Local Independence Day festivities carry different significance for many

Posted: Monday, July 05, 2010

Melita Efta turned 7 yesterday, so you'll have to excuse her if she was unimpressed that Kenai celebrated its 50th year or that July 4, 2010, marked America's 234th birthday.

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Photo By Nancianna Misner
Photo By Nancianna Misner
Members of the Kenai Senior Citizens Center Swinging Golden Girls dance group rocked out on the parade route Sunday at the Kenai Fourth of July parade.

When someone in the parade dropped a Tootsie Roll or a Milky Way into Melita's plastic bag, she smiled wide, revealing her recent tooth fairy visit, and continued to clutch the bag in front of her bright pink coat as she patiently awaited more candy.

But in actuality, Melita was patiently awaiting her Littlest Pet Shop birthday party scheduled for later that day. She hoped it would top last year's princess-themed party.

While the Kenai parade is a yearly tradition for many central Kenai Peninsula residents, it's extra special for the Eftas because of its prominent place in their family's history. Janina Efta still remembers what it felt like when she went into labor while watching that year's parade.

"It was really sunny and hot that day," Janina said before Sunday's event rolled by the family's spot at Willow Street and Fidalgo Avenue.

Seven years ago, Janina was with her then 3-year-old son Dominik and her mother-in-law, Ramona. Janina's husband wasn't at the parade because he had to work. Melita wasn't due for another two weeks.

"It was painful," Janina recalled of childbirth's early stages. But she remained calm.

"She says to me, 'Maybe I should go to the hospital,'" Ramona remembered.

So they did. And at 10:30 p.m., just hours after the parade, Melita entered the world.

"It's kind of neat," Ramona said of her granddaughter's birthday falling on such a significant day. "We'll never forget it that way."

Not that Melita would let them, much to the chagrin of her 10-year-old brother Dominik. His birthday doesn't come until August.

As the color guard led the parade down Willow Street, Dominik knelt on all fours and clenched his empty candy bag between his teeth. For Dominik, July 4 is as much about getting free treats and seeing the muscle cars as it is about celebrating his sister's birthday. 

At least Dominik has his own motives for looking forward to his sister's birthday. And there's no reason to think next year will be any different.

"We haven't missed one yet," Janina said of Kenai July 4 parades. "Even the year Melita was born."

Other families enjoying Sunday's parade on a slightly overcast afternoon are similarly dedicated to the annual celebration in Kenai.

Les and Dolores Dennis have been leading a Dixie band through the parade route for 15 years.

"Playing Dixie, you don't have to be so exact with the notes. You can play it. If you do something stupid, it doesn't matter," Les, a trumpeter with the Dixie River Rats, said while waiting for his fellow musicians to arrive. "It's just fun."

During the parade, Dolores wore a sparkly patriotic get-up and waved an American flag from the front of the float as the band played "When the Saints go Marching in."

"She's the glitz," Les said of his wife before the show. "She's the one that makes everything look nicer."  

The Harley Owners Group also put on quite a show, revving their engines down Fidalgo. The group had more than 20 riders in Sunday's parade and has been represented in Kenai's July 4 festivities for more than a decade, according to Vinnie Catalano, the group's director.

"We want to show the community that we're part of the community and we're a safe organization and that we're their neighbors," Catalano said.

Another community member, Kalen Tyson, said this year's July 4 felt a little more melancholy than most because her sisters have moved away and weren't there to help celebrate America's birthday as a big family.

"Last year was the best," Tyson said, sitting next to her boyfriend on a patch of grass while holding her boyfriend's son in her lap. "My sister was here and I got to see my nephews, who I hadn't seen in a long time."

Tyson can remember Independence Days of yesteryear, coming to the parade with an entourage of family members and then having a big barbecue afterward. 

This year, she and her boyfriend thought they might head to the beach for a small campfire after the parade - a sign that tradition evolves with human life.

"It's a little sad," Tyson said. "But it's good."

Things were all good for Megan Calloway, 9.5, who was pleased with the abundance of Gobstoppers and taffy that had made it her way.

"I like how the community comes together and has a nice parade every year," Calloway said.

If it weren't Melita's birthday, she probably would have agreed with Calloway.

Candy's great and all, but when July 4 is also the day you turn 7 years old, it's really about one thing:

"Presents."



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