expedited pass so I didn’t have to take off my shoes, but the water bottle I meant to leave in the car was still in my bag and that held up the line. I had too many carry-ons with me so I crammed one bag into the other. The flight is only long enough to get in the air, get the drinks cart up and down the aisle, collect one’s things and get off the plane. The drinks cart passed my row several times with no joy when we began the descent.
“Did they just ignore us?” I asked my seat mate, a winemaker whose arms were covered with interesting tattoos and on whose earlobes were a couple of earrings that looked like heavy bolts. His carry-on was a little cooler and I was dying to know what was in it.
“I think they did,” he said.
We both shrugged, collected our belongings and de-planed.
Putzer the Attorney was home recovering from knee surgery and though I had the option of waiting for James to leave work to come collect me, I had the unaccountable desire to take a taxi. A taxi in Walla Walla. It must stem from having been a student here, back in the days when I had never been in a taxi and it felt like a dangerously adult thing to do. Also the airport being about 5 miles away, it seemed silly to not take a taxi for the $3 it was going to cost.
It cost $16. Plus the driver had BO and talked too much. Now I’ve had the experience I won’t need to do it again.
The plane had been two hours late leaving Seattle. Door to door from my house to Putzer’s: if I had driven, it would have taken me an extra fifteen minutes and I would have felt no less drained. I felt keenly the snub my row received from the airlines, which shall go nameless because a friend works for them.
My first morning I went for a walk while it was still only 70 degrees and the sun was hidden by clouds. I walked the few blocks to Mountain View Cemetery where reside quite a number of my family on my father’s side. I found my grandparents’ graves at the corner of Cypress and Pine. I’d like to have a go at their headstones with a wire brush and some Mr Clean; the dates are almost unreadable. Louise Knott Richmond died in December of 1918 from the Spanish flu. That burial must have been bleak. The lovely old trees in the cemetery wouldn’t have been there then. Mountain View was most likely out of town in 1918 and Louise and Charles are on its very edge. Closer to the center of things is the Knott family plot. There lie the greats and the grands. There’s a story in there somewhere as to why Charles and Louise are buried so far from the rest of the family. I think my great grand-father wasn’t all that enamored of his son-in-law (One of those damn wheat farmers from Prescott.)
After paying my respects and trodding on the graves, I started back. I was at a bus-stop when the trolley came by and since the fare was free and I was still feeling indignant about the expense of the taxi, I, on impulse, hopped aboard. I got off at 2nd and Poplar and walked to Main Street where I bought an iced-coffee at Olive’s, which I still think of as Merchant’s (that’s inside information) and went in search of Putzer’s office. I had two reasons for dropping in. One was to see a painting of mine, which had been hanging in my living room for a year with a sold sign on it and which now hangs in Putzer’s office. The other reason was to ask the office assistant to call Putzer at home and tell her I was at large in downtown Walla Walla and would be back as soon as I caught the trolley again.
At the bus-stop was a sign saying the trolley followed the same route it took from 1906-1919. I tried to imagine 2nd Ave in 1906, the year my great-grandfather and his two youngest daughters, made the trip back to Cornwall. Maybe the trolley down 2nd Ave was the beginning of that long trip across the U.S. and the Atlantic Ocean to England. Or in 1918, the year Louise died. My father was eight years old. Did he take the trolley down to Main Street to a candy shop? I could smell cooking at Bright’s Candies when I came out of Olive’s with my coffee, but unfortunately they weren’t yet open.
Late morning, Anitra from Putzer’s book group came by for coffee bringing with her clusters of white grapes from her garden. Sharp and sweet, I think I ate most of them over the course of the weekend. I like grapes with pits because they take longer to eat.
In any case Anitra was named after the Peer Gynt character by parents who named another daughter– who grew up to become a buffalo rancher– Thaïs. I say this by way of suggesting that this was an interesting woman. She had been married to a history professor at Whitman and she finished her English degree during her tenure as a faculty wife. Over tea and grapes, the three of us thoroughly dissected the Whitman English department of the 1970s.
When I try to remember what else happened on Friday it all dissipates into the heat of a Walla Walla August.
On Saturday Putzer, Jim and I went for coffee at the Walla Walla Roastery out by the airport. It’s important to say “out by the airport,” partly because the Walla Walla Regional Airport needs all the attention it can get and partly because there are so many good things “out by the airport.” There’s Klicker’s, the produce farm that’s been family owned and operated for nearly one hundred years. There’s the community college, which has a now-famous school of viticulture.
And there are the tasting rooms. I don’t know if it’s true any longer but the word among the wine cognoscenti used to be that the tasting rooms “out by the airport” were run by the least pretentious and most generous vintners. Their rooms weren’t as classy looking on the outside as the ones along the highway or on Main St in Walla Walla, but they had heart. That’s just a little freebie for you. I don’t drink wine.
We split up: I to the Saturday Farmer’s Market, Jim to run errands and Putzer to go home and ice her knee. At the market, the sun was too hot and the music too loud. To get there we had passed the edges of the college and I felt nostalgic for it. I walked back to campus and sat among the trees at Lakem Duckem. I thought about Putzer and Jim living in Walla Walla for over 35 years. Their associations with the town are of people and relationships and daily life. Mine is of memories and a nostalgia for what never was.
In talking about it later, Jim said that all of us have memories and nostalgia for what never was. I realized that my Walla Walla associations are with people and relationships, too. I have friends of forty years who unlike my family in the cemetery are not a memory and a nostalgia.
The rest of the visit dissipates into the heat of a Walla Walla August. The plane home was on time and I scored three servings of cranberry juice.