Diligent research over the years had only yielded two stories of early Christmases: Ezra Meeker’s description of an 1874 community celebration in the school, and memories of Twinkle Lane in the 1950s. Here are two more. A draft of a book-length memoir written by Charles Ross (1851-1948), born on the Oregon Trail in the Blue Mountains of Eastern Oregon, whose arrival slowed the party for half a day, was recently uncovered by Puyallup Historical Society researcher Jeannie Knutson, who is a descendant of the Rosses.
Buried in the text on pages 234-5 is this description: “The Meeker cabin was the center for all sorts of community gatherings. We often had Christmas celebration there and that meant a good time for everyone. Between feasting on chicken, doughnuts and pumpkin pie, Uncle John (Ezra’s brother, John Valentine Meeker) would keep the music going. We all liked to sing under his leadership.
“The Meekers had brought a small, light organ, or melodion, to the valley (currently in the collection of the Washington State Historical Society), and the girls, Ella and Carrie, or Aunt Amanda, Oliver’s widow, played. Ezra played his violin, and Uncle John the flute, and how they used to render ‘The Campbells are Coming,’ ‘Turkey in the Straw’ and ‘The Devil’s Dream.’”
Another testimony to the generosity of valley folks in times of hardship is reflected in the memories of a World War II Army artillery unit, quickly redeployed from Texas in the days following the attack on Pearl Harbor. They arrived in Puyallup on December 13, 1941, and were billeted at the fairgrounds.
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In the words of John Morris, the unit historian, “Although most of the unit slept in cow stalls, vendor booths, show cases, etc, with no heat, our stay at the Fairgrounds from December until early March of 1942 is a period that will be long remembered with great fondness by the unit as the citizens of Puyallup literally took our outfit to its collective heart. Here it was, war had just been declared, it was Christmas time, and here are all of these young kids (I had my 18th birthday on the preceding 7 November) as far away from home as you could be and still be in the U.S. Of course, all leaves had been canceled.
“And then the citizens of Puyallup took over. Pretty soon, cars were stopping at the main Guard Post (on Meridian) with cookies, cakes, pies, offers of dinner, pots of steaming coffee in their own coffee pots and on and on. Some of the guys would tell me that cars would be lined up for half a block just to drop something off. And this was not just during daylight hours; many was the lonely sentry on the midnight to 4 a.m. watch that would have people stop by during their shift with hot coffee and a goodie.
“And as it got closer to Christmas we got so many invitations to Christmas dinner that we didn’t have enough guys to fill the invitations. The primary reason for that was that we could only release ten percent of the unit at one time. That did not deter the wonderful people of Puyallup. We could only be gone for four hours at a time, therefore, on Christmas day, some families would have one group of guys at noon, and a second group at 5 p.m. Other families actually postponed their family dinners to another day to insure that they would get to have some of the youthful soldiers as guests.”
We are interested in hearing from you about memorable holiday celebrations in our community.
The Puyallup Historical Society joins me in wishing everyone a Meeker Christmas, Happy Holidays and a joyous New Year. The Meeker Mansion hasbeen decorated for the season, inside and out, and will be open for viewing every day through Sunday (Dec. 18).
Andy Anderson is the historian of the Puyallup Historical Society at Meeker Mansion. You can reach him through the mansion at 253-848-1770, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.