Palmer’s People by Kyndle Kirby

Palmer, Alaska, 2005 

Amongst sunshine and lilac petals, a six-year-old girl rolls in the soft grass, climbs atop engine No. 5, and befriends the bees. Her father leads her by the hand, across the street, to the Valley Hotel Café, where she is greeted by smiling waitresses. One gives her a white paper placemat with ruffled edges and a cup of crayons. She gazes dreamily outside through the large glass window, between the lamp posts and quaint shops, behind the Palmer water tower, she views the tall purplish-blue mountains and snow-capped peaks of her homeland. With intense focus, she crafts her masterpiece until the steaming food arrives. Then the cheery waitress praises her handiwork and asks to hang it on the wall. Blushing with pride the little girl agrees and smiles bashfully. A few elderly women applaud her pièce de résistance as it is placed on the wall behind the register, on display for all to see. 


Oklahoma, 2005

One dark night, sitting on the floor of the farmhouse, the same six-year-old girl clutches a wooden puzzle piece of the state of Alaska with tears in her eyes. She raises her eyes upward and gazes forlornly at the 2004 Alaska State Fair poster hanging on the wall, complete with a scarecrow, music, vegetables, fair rides, and alpenglow; her only tangible memories of home. With all the determination a six-year-old can muster, she swears, one day, she’ll run away. One day, when she’s old enough to make her own decisions, she’ll go back to Alaska. 


Little does she know, she won’t have to wait that long. By the time she’s twelve years old, her parents will decide to return to their true home in Palmer, Alaska.


She doesn’t know that after every school dance, musical, and sports game; she’ll go to the Valley Hotel (the same place her mountain drawing was hung over fifteen years before) where the waiter asks if she wants the “usual.” She doesn’t know that locals will rush to hug her after musical performances even for playing the smallest of roles, community members will fundraise to send her to college, and the trash truck driver will wave and call her by name as she walks to work each day. She doesn’t know she’ll go to high school with her friends from kindergarten, she’ll work at the Alaska State Fair every year, and strangers will recognize her as the “Caramel Apple Girl” from the Friday Flings. She doesn’t know she’ll support her future students through spaghetti feeds and pancake breakfasts held at the Moose Lodge across from the A-moose-ment park where she spent many happy hours as a child. She doesn’t know each year she’ll march in the Colony Day Parade and serve free food to the Palmer community at the St. John Colony Day Picnic. She doesn’t know she’ll spend rainy days sitting in the orange cushioned chairs of the Palmer Museum learning and teaching history. 


In a world that has lost its sense of community, its ability to connect deeply with others, and its capability to appreciate the good things in life, she will one day recognize there is still hope in this corner of the world. Because here, they still know how to do life right. In Palmer, there are still people who know how to build community, cultivate authentic and deep relationships, actively care for their neighbors, and take time to truly appreciate the beauty of their home. Even if Palmer were an ugly place, it is still here, with these people, that she would want to spend the rest of her days. It’s these beautiful people that make Palmer even more beautiful, through their kindness, generosity, and small-town lifestyle; they magnify the natural beauty surrounding them. 


Little does she know that many years later, across the street from where she balanced upon the railroad tracks and climbed upon train engine No. 5, she will close up the museum, and in the quietness of evening, she will sit down at the piano to sing the timeless words of Don Irwin:


“I found love’s sweet melody, 

In this valley, 

And each day more lovely it grows, 

Beautiful and fair to see, 

happy valley, 

Where the river Matanuska flows.” 


Then one day, under lilacs, she’ll write a story just like this one, and encourage you, dear reader, to live a life that not only embodies but magnifies, the beauty around us, by pouring love into every person you meet in this small town. 

About the Author

Kyndle is a native Alaskan, born and raised in Palmer. As a child, she and her family moved to Oklahoma for a few years to care for her grandparents before they passed away. The family returned home to Alaska when she was 12 years old and she has remained here ever since, other than a brief three-year stint in Nebraska to finish her college degree. Now, back home in Palmer, she spends her winters teaching and her summers hiking. When she’s not hiking, she’s either working at the Visitor Information Center/Museum, Friday Flings, or other local community events. She’s been to 40 of the 50 states, Canada, and Mexico, but Palmer is still her favorite small town and Palmer’s people are still her favorite people.