Walla Walla, Washington was founded in the days of the Oregon Trail, its history dating back to the early 19th century. It was already home to the native Cayuse tribe when missionary and physician Marcus Whitman and his wife, Narcissa, led the first wagon train to this region in 1836.
But along with Western religion and culture, the Whitmans brought something altogether less pleasant with them: measles. With no existing immunity to the virus, it decimated the population of the local tribe. Whitman failed to contain the outbreak and, as a result, the tribe murdered him, his wife, and 11 other settlers in 1847.
To this day, a memorial exists on the outskirts of Walla Walla in memory of the Whitmans and the others who were massacred that fateful night. It’s here that I now stand, early one Sunday morning, after walking the short trail up the hill where the memorial sits, the soft hues of the distant Blue Mountains cresting over the horizon ahead of me. We’ve done good on this morning, I think, and so I turn to my dad and ask him what we’re doing for breakfast.
“It’s a surprise,” he says, fumbling for his phone before moving out of earshot to call in a food order at our breakfast destination.
We pack ourselves into the car and drive back into Walla Walla proper, eventually arriving at a small building marked with two signs: “Dora’s Deli, Mexican Food” and “Worm Ranch Bait and Tackle.” I’m relieved to discover that the former is the current occupant of the building. Which is to say: we won’t be attempting to catch our own breakfast today.
My dad, who works in the wheat and barley business, is a regular visitor to Walla Walla, which sits at the center of one of the largest wheat growing regions in the United States. It turns out that he’s a huge fan of the Worm Ranch, and was keen to bring myself and my partner, Dianne, here while we were visiting.
On the right of the room as we enter is a small convenience store featuring shelves piled with a selection of both American and imported Mexican snacks. Behind the shelves are a few fridges loaded up with cases of domestic and Mexican lagers. On our left is the deli itself, a cozy spot featuring an open kitchen full of busy cooks, including Dora herself, slaving over sizzling pans. Adjacent to that are a few Formica topped tables and plastic seats.
They’re expecting us, so we take a table and are soon presented with chorizo breakfast burritos the size of our forearms, held fast with toothpicks, ensuring that only the recipient gets the chance to spill the contents everywhere.
On the way to the table I spot a single, smaller fridge. “Smaller,” that is, when compared to the larger ones we saw on our way in. The sign on its side transfixes me.
“Enjoy a Beer with your meal” it reads, the B capitalized to remind you that beer is Important, the quotation marks unintentionally adding a goofy gravitas to the statement.
“Do you want a beer, Matt?” my dad asks. I politely decline and continue with the important task of spooning hot sauce onto my burrito. “Well, I’m having one,” he says, before heading to the fridge. That’s all the impetus I need to join him.
He returns to the table with a pair of Pacificos, and by the time I hear the hiss of the cap popping off my breakfast brew, I’m already a few bites in. Before long, I’m thinking vulgar thoughts about the spicy sauce and salty meat that’s getting shoveled into my mouth, as if I might not ever eat again.
Eventually, I pause for a big, slow sip. Crisp, bright lager cleanses my palate, a simple act that’s nevertheless essential on this morning. Hot sauce neutralized, I regain the ability to finish a gargantuan meal that is definitely more food than I need at this time of day. Lesson learned: never refuse a breakfast beer, but especially if it’s from your dad.