Dear Jack: The Old Abandoned House and Farm, Years Before It Became the Next Nice Neighborhood

8 years, 11 months.

Dear Jack,

Part of the glory of owning a 4×4 Jeep Wrangler is that we get to explore roads most people wouldn’t be able to in their cars. Sunday after church, we drove down the barely visible path to take a look at some land that is being advertised for sale.

I had been noticing that wooded hill for the nearly 5 years we’ve lived at our house. And finally, now I know what’s out on that land that will ultimately likely be developed to become several more cookie-cutter neighborhoods.

We discovered an old abandoned farm and farmhouse; less than a half mile from the main road.

Obviously, we didn’t step foot inside the buildings: They are all on the verge of collapsing after the next gentle breeze.

But using the zoom on my camera, I was able to take a look at a magazine from 1977, as well as receipt from 1982.

In other words, the most recent proof of life at that place was a year after I was born- and I’m only a year and a half away from turning 40.

One of the strangest discoveries was what appeared to be what was left of an outhouse. It was just a small hole leading to a 10 feet deep put filled will some rainwater.

When you’re a teenager, you’ll be able to tell your friends what you saw that day, years before it all became it all was plowed over and became the next nice neighborhood.

Love,

Daddy

 

Dear Holly: Your Brand-New Industrial Grade Playground Swing

3 years, 5 months.

Dear Holly,

Having a Papa who works at a playground equipment factory means that you when visit your grandparents’ house in Alabama, you have access to a backyard playground that is above and beyond the norm.

Last weekend, the debut of your brand-new industrial grade swing was revealed.

You loved it so much, you just didn’t want to stop swinging in it.

At one point, you swung in it for a solid hour and a half before Mommy said it was time to go in for dinner.

You have the Cadillac of all playground swings for a 3 year-old girl!

Love,

Daddy

Leading My Son and His Friends on a Scavenger Hunt Hike through the Creek, in Search of “Toxic Rocks” to Defeat the Villain, Red Rover

Last month my 3rd grader son and I left from the Cub Scout orientation meeting broken-hearted. I myself was in Cub Scouts for 4 years back in the late 1980s and early 1990s. It was a major part of my childhood.

But it’s not set up the same way anymore. At the meeting, the adults were ultimately informed that if we wanted our sons to be in Scouts, we would be volunteering to be the actual leaders.

In a household where both parents work full-time, I knew that it would be unwise to commit so much of my time to what would ultimately be a part-time job that would indirectly pay other people’s salaries, in the likeness of a multilevel marketing pyramid scheme.

So I decided to start my own group; for all the boys whose parents couldn’t commit to the actual organization.

I set up a “scavenger hunt hike” at a nearby park with a creek. Once all the boys arrived, along with a few younger sisters, a villain who called himself Red Rover popped out of the bushes.

He explained that his great-grandfather originally own the land, but instead of being able to inherit the land, it was given to the city as a public park.

Therefore, Red Rover hid 8 “toxic rocks” along the creek, which would dry up all the water if the boys couldn’t find them all within the following hour.

Here’s a video of that event:

As I expected, all 8 toxic rocks were found within the hour. Therefore, Red Rover returned from the bushes, in an attempt to take them back from me.

This led to a low-budget Marvel style fist fight between Red Rover and me.

Here’s the video for that part:

The boys (and their sisters) enjoyed playing on the park afterwards, as my wife had brought some snacks for the kids to enjoy as well.

And some might call this a major coincidence, but my friend Ben showed up after the scavenger hunt hike rough-house with the boys.

It was a plan that came together!

Now that the launch went well, I am excited to plan the next event…

Dear Holly: You are Cindy Brady from The Brady Bunch?

3 years, 4 months.

Dear Holly,

After your brother made his decision to spend his allowance money on a Funko Pop vinyl figure at Books-A-Million last Saturday, I wanted for you to be able to buy one as well.

You still had $4 remaining from your great-uncle Al giving you some money recently. Near the cash register, I noticed a clearance table. I scanned the dozens of characters to find one that was perfect for you…

I lucked out.

For just $3, there was Cindy Brady from The Brady Bunch.

I immediately showed it to you, and asked, “Holly, look… here’s Holly! Do you want to buy it and take it home?”

The next day as I was taking you into your preschool class, you proudly presented it to your teacher, proclaiming, “Look! I got a Holly!”

Needless to say, you’ve been sleeping with it every night as well.

Love,

Daddy

Dear Holly: Summertime Fun with Your Cousins

3 years, 3 months.

Dear Holly,

The way I feel is that the word cousins is synonymous with summer.

Looking back on these pictures from your recent slumber party with your cousins, it’s obvious you made the most of your time that weekend.

You were so proud to be able to sleep in the same bedroom as your cousin Darla, who is the same age as you.

As for you crying for your parents? I heard of no such thing.

That’s because you were having way too much fun being a 3 year old girl!

I don’t even want to know what time you actually fell asleep…

Love,

Daddy

 

The Weekend of My 20th High School Class Reunion: A Pedicure with My Wife, Contrasted by Almost Seriously Getting My Jeep Stuck in a Deep Mud Puddle!

