ENTERPRISE - When he was enrolled in Pendleton's Blue Mountain Community College two years ago, Kenith "James" Huffman wrote a paper about the way different cultures view death.
Clearly, he also had his own, unique view of the subject.
Huffman, a 22-year-old resident and native of Enterprise, lost his two-year battle with cancer Dec. 8. Four days later, more than 250 people filed into his hometown's Cloverleaf Hall to participate in a wake Huffman himself had orchestrated.
The gathering watched a slide show tribute, shared stories and toasted the memory of him over a potluck meal - all the while Huffman's corpse sat near the head of the room in a recliner next to a flower bouquet.
Huffman's college paper gave him the idea, family friend Duff Pace told the gathering of friends and relatives. "I'm sure this is freaky to a lot of you. It was to me when I first heard about it. But this is what James wanted. It was important to him to bring everyone together and to have a good time."
Before Pace spoke, the evening began with the playing of "Prop Me Up Beside the Jukebox" by Joe Diffie:
"Fill my boots up with sand, put a stiff drink in my hand ... Prop me up beside the jukebox if I die..."
Throughout the wake, photographs of Huffman were projected on a large screen. They showed Huffman with family and friends throughout his life. In almost every photo, the people were smiling and had their arms around each other.
Following this visual tribute, Pace invited those present to share their favorite memories. Six of James' friends took turns telling humorous stories. The atmosphere remained cheery and upbeat to the end.
"I thought it was a great idea," James' father, Travis, said of his son's request. "He told us about it a couple years ago, and then a couple days ago he brought it up again - and we finalized it."
In 2005, James came home for Christmas break complaining that he didn't feel well. Doctors diagnosed him with rhabdomyosarcoma, a fast-growing and highly malignant cancer that originates in the soft tissues of the body, including the muscles, tendons, and connective tissues.
Memorial contributions may be brought to Sterling Bank in Enterprise.