Birthday celebration for 'Gramma' gives taste of all community's charms

Small-town living can't be beat

Posted: Wednesday, February 21, 2001

Life in a small town has its share of surprises. Living in Kenai since the late '70s has allowed me to take part in some of those.

There is a sense of community, which has developed in my life since our arrival. My family and I have cheered at the small steps and large accomplishments.

Can you remember the hoopla that surrounded the installation of the peninsula's first traffic light at the Kenai Spur Highway and Willow Street intersection? Or the parade, complete with high school band, which held up traffic from the old Carrs grocery store location to the new?

With the arrival of such businesses as Dairy Queen, Kmart, McDonald's and the like we watched our green strip disappear. There was a time when there was no black-topped parking lot in the area from Kenai Central High School to the old TimeSave Store (now Olga's Jewelry).

Even in these times of growth and development one thing has remained the same: the friendly and open quality of the people who live here. Smiles are quick; handshakes are firm; doors are held open for you.

A trip to the grocery for a loaf of bread may require two hours. Your trip can be measured more by how many chats you have in the aisle than by how much money you spend.

People here are open and friendly and generous to a fault. When the need is there, wallets and hearts are opened wide. Even with this open friendliness, there remains a certain sense of reserve. We allow people their sense of privacy even while remaining aware of needs.

This was demonstrated recently on the occasion of my 51st birthday. My 6-year-old granddaughter had taken it upon herself to organize a "party for Gramma!" She planned it as a surprise, inviting her siblings and parents, her aunt and cousins -- even Grandpa with a finite attention to detail.

A shopping trip was shared by all -- with emphasis on the colors purple and red, since "When I am old, I shall wear purple" is the opening line of a favorite poem of mine. A breakfast party was planned at a restaurant in town.

With great fanfare Gramma was escorted into the restaurant that morning by five grandbabies, ranging in age from 20 months to 8 years, and four adults. Nearby at a round table sat the "coffee club" made up of men who looked up and grinned as we paraded by.

The granddaughter sat everyone in their places according to her sense of propriety. She sat next to Gramma at the head of the table, while the rest of the children sat at the far end of the table near her mother.

Presents were piled up in front of Gramma as breakfast orders for pancakes and sausage were placed and coffee and hot chocolate were served. Then, the hostess with the mostest declared that it was time to sing "Happy Birthday" to Gramma. To Gramma's red-faced embarrassment this was done loudly and well. Afterward, my oldest daughter said "Mom, that man sang to you, too. Turn around and thank him."

With an even redder face I did so and quipped that it was a good thing I only turned 51 once in my lifetime. The men at the table said something to each other and laughed as I turned back to my own table full of admirers.

It was not until later as I developed the photos taken that morning by my husband -- photos of me opening gifts and mugging with the grandbabies -- that I recognized one of the men at the table behind me -- the men who had joined in singing the birthday song to me.

A country star who had appeared at the high school auditorium the night before and two of his band members had been sharing a quiet breakfast behind us.

Ty Herndon sang to me.

What a difference it must have been to him -- to have shared in a bit of family life in the middle of a busy restaurant; to have not been recognized, thus maintaining his, perhaps, rare bit of anonymity; to have surely laughed with his mates about not being recognized; to see what life in small town Alaska can be like even for a big star.

That is the kind of town we live in. We will laugh with you, cry with you, share your joys and sorrows. We will cheer with you, and fight for you, stand with you when the need arises. We will also allow you your privacy when it is required or requested.

This is my town, and I am so glad to be a part of it.

Barbara Waters and her husband, Art, have lived in Kenai since 1978. They have raised two daughters here and recently welcomed their seventh grandchild to the family.

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