Mardi Gras is always a special time at Ma Harper’s Creole Kitchen at 1830 S. W.W. White Road. Just think of the gumbo, red beans and rice, jambalaya and po’ boys that Alice “Ma” Harper produces in her kitchen, and you know the good times will roll.
This year’s gathering was even more noteworthy, because Harper, 80, opened her restaurant to a group of children from Legacy Middle School.
Eighteen students plus their teachers and assistants filled the restaurant for a party filled with color, music and food.
The idea came about when Harper met a group of the students at the nearby Dollar General store. She decided then and there to show the kids a little New Orleans-style hospitality, life skills teacher Jenna Bonanno said.
“She asked me how many would be coming for the party, and I said five,” Bonanno said.
“Five ain’t no party,” Harper replied.
So, Bonanno recruited several other classes and even her young daughter, Gia, to join her and her students. The groups included Kelly Joseph’s maximum resource class and Kathy Hoskins’ deaf education class.
“I got back with Ma and told her I thought there would be 14,” she said.
“Now that’s a party,” Harper replied.
And even that number grew by Tuesday’s get-together.
The celebration started with a meal that included such kid-friendly fare as hotdogs, with or without chili, plus chips, cookies and a punch made from orange and pineapple juices.
Afterwards, the students received goodie bags, some of which were filled with beads and masks, while others had Harlequins and candies.
Several of the students joined a line parading around the room to some traditional New Orleans Dixieland jazz. Later, one student, Isaac Ramon, offered a rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” that was so heartfelt, no one in the room will forget it any time soon.
Harper received some help from Lita Salazar, president of the San Antonio Restaurant Association and owner of three area McDonald’s restaurants.
Salazar served up the hotdogs to the kids. Much to the surprise of the students in the deaf education class, she was able to communicate with them using sign language. She has a deaf son, who is away at college, she told them, adding that “at my house, everybody signs.”
Opening her restaurant to someone in need or to someone whose day could use a little brightening is nothing new for Harper.
As Salazar said, “If not this school, then some other school. If not some school, then the people under the bridge. If not them, then the Women at the Well. She always gives and gives and gives.”