By Konstantine Fekos
Mere minutes before local U.S. Navy sailor Javaun Harvey surprised his family with a post-holiday visit at Kay’s Cardinal Country Restaurant, owner Kay Willis was texting his mother in the kitchen in anticipation of his arrival.
“I think it’s awesome,” Willis said of Harvey’s impromptu return to his hometown of Cochranton. “His grandparents are going to be so excited.”
With only the restaurant staff and his mother wise to his surprise, Javaun enacted his plan to walk out from the kitchen with a coffee pot — his first home appearance in about a year.
“I bet his grandma is going to cry,” predicted Mark Domhoff, who, along with his mother Kay, has known Harvey’s family for years. “(They’ve) been coming here since I was a little boy. They’re a nice, old-fashioned family that always eats together.”
As Javaun snuck into the kitchen through the side door, 12 of his close family members and relatives sat in the adjacent dining area, beginning what they thought would be a routine breakfast in their favorite restaurant.
“I haven’t been home for a little while,” he said. “I thought this would be something nice to do. I love my family. They’ve helped me a lot through my life.”
The calm scene became a jubilation of shouts, hugs and tears as Javaun made his grand appearance, followed by the inevitable question, “Did you know he was home?”
“It was hard enough to tell nobody,” said Kelly Morris, Javaun’s mother, who dutifully kept the secret for at least two weeks. “To keep it from my mom and dad was the hardest.”
After overcoming the initial shock, his family agreed the surprise was wonderful and urged Javaun to join them at the breakfast table, where they began catching up.
Javaun said he recently passed his three-year mark in service to the U.S. Navy and has been deployed to several countries, including Spain, Greece, Portugal, United Arab Emirates and France, as a crew member of the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower.
His roughly eight-hour trip north from Norfolk, Va., Friday night almost sank his holiday spirits due to a minor car breakdown.
“I almost didn’t make it home,” he said. “Thankfully the grace of God is sufficient.”
He’s gotten to see his family only sporadically throughout the past three years, so he plans to spend the rest of his current leave time enjoying the holidays with them.
And making their latest family memory at Kay’s only made sense, Morris said, seeing as the restaurant is like their second home.
“We’ve been coming here since I was, like, five,” Javaun said. “This is my favorite restaurant. They’ve got the best burgers and fries.”
His mother recalls eating at Kay’s since her earliest days as well, a tradition that began with her father when the restaurant was first built around 1958.
“Sometimes the best presents come after Christmas,” Willis said, occasionally checking in on who she basically calls her extended family. “I love them, I do. I think everything went well and I’m happy for them.”