Eat At Waddle’s again. You may go there, to where it was, to 11900 North Martin Luther King Boulevard, but if you do, you will not eat an Island Fling coconut pancake or a Hangtown Fry. You will eat a Krispy Kreme doughnut, just like someone in Texas or North Carolina.
Oh, I could rhapsodize about Waddle’s — the no-nonsense but stellar service, the cottage-fried potatoes, the surprisingly appetizing smell of cigarette smoke that lingered all these years after people smoked there, and I could recount stories told by my elders of going there to celebrate First Communion...
But I’m not much for rhapsodizing. Seems if we lament every Waddle’s that vaporizes before our eyes, we’ll end up lamenting the sunset.
What the whole Waddle’s thing reminds me of is a black iron skillet my mother-in-law has had for decades. When my wife was a kid, Mrs. Tuhy used the skillet to fill the house with the smell of simmering onions and to fill her kids with needs and wants. One day, someone cleaned the skillet with a Brillo pad. So it wasn’t black anymore. It was silver. But the pan hadn’t been dirty; it had been “seasoned,” endowed with the best of everything that had been cooked in it since before my wife was born. Every meal that had emerged from it owed its gustatory depths to goulashes, stews, steaks, Easters, Christmases, and birthdays past. My mother-in-law had other skillets, and so she was only heartbroken in a gentle and loving way, the kind of heartbroken from which we recover and get stories — but still, heartbroken’s heartbroken.
I went to Waddle’s the day before it shut down, with my mother-in-law and my kids, to see what kinds of tastes and smells were about to be scrubbed from Portland lore. I hadn’t been there since I was a student at the University, 13 years before: I felt like a Christmas-and-Easter Catholic. I wasn’t heart-broken, but I did feel guilty: What if I’d done as I’d been told all those times, to Eat Now at Waddle’s? Would Waddle’s have kept its lease if I’d been more faithful?
Sitting there, I calculated that since 1945, when Waddle’s was designed by Pietro Belluschi, approximately 30,873 University students had eaten there, dipping chicken strips and soda crackers into ranch dressing and worse. I congratulated myself on my math, not because it was correct, which it was not, but because it was complicatedly wrong, just like the math of the city officials who calculated $80,000 worth of “system development” charges the Waddle family would’ve had to pay to stay in business.
Alas, time marches on, as much because of people being wrong as of people being right, and doughnuts do taste pretty good. I figure if Waddle’s is going to move, it may as well move into the past, not to another part of town.
This puts me in mind of another story involving my wife. The first Christmas we were married, we drove out to Sauvie’s Island to cut down a tree. After we’d picked it out and sawed it off, she stood there holding it, smiling at me as if we’d done the right thing all the way around. Never had I wished I’d had a camera more than at that moment, but we didn’t. She said, “Take a picture with your mind. You’ll remember it just as well.” An inspired idea, and I did it: I stood back and took her in. Behind her, across the river, through clouds so low they looked like smoke, the hills spread down toward the city and up toward the Columbia. She wore a hat and was beautiful and beautifully happy. I’ll never forget it.
So Waddle’s is no more. Shame. It matters that so many of us ate there, and that it’s gone. But, you know, long ago there were big tennis matches in the armory downtown, and Henry’s ale used to be brewed next door to Powell’s bookstore, and those things are not done anymore, which is also a shame, but the University’s Father Art Schoenfeldt saw somebody famous play tennis down there once, and he tells a good story about it, and when I’m enjoying a ball game in the stadium formerly known as Civic, I still smell the hops mixed in with the still summer air. So things come and they go, and the pictures and stories stick in our heads.
— Dennie Wendt ’93
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