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Beloved Grafton Resident Gets A Pandemic-Proof Birthday Parade

A man on a lawn mower with balloons afixed.
Tennessee Watson
Austin Powers of Grafton decorated his lawn mower for a socially-distant birthday parade in celebration of Joan Lake.

Because of coronavirus, people near and far are going to work, attending church services and even going to weddings using apps on computers and phones. 

But on Sunday, March 29, the residents of Grafton pushed aside their screens, left their homes, and gathered together to celebrate the 90th birthday of their beloved neighbor, Joan Lake. 

In keeping with proper social distancing practices, the residents of Grafton held a car parade in honor of Lake.

A sign reading "Thank you all! Hugs Later!!"
Credit Tennessee Watson / VPR
Joan Lake posted a sign reading "Thank you all! Hugs Later!!" for parade participants.

Just down the street from Lake’s house, cars queued up across from Grafton’s fire station.

Friend Mary Feder warmed up a special rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’ on her kazoo. Fire trucks passed by with no fewer than 90 balloons attached.

Even the rain didn’t stop Grafton’s Austin Powers — yes, that is his real name — from putting balloons on his lawn mower for Joan on Sunday. “She’s done a lot for the community,” he said, so he wanted to show his support for her.

Community members described Joan Lake, who worked locally as a nurse for many years, as "the glue that holds this town together."

According to Dennis Hunt, president of Grafton Cares, a local community outreach group, Lake has a reputation within the small community for looking out for those in need.

“Joan has her ear to the ground all of the time as to who needs help, and who is in trouble. We think she’s the best,” Hunt said. Lake is one of the group’s devoted volunteers. “Happy birthday Joan!” Hunt said.

The town showed its gratitude over the weekend with a steady stream of cars pulling past Lake’s house. There were festive lights on roof racks, barking dogs, party hats and noisemakers. 

When Kate Bova dangled a gift out her car window, Lake’s son Tracy ran over with a bleach-wipe to grab it.

“Is this allowed?” Bova asked. “Absolutely. Only with wipes,” he said.

Joan Lake stands next to a birthday cake
Credit Tennessee Watson / VPR
Grafton neighbors celebrated Joan Lake's 90th birthday with a socially-distant birthday parade.

The gifts will sit for a few days before Joan opens them just to be on the safe side. The birthday girl is, after all, in the high-risk age bracket for COVID-19. 

Joan received her well-wishers in a tiara, waving a wand with a star and ribbons. A sign on her porch read: “Thank you. Hugs later.”

She said she felt a little bashful about all the attention, “but one of my friends said ‘Turn it around, because everybody is thinking about the virus. And this is giving them something else to think about,’ so that made me feel better.”

Her birthday parade inspired folks to pause, safely, from isolation, and celebrate. According to her neighbors, it boosted morale in her little town.

In other words, Lake once again found a way to serve her community. 

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