Life lessons at a young age

Published 10:40 am Friday, September 2, 2011

By SANDRA THAMES / Community Columnist

A 2-year-old in Alabaster is getting an early education in life. He knows, loves and is exposed to people of different generations and interests. He listens to adult conversations, talks his little head off (with very good manners), smiles at everyone near him and isn’t shy at all, no matter what color a person’s hair or skin may be.

Wheelchairs, canes or walkers don’t bother little Henry William Willis. At an early age, he is very welcoming and outgoing. When we were introduced, he immediately gave me a hug and a kiss (winning my heart immediately, of course).

Twice a week, his nanny, Rebecca Kent, takes Henry to Jack’s restaurant with a seasoned bunch Henry proudly calls “his people.” He will ask Kent if it is their morning to go see “his people” and is always happy to hear yes. The group started back in the ‘80s when the Jack’s location was then a Hardee’s. Many of the original group members are deceased, moved away or physically unable to come. After I asked them for their group name, they came up with the “Hardy Bunch” because they are still hardy (or healthy enough) to participate!

From left, Henry Willis and Rebecca Kent at Henry’s second birthday party. (Contributed)

At 8:30 a.m., they are all decked out, hair fixed, makeup on, smiles galore, great chatter and camaraderie — a perfectly beautiful bunch of seniors. Henry delightfully knows each by name and travels back and forth from table to table because they keep enticing him: A nibble of pancake here, a bite of sausage there. Everyone vies for Henry’s attention.

His special birthday party last week with “his people” included guests Margaret Dimaggio, Kathryn Thomas, Montez and Jim Haylie, Bill and Etta Redmond, Marcia Wheeler, Nanny Rebecca Kent, Papi Rick Langley of Atlanta, mom Becky, and dad, James Willis. Other regular group members are Bob and Joyce Lee, Daphne Causey, Ann and John Battle, Earl and Stella Seagle and Ms. “Bill” Moore.

Henry’s other grandparents are Charles and Eileen Willis of Vestavia, PaPaw Mike Kent, Ruby and Albert Jones of Franklin, Tenn., (known to Henry as Gran-Gran and Grandaddy). Alabaster resident great-grandmother Nina Kent is “Nana,” but probably because of the closeness of the words Nana and Nannie, he cutely refers to Mrs. Kent as Nina.

Little Henry is learning more than sight words and numbers. He is learning people and is doing a great job.

Community columnist Sandra Thames can be reached by email at