Joe Allen Turner talked about Wetumpka: Then and Now during Saturday’s Down by the River event. Photo by Peggy Blackburn
Joe Allen Turner talked about Wetumpka: Then and Now during Saturday’s Down by the River event. Photo by Peggy Blackburn

Storytellers reminisce ‘Down by the River’

Published 1:35pm Thursday, June 20, 2013

Saturday night’s Down by the River storytelling event was reminiscent of a family or class reunion. Guests mingled and talked during the brief opening reception and frequently collapsed into gales of laughter in response to the program presenters’ tales.
“It was very exciting, and I think everyone had a great time,” said Vanessa Lynch, executive director of the Wetumpka Area Chamber of Commerce. “This is probably something we will make an annual event.”
Down by the River was held at the Wetumpka Depot Theatre, and hosted by the chamber, the Depot Players and River Bank and Trust. Lynch said the intent of the event was multi-dimensional: to celebrate the city’s unique character and history, to preserve some recollections from residents and to raise money for the Depot Players.
Phyllis Kennedy introduced the event with a few insights about storytelling.
“In my opinion, storytelling is the very best form of history,” she said. “Stories are also a form of immortality. We as a people are the product of stories.
“Before the printing press or radio or television, there was storytelling. It was how history was passed down.
“Storytelling has become fashionable again recently. I’m glad that something my generation does well has become popular.”
The evening’s story presenters included Joe Allen Turner, Dennis Fain, Tommy Head, Jerry Willis and Marion Sanford. Gigi Hankins and Vanessa Lynch each sang musical numbers and Lizzy Woodall performed a monologue.
“I was asked to talk about then and now in Wetumpka,” said Turner. “I remember more about then than I do about now.”
Turner shared some of his childhood experiences and talked about early memories of the city.
“I remember when the only paved streets were North Bridge, West Bridge, Tuskeena and Tallassee,” he said. “The rest were just dirt and didn’t get paved until the 1940s. But when they did, we thought we were in New York City.”
Turner said he found his love of history and storytelling early in life.
“We lived next door to Mamie Cain and she was a great storyteller. When I was a small child I would sit on the porch and listen to the stories the adults told. If I was quiet, they would forget I was there and say most anything.”
Fain talked about spending his youthful Saturdays with his grandmother at the Fain Theater. Willis recounted a story he was told about a shoot-out on East Bridge Street involving the dentist whose office was located where Willis’ barber shop now stands.
Head related a pair of Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer-like stories involving his adventures on the river – including one in which the “drowning siren” figured largely. Sanford drew roars of laughter in recounting an adventure featuring a donkey.
Lynch noted that the evening’s activities were recorded. She said other storytellers will be recorded as well and DVD’s will be available for purchase later this year.

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