Wayne Pietila! If you ever met him, you could not forget him! His glowing smile could disarm even the strongest and toughest. Wayne had this goofy sense of humor and loved to have fun! It seems as if “Fun” was his middle name, never missing an opportunity to crack a joke, chase after you with some silly monster face, or make you feel like you were special.
I had the opportunity to get to know Wayne because he like I became a part of the Cobb family during my adolescent years. Jim Cobb used to tease him by calling him “Dunlapped” because his stomach had overlapped his belt. He would laugh and laugh, and there was not one time that I remember him being anything but the wonderful young man he was.
I remember going inner-tubing on a Saturday afternoon with the Cobb children and some others from the Temple. Someone always brought along a barbeque grill to throw hot dogs on after a day on the creek. Wayne would say, you have to eat as much as you can after we come from swimming because you won’t hold on to any calories. It is the first time I heard about a “metabolism.” Leave it to Wayne!
Wayne would often ask me or Sandy to get him a glass of Ovaltine. One time he asked for his Ovaltine after we returned to the house following a day at the creek, but we didn’t have any. He acted as if the sky had fallen in. We just laughed at him.
I also remember spending numerous evenings with the older Cobbs’, and that always included Wayne, hanging in the living room and watching TV. I can see him now, sitting in that recliner in the living room, feet up and snoring!
When I returned to the States from Guyana, his brother-in-law took me to see him and Lena in Petaluma. When Wayne saw me, he grabbed me and held me tight, telling me how glad he was that I was alive, that I had made it! And he meant it, as his eyes watered. I felt the love he always gave everyone. Lena looked the same, and I was happy to be there.
Wayne had a big Harley Davidson, not just big but beautiful. I asked him to take me for a ride. With this mischievous look on his face, he smiled the Wayne Smile and said, “Sure, come on.” He got on first and I climbed behind him. The bike had this rack in the back that I could rest my back on and in front was a huge pair of sissy bars he held on to. That was one of the most beautiful bikes I had every laid eyes on. As we took off, he started slow and as we made the round of the street, he began to pick up speed. With my arms around his waist, I knew I was safe! He began to go faster, and I cried out, “Wayne, you are going too fast!” He turned his head towards me and yelled “Ha! You haven’t seen anything yet.” I kept calling for him to slow down, and I could just hear and feel him laughing with my arms tight around him. It was so much fun! That is how I got hooked on Harleys!
When I saw Wayne at the 20th Memorial, he walked up me in a leather jacket, leather hat and jeans and said “Who is this beautiful girl, who has not changed a bit?” I laughed and grabbed him. That is the impression he left on people, you just loved his spirit and friendship. These memories are precious as so many others, and I am so blessed to have known him. He is missed, and he will forever remained loved.
(Leslie Wagner-Wilson was a child of Peoples Temple living in Redwood Valley from age 13. She lived in Jonestown until escaping with her two-year-old son and several others the morning of November 18th. Her husband, mother, sister, brother, niece and nephew died in Jonestown.
(Leslie is a regular contributor to the jonestown report. Her other articles in this edition are Suffering in Silence, This Season, and FLIGHT (Finding Light in God’s Higher Truth) Prison Outreach Takes Off. Her earlier writings are collected here. She is the author of Slavery of Faith, available through her website, and can be reached via email@example.com.)