When Sandy Mayberry called and invited us to dinner in Meacham, to be honest, we were at first a bit skeptical. But she noted that we could meet up with Brent and Fran Fife at their cabin and all go together.
Sandy even said she would pick us up, act as chauffeur, and host us for dinner. It's hard to turn down an invitation like that.
Meacham often has been described as a destination for campers, winter sports enthusiasts and general outdoor types, but not as a destination dining experience. None-the-less, with temperatures in Pendleton hovering around 90 degrees, the chance to go to the mountains in search of cool air was attractive.
Sandy arrived at our house at the appointed time and promptly locked her keys to her van, her keys to her house and her purse, inside her vehicle.
Through a quick change of plans, I agreed to serve as chauffeur and to pay for dinner, relatively confident the bill of fare would be pretty reasonable.
That, it proved, wouldn't be the only surprise element we would encounter. As we turned off Interstate 84 near Emigrant Springs, we came upon a truck fully engulfed in flames. As an eager new reporter, I felt compelled to leap out and snap a few pictures although our professional staff photographers frequently have reminded me to "keep my day job."
When we finally did reach Meacham, we found ourselves in the midst of a tradition that has gone on since 1996 - Taco Tuesday at the Oregon Trail Store and Deli.
The site of this renowned event actually is the old Meacham General Store which was built around the turn of the last century. Today it is owned by Jan Caldwell who purchased it in August of 1994. Two years later, she unveiled Taco Tuesday.
Jan says we are open every day except Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years and when the power goes out.
'Precious' Presides Over Kitchen
The place is unpretentious in nature. Head cook Georgina Jones, who also goes by "Precious," pointed out a sign in front of the kitchen which reminds diners "this is not Burger King. You don't get it your way, you take it my way or you don't get the damn thing."
If that makes anyone uneasy, there is another sign which reads "our staff is heavily medicated for your protection."
It doesn't take long inside the Oregon Trail Store and Deli to be reminded that both the building and Meacham have a long history. The walls are lined with old pictures dating back 100 years or more. It also doesn't take long to be reminded that Meacham is not just a major pass for highway travelers - it's also a pass for the Union Pacific. Just across the street from the old store, long freight trains rumble by on a regular basis. The first engine passed through Meacham en route to La Grande in 1884. Dozens still come by each day.
The community draws its name from Harvey Meacham who established a wayside for travelers at what was then called Lee's Encampment in 1862. The place has catered to visitors ever since.
Event Draws Diners From Wide Area
While Taco Tuesday is a favorite for locals, it also draws diners from Pendleton, La Grande, Hermiston, Milton-Freewater and elsewhere.
"We get a lot of bikers," says Jan, "particularly from Milton-Freewater and Walla Walla. Sometimes our parking lot is packed full of Harley's." She also added they attract campers from nearby Emigrant Springs State Park.
Despite the large crowd attracted by Taco Tuesday, it's not a record for Meacham. That mark was set on July 3, 1923, when President Warren G. Harding and 15,000 others gathered for the dedication of the road which replaced the Old Oregon Trail.
It's hard to visit the old store and not be just a little bit intrigued by the history of Meachan which has been around for about 175 years in one form or another. In 1996, Betty Booth Stewart, who was born upstairs, wrote a book entitled "A Wide Spot On The Oregon Trail."
Stewart reported that Meacham always has been an important part of east-west travel, but it also has been a source of cordwood, ties, poles, logs, lumber, the grazing of sheep and cattle, and now as a spot for summer residences.
And with a touch of nostalgia, she adds that Meacham is a place "where the meadowlark still sings."
That's probably true every night except Tuesday, when the town suddenly comes to life for its weekly celebration.
George Murdock is editor & publisher of the East Oregonian. He can be reached at 278-2671 or firstname.lastname@example.org.