A Family Preserves A Treasured Tradition: "wild Man Night" (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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A Family Preserves a Treasured Tradition: "Wild Man Night"

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:03
Many of us base our relationships on routine, as we develop, and traditions we carry on. That's especially true for one D.C. family. Decades ago, John Wiebenson decided to take over Friday night dinner for his three sons. But cooking wasn't his strong suit so he stuck to what he knew, steak and potatoes. And as a special treat, he let his children act like little cavemen. Thus began Wild Man Night and, as Jessica Gould tells us, it's a tradition that continues today.

MS. JESSICA GOULD

00:00:35
It's Friday night at the Wiebenson house. The steak is sizzling. The potatoes are baking, and things are about to get a little bit wild. Eight-year-old Tristan Wiebenson explains.

MR. TRISTAN WIEBENSON

00:00:46
So you eat with your hands. You make a fire. And when you're done eating, you growl.

GOULD

00:00:53
Tristan's grandmother Abigail says Wild Man Night began years ago, back when her three sons were small and she had her hands full as a working mom.

MS. ABIGAIL WIEBENSON

00:01:03
I was really tired. I had three children and a full-time job and it was the end of the week. And I was done.

GOULD

00:01:09
Abigail says that's when her husband, John Wiebenson, or Wieb for short, offered to take over.

WIEBENSON

00:01:16
He was not a cook. He had a very limited menu that he could do. He would bring five shrimp. He would get steak. He would get five baked potatoes. And he would get three comic books.

GOULD

00:01:27
He hid the comic books, which the children would find as part of a pre-dinner scavenger hunt. Then they would sit down to eat. Utensils were purely optional.

WIEBENSON

00:01:37
He would pour sparkling cider into the glasses, and then he would propose a toast. And the toast would be to an ancestor, but we wouldn't just clink glasses. We would growl.

GOULD

00:01:48
Wieb's son, John, says he was about 10-years-old when Wild Man Night began.

MR. JOHN WIEBENSON

00:01:52
I think it was just a great kind of moment to sort of pull us all together.

GOULD

00:01:58
And John says Wild Man Night was just one of the ways Wieb brought excitement and whimsy into the boys' everyday lives.

WIEBENSON

00:02:06
And it was just -- Saturdays included metro adventures, in which we'd get on the metro and kind of pick a stop and just ride the metro and see where it took us.

GOULD

00:02:14
He even remodeled the family's DuPont Circle row house, transforming it into a veritable jungle gym of wooden ladders and secret passageways. Abigail says it was just Wieb's way to make life better for his children and for everyone.

WIEBENSON

00:02:30
He was always a man who believed in the underdog.

GOULD

00:02:33
As an architect, Wieb did a lot of pro bono work for local schools and charities. He was especially devoted to Martha's Table, a nonprofit that provides food, clothing and educational opportunities to low-income families. In the fall of 2003, Wieb was helping out with improvements there when tragedy struck.

WIEBENSON

00:02:54
He had renovated several of the buildings there on 14th Street, and this was the last.

GOULD

00:03:00
The building had been a car repair shop, but he hoped to make it into a space for after-school programs. First, he had to clean out the basement.

WIEBENSON

00:03:09
All of the things that people had taken out of the cars, the oil and the toxic things, they'd thrown into the basement. And so he had gotten gallons and gallons of that stuff taken out. And he went down to just check it again, and the toxicity had come back and he was asphyxiated.

GOULD

00:03:25
It was devastating for the family. But if Wieb had taught them anything, it was to embrace life and enjoy the moments they had together. So, several months later, when Wieb's son, Derek, (sp?) got married, the family decided to host a Wild Man dinner for the guests. Now, John Wiebenson carries on the tradition with his sons, Tristan and Oliver, who's six.

WIEBENSON

00:03:49
I hope they kind of can understand the -- you know, I think it's good to be a little crazy, know there's a time for that and know a way to do it that still is part of the family and still is part of, you know, a great tradition.

GOULD

00:04:00
So John hides the comic books.

WIEBENSON

00:04:04
All right. Start walking. Warm, warm, hot, on fire. Oh, you got it.

GOULD

00:04:10
Then the boys sit down to eat. They smash the potatoes with the palms of their hands and tear the meat with their teeth. Finally, when only empty potato skins and gristle is left, John makes a toast.

WIEBENSON

00:04:22
To my dad...

WIEBENSON

00:04:23
Who started Wild Man Night.

WIEBENSON

00:04:23
...Jonathon Wieb, who started this and brought this sort of wonderful tradition that I'm very happy to pass on to Tristan and Oliver, and hope that they continue it in their own wild ways.

GOULD

00:04:36
And on the count of three...

WIEBENSON

00:04:37
One, two, three.

GOULD

00:04:41
...the boys lift their glasses of sparkling cider and growl for their grandfather. I'm Jessica Gould.

SHEIR

00:04:57
Do you have a special family tradition? We want to hear about it. Send an email to metro@wamu.org. After the break, big ships, big problems? How global commerce is affecting the health of our local waters.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE

00:05:22
We come in from Europe, from -- last, our port was South Hampton, England, and through the ocean, we come in here yesterday.

SHEIR

00:05:31
It's coming your way on "Metro Connection" here on WAMU 88.5.

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00:05:35
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