Growing up with a dream
Kay Taylor personally wraps Christmas gifts purchased at her store.
By Trish Popovitch - Special to the Independent
We tell our children they can be anything. Well, some of us do. Some children have to keep on dreaming when the circumstances of their life would make them think that dreams of any size were the realm of other people. Growing up poor is no fun; it’s even worse at the holidays. Many of us can remember that feeling of isolation when, dressed in our thrift store clothes and our hand-me-down two sizes too small shoes, we listened to our two-parent family classmates in their designer clothes reel off the many expensive items on their Christmas wish list.
All those in hearing distance knew full well that list would be under their happy family tree Christmas morning.
Kay Taylor remembers that feeling all too well. It’s probably why, when she was a little girl growing up in a single-parent household with 10 brothers and sisters in Arkansas, she dreamed of being Santa Claus.
“I always wanted to be Santa; even growing up when we were so poor we didn’t have stuff, and then later, when I went to live with my dad and my step- mom. She tried the best she could to give us a good Christmas and for that day, you are just like the other kids. It’s just magic. I would say a lot of it has to do with my step-mom that she tried no matter what. We didn’t have money, but she made sure that Christmas Day was special.”
Kay Taylor runs Grandma’s House toy shop on the corner of Birch, across from the Classic Café. The store that began life as a Christmas shop at the Rec Center is quickly becoming a Glenrock staple. It is the one stop shop for birthday party gifts, a place for little Herders to find an affordable treat, and of course, an uber-local location to shop for Christmas. Taylor decided she would give the store idea five years to see if it would take off. This will be the store’s fourth Christmas.
“It’s not the greatest store in the world but it’s a plus for Glenrock,” says Taylor. “I know I can probably make better money in Douglas, make better money in Casper, but I know I want to do this for Glenrock, so that’s why I stay here.”
The store is just the structure that supports the ideas that resonate from Taylor. The goal is not to make a profit. Indeed, prices are unbelievably low and she hasn’t taken a pay check since the day she opened. Parents are hard pressed to get Taylor to not give their child a free candy or gift at checkout.
It goes so much deeper than the surface façade of running a business. It’s about the chance to make all those other kids growing up in single parent households, wearing those second-hand clothes in those pinching shoes, feel for one day a year, they can be just like everyone else. For one day, when the snow is falling, the colored lights are twinkling and the Christmas songs are playing, that every child in Glenrock can view December 25th as a special day.
According to the 2014 census statistics, 13.3 percent of children in Converse County live below the poverty rate. That translates to 426 kids out of a county total of 3,427. The 2017 count will include any increase in poverty rates caused by the recent energy industry layoffs. Behind those numbers is every boy and girl who sits in school listening to the Christmas wishes of their friends and classmates, knowing that their reality is very different.
“Life is not fair to every kid. They know that. You’ve got kids with wonderful families but that’s not every kid in Glenrock. I just want to make it fair for them,” says Taylor. “The rest of the year’s not. When it comes time for school clothes, Easter baskets or Halloween costumes it’s not as fair for a lot of kids as it is for others. I think that’s why I do it. I want at least Christmas to be fair.”
Last year, Taylor found (with help from local businesses, donors and volunteers) Christmas cheer for 78 local children and their parents. It made time with her own family very tight, including helping a family on Christmas Eve rather than being with her own grandkids. Generously they understood why Grandma just had to do what she had to do. It’s beyond pay it forward. It’s about not wanting any other child to feel how she felt as a little girl. And no matter what Taylor tells you, that is important and that is making a difference.
“I do so little. I know what’s important in life. In the realm of life what I do is nothing compared to what some people do to make a difference, but this is just a little bit you know,” says Taylor. “Plus the fact that I’ve had health issues for so many years, this is manageable for me.”
Health issues have been the bane of Taylor’s efforts but they have also helped her grow as a person.
“I had thyroid cancer that spread and during the surgery they paralyzed my vocal cords so luckily I can whistle loud,” Taylor smiles. “But going through that wasn’t bad. It was scary. I’d feared cancer my whole life. I saw through cancer there can be blessings too. Did I enjoy it? No. I’d like to be healthy, but there were a lot of blessings. And it changed me. Bad stuff: that’s where we learn and grow.”
Without her supportive husband and family, Taylor wouldn’t be able to devote the time that she does to the children of Glenrock. All those hours at the store making cookie party kits and closet monster sprays are possible because so many want to aid Kay in her mission to make the holidays special.
Collaborations increase the amount of holiday cheer that’s available to local kids and corporate donations in recent years have had a huge impact on Taylor’s efforts.
“It’s a Band-Aid. For years that’s how I looked at what I was able to usually do. You are just putting a Band-Aid on a big wound. It helps, it takes a little pain away but there’s still that wound,” says Taylor. “Instead of just putting a Band-Aid on those families, they were served well so that’s made a big difference.”
For 36 years, Taylor has been going out of her way to help local children at the holidays. Most would not agree with Taylor’s self assessment of her work in the community, although she is adamant that her efforts are not a hardship in any way. She absolutely loves what she is doing and isn’t doing it for praise or attention.
“Look how lucky I am. Look how great it is. This is not sacrifice. The people who should be recognized are people that have sacrificed. And this is not sacrifice. How many people get to play Santa? I’m very blessed. I see this as how lucky I am.”
See contact information and store hours for Grandma Kay’s Store on Facebook.
SOURCE: Wyoming Child and Family Development for the poverty statistics.