A quick loop around Harrisburg reveals barely a soul outside. But near Harrisburg Baptist Church, Jesse Glydewell and Steve Thornhill face the cold by rocking their weight from leg to leg and then back on their heels and turtle-necking their heads into their collars. Rather than keep warm inside, they’d be happy to park your car and walk you arm-in-arm around to the back door to Naomi Allen’s 70th birthday celebration, where the welcome is as warm as the hot chocolate.
This is a small-town birthday party, where 70 neighbors, friends and relatives share a handful of last names and are all gathered through a spider web of relationships that lead to one woman, Naomi Allen. There’s Frida Mayer, self-proclaimed country guitarist, who met Allen in a church group in town; Gene Stephens from Fulton, whose wife grew up with Allen; and 91-year-old Lucille Street, who’s almost 92, one of the oldest living Harrisburg residents. Allen’s daughter, Sherry Glydewell, moves Allen’s wheelchair around to each group of visitors, who all lean in close to Allen and congratulate her for putting one more year under her belt.
With blank expressions and the occasional laugh, men stand in small circles with their feet shoulder-width apart and talk about roads, land and doctor’s appointments. The women’s chatter fills the room, and the teenagers, Allen’s grandchildren, cluster in the corner to show off their new ring tones and take a break from their elders.
“There’s a little bit of a generation gap here,” said Allen’s grandson, Zane Allen. Four-year-old Makenna Allen ends her pretend call with Barbie and chucks her bubble-gum pink plastic cell phone back into her purse. Her 7-year-old sister, Carlen, cruises the snack bar, which is now down to its last piece of chocolate birthday cake.
“There’s a lot of big fish stories and hunting stories going on up here today, no doubt about that,” said Jesse Glydewell, Allen’s son-in-law. “You’ve got a lot of friends and family together on a cold January day to have some fun.”