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Red Watson celebrates his 97th

Karl Horeis

Red Watson sat smiling in new black cowboy boots as ragtime piano player Squeek LaVake danced an Irish jig during his birthday party at Comma Coffee on Saturday afternoon.

White sunlight beamed through the front windows along Carson Street and Watson raised his arm and laughed while Chris Bayer picked the strings of his banjo.

“This is called “Red Haired Boy,” this song,” said LaVake, dancing about in front of the stage.

“That’s me!” said Red Watson, pointing to his chest.

Watson was surrounded by friends and family during his party — many who came down from Virginia City to celebrate with him. Watson lived on the Comstock for 15 years and was a banjo player himself before a stroke paralyzed his left side. He played regularly at the Bucket of Blood Saloon.

Watson’s birthday is Wednesday, Jan. 29.

“So we’re a little ahead of time, but that’s okay,” he said.

Watson’s great-grandchildren, Kaylin and Braydin Marler, 4 and 1-1/2 years respectively, hovered near the big white cake as it was cut during the singing of “Happy Birthday.”

Bayer on the banjo joined Scott Kulla on guitar to accompany the singers. Kulla’s daughters Stephanie, 9 and Melissa, 7, played some fiddle music.

“It’s a beautiful day,” Watson said.

Red worked as a cowboy in Texas back in the day. “In those days everything was horses — nothing was cars,” he said. “It was a good lifestyle, you got to see some beautiful country.”

Many of the folks at the party came out from the Silver Hills Community Church, according to Watson’s daughter, Tawnya Millim. Red has lived with her and her husband, Ron, in Carson City since July.

Watson lost both a daughter and his wife in December.

“That knocked me off my horse I’ll tell ya,” he said. “(My wife) was a beauty. I miss her something terrible.”

Red bought his new black cowboy boots himself, according to his daughter.

“I said, ‘Dad, those are ridin’ boots.’ And he said ‘I know that — I’m goin’ ridin’ again.'”

She also held her son Tim’s 18th birthday party at Comma Coffee, owned and operated by June Joplin.

“It was so much fun I just thought, ‘Let’s do it again,'” she said.

Tim and her other two sons, Kevin and David, hang out at the coffee shop regularly. Both David and Tim sometimes play their guitars on the stage.

“It’s just like going to your sister’s house or something,” she said of Comma Coffee. “You can just hang out.”

Joplin said she loves hosting parties.

“I’m surprised how many people are at the party that I know, who know Red,” she said, watching him in his gray cowboy hat shake the hand of the banjo player.