Smalltown Storytelling

Smalltown Storytelling

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West of the snowy Cascades, where the Columbia River rolls into a majestic gorge before emptying into the Pacific Ocean lays the small town of Corbett, Oregon. Just 20 minutes outside Portland, Corbett is a quiet town of under 4,000 people, situated along the Historic Columbia River Highway. Within this forested microcosm are some truly fascinating Western pioneers. I journeyed here over reading break for a classic hometown tour with my proudest Oregonian friend. She is a firm believer that Oregon is the "most wonderful place on Earth," and after visiting the scenic Gorge and meeting crunchy locals, I can see why.

In the neighbouring town of Troutdale, locals gather at the historic "Tad's Chicken 'n Dumplin's" to tell stories. Affectionately dubbed "Tad's Chick-Dump," due to a well-placed lighting shortage on the neon sign out front, Tad's has been around since the days of prohibition. It was a roadhouse in the 1920's, opened by "Handsome Tad Johnson" who was a "rascal and a fisherman… in that order." Since then, it has become a local gem and historic icon in the greater Portland area. Along the scenic highway, modern-day pioneers still gather here for a hearty meal, and on the third Monday of every month, a night of storytelling. I had the great privilege of witnessing this unique tradition when I was in town.

The stories, told with such rich local flavor, captivated a packed restaurant while we sat back and enjoyed local brews and plates of chicken and dumplings with gravy. Each story was more brilliant than the last; told with a subtle mix of humour, history, and socio-economic allusions.

A 70-year-old former hippie spoke of his days hitchhiking across the country in the 1970's and informed us that "the only rule of hitchhiking is, 'Yes.'" There was the middle-aged woman who told the horrific tale of her great-grandmother's two-headed baby. A local mother of six told the hilarious yet sobering story of her mother's slow demise to dementia. The best anecdote of the night, however, belonged to a portly 30-year-old middle school teacher with a rich, booming voice. He spoke with gusto of the mischief of his childhood; how he once chopped down a tree in his neighbour's front yard out of pure jealous rage at their departure on a Disney World vacation.

Perhaps the most entertaining aspect of the night, besides the riveting stories, was watching my friend and her family methodically interact with nearly everyone in the restaurant. Like true locals, they exchanged gossip and news updates about the cousin of the storyteller, the mother of the waitress, or the sister of the girl sitting across from us (who she went to high school with). Being a townie has its perks. True, many of these adventurers had traveled around the world, but returning to this small town meant they'd always have an audience to share their stories with.

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