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Another voice: An opportunity to help preserve history

November 9, 2011

It's not easy being the son of the "Popcorn man…"

Good afternoon. My name is Andrew Wendle and although it was not easy being the son of the popcorn man in the 2010 Cemetery Tales, that is who I was gifted with the opportunity to be.

Wayne Nichols was who I was portraying and besides being 33 years old at the time and being told that I could play a boy of 12, everything about that experience was moving.

I learned about Wayne's father - the popcorn man - and his mother, who both had cerebral palsy but found ways to provide for their family through an honest, hard day's worth of work. They drove a wagon around town selling popcorn, of course, but other treats as well - candy bars, hot dogs, snow cones. They were a part of the life of Hood River; they were known and loved by many - but not by all.

You see, back then people didn't always understand differences. Wayne's father and mother had difficulty talking, walking, looking "normal," whatever that means. And people can be cruel; they can be mean. Just living a life where you provide for your family and doing so in an honest way, well, sometimes that isn't enough for those who just want to see the veneer, the surface of who we are.

I relearned all these things through the opportunity to help make history, albeit a bit of painful history, come alive. And I learned a lot of it from Wayne's sister, Donna, and her ability to share some of her family's story.

You see, Donna, her brother, her father and her best friend were all traveling down I-84 one summer day. When a car zipped around them, it kicked up dust and dirt onto their windshield, obscuring their vision, and they collided with another car. Her dad, her brother, and her best friend were all killed in the accident. Donna barely survived.

It wasn't easy to bring her story to life. It isn't easy to talk about it now. For hers isn't one of those cheery, Hallmark kinds of stories. But it is real. It's a part of the fabric of who we are, who we have been. And by retelling it for those few September days, I and those who had the opportunity to hear it were the better for it. Including Donna.

Donna came to one of those evening presentations. I stood by her brother and father's grave and told her painful family story. Through the words I was able to utter, through all that was a part of that evening, she was able to hear a word of hope, a word that said that the pain she experienced through those deaths and her life as the daughter of one who was mocked are not the final word in her family's story.

But that instead, her story and the lives of her family are able to live on as reminders to us all that loving service to your family, your loved ones, our world as a whole should be the basis of our actions toward others; not how we might appear or seem to be.

Cemetery Tales, an extension of the mission and purpose of The History Museum, became more than just an annual event. It became a vehicle, a wagon, if you will, to preserve and honor her story, the story of the popcorn man.

It was not easy being the son or daughter of the popcorn man, but it was a story, a life, a part of our community's history that needed to be told. I hope you will help them tell these stories by supporting the plans for the future of the museum.

Rev. Andrew Wendle is pastor of the Our Redeemer Lutheran and Asbury United Methodist Church joint congregation.

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