ANNIE LAURA KIDD celebrated her 80th birthday the other day. She was just about the only one in the tiny Florida Panhandle town of Esto who was surprised.
Annie had thought her daughter was taking her out for a birthday lunch. She was unsuspecting when they stopped by the Esto Baptist Church and found dozens of friends and relatives waiting to honor her.
“I was completely surprised,” said Annie, who is generally up-to-the-minute on the local news.
She was born in Esto on August 25, 1923, one of six children of Harvey Williams. Her mother, Ethel Mae Williams, died young. She was raised mostly by her grandparents, Dr. D.F. Smith and his wife Becky. She grew up in Esto, then lived elsewhere for many years before she returned in 1969.
Among those in town for the surprise celebration were two brothers: Joe Williams, 89, of Columbus, Ga., and Alfred Williams, 83, and his wife Ruth of Milton, Fla.
“I walked into the church fellowship hall and saw Ruth sitting there and thought, ‘What in the world is Ruth doing here?’ ” she recalled. “Then I realized everybody was singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to me.”
The party was organized by her daughters, Liz Kidd of Dothan, Ala., and Sara Tew of St. Louis, Mo. Sara’s return to Esto was also a surprise to her mother. The sisters had decorated the church with dozens of photographs of their mother and her extended family.
She also has two sons, Kenny and Gary Jacobs, who were unable to attend. Her husband, James T. Kidd, died in 1992.
After Liz Kidd thanked the friends and neighbors who had gathered to honor her mother – and kept the secret – everyone helped themselves to an old-fashioned dinner on the grounds. Among the platters and bowls of country cooking were Annie’s favorites, lima beans and collard greens, along with corn, peas, butterbeans, cornbread dressing, chicken and dumplings, sliced ham and fried chicken. Lunch was followed by birthday cake, coconut cake and 12-layer lemon cheese cake.
Afterward, many of the guests gathered around the church piano and sang and played favorite hymns, beginning with “On the Jericho Road” and ending with “When We All Get to Heaven.”
“I loved it – especially seeing so many friends,” said Annie. “I reckon I’ll stick around and aggravate my young’uns a while longer.”