After waiting 5 years since my last high school reunion, when unfortunately my wife couldn’t make it due to being in California at the time, I was so glad that she and I could go out on a date to my 20th high school reunion.

My wife came to my 10th high school reunion back in 2009; we were still technically newlyweds at the time:

And because of that, many of my classmates got to know her pretty well.

For the day of my 20th high school reunion, my sister and her husband volunteered to watch our kids the whole day (and night) so that we could really make the most of it.

So we started the day off right by going down to The Spa in Rainsville; where we both got pedicures.

(Last month while we were on family vacation, my wife took me along for a pedicure and I admit- I didn’t hate it. So I was open to the idea of going back.)

My wife jokes that I have “Berenstain Bear” toenails. She’s pretty much right. I need all the help I can get with it comes to my toes.

But afterwards, to balance things out, we took the Jeep out on the mud trails.

Now that I have been really putting the 4 wheel drive capabilities to the test, I have been heavily considering dropping a few hundred dollars to purchase a winch to put on my bumper; giving me the ability to pull myself out of mud.

Our most recent excursion, this past weekend, got us stuck in a puddle that was higher than the tires. Even with the Jeep already being in 4 wheel drive, I didn’t have enough power to drive myself out.

The Jeep was noticeably tilting to my side. It wasn’t a crazy thought that we might turn over into the deeper-than-I-realized mud water; basically a mini-pond.

Fortunately, my dad was sitting right next to me in the passenger seat, and told me to try putting it in reverse.

At this point, I knew not even to look to my left out the window, knowing that the muddy water had to be pretty close to reaching the glass.

I prayed: “God, please help us get out of here!”

The Lord answered my desperate and humble prayer.

But for the rest of my life, I will always look back at this event as nothing short of miraculous. That story could have very easily ended much differently:

With the Jeep being stuck there, miles from civilization; easily being an all-day event to get pulled out.

Thank God, though- we were delivered from the pit and no permanent damage was done to my Jeep; which is our officially family vehicle that I take the kids to school in every day and the vehicle that we take out of town trips in.

My dad happens to be the real life version of MacGyver. He had to figure out how to reattach the front mud guard under the bumper. It was a complicated task, but he was able to restore it back to normal.

(I still need to clean up the mud that started oozing through the drain holes in the floor of my Jeep, though!)

So when it comes to taking my prized possession in to the unpredictable muddy trails, I’m pretty sure I officially got this out of my system.

I’m a person who truly lives without fear. I don’t get anxious or nervous, and I definitely don’t get scared.

But in that pivotal moment of being helplessly stuck worse than I had ever been before, I was terrified!

I think I am going to retire from driving back on those trails- and just to be safe, I think I will still purchase the winch anyway!

As for the high school reunion, it just couldn’t have gone better! It was so well planned and we had a really good turn out.

I was happy to see how many people remembered my wife. It almost felt like she actually graduated high school with the rest of us; it felt so natural. (She also graduated high school in 1999; just on the other side of the country in Sacramento.)

Catching up with friends who have known me my entire life was such a rewarding experience. It was funny, at one point when we had our class picture taken, we were directed:

“Just stand next to who you normally do in these pictures!”

Sure enough, it was the same guys as it was in high school and our other reunions. We make up the section, “Guys who are the same height as the tall girls, but guys who aren’t necessarily considered short.”

For me, I care so much about my high school class reunions, they are truly a highlight of my life every 5 years. I really love the group of people I was fortunate enough to grow up with in the 1980s and 1990s.

The next morning for lunch, my wife and I were reunited with our kids, who thoroughly enjoyed their slumber party with their cousins the night before.

After a hearty lunch at Fontana’s, we made the 3 hour drive back to Tennessee. Our daughter was asleep by the time we made it to the interstate.

This weekend was just perfect. It will remain one of the best memories of my life.

I was surrounded by people I love and care about and have known a very long time.

That is what makes life good.

If you haven’t gotten a chance to read my blog post about my 20th high school reunion this past weekend, here’s your chance again.

Our 20th High School Class Reunion: Fort Payne Wildcats Class of 1999

 

We have arrived.

In an age of reboots, sequels, and of course, reunions, the timing was perfect for the Fort Payne High School Class of 1999 to have our 20th reunion!

Back in May of 1999, during the week of our high school graduation, we had our class picnic in our city park. Most of us were just 18 years old and didn’t really know, and couldn’t know, what we wanted to do with our lives.

We hadn’t yet figured out what we were really good at, or bad at, or how we would even earn a living.

But during the course of two decades, it sort of forced us to figure out who we were going to be. At now that we are all pushing 40, our lives are, for the most part, figured out.

If graduating high school was like putting the car in reverse, backing it out of the garage, putting it into first, and determining which of the endless roads we were supposed to start driving down…

Then making it to our 20th high school reunion is like having the car in cruise control.

Granted, for most of us, the road we took was not a straight and easy one. That road had many surprising turns. Often that road turned us right back around in the same direction we had already come from.

But by now, we are ultimately settled in for the rest of the ride. We’re not trying to figure out who we are anymore.

We know now.

So for this class reunion in particular, it was especially a milestone. For the first time, we were catching up with the grown up doppelganger versions of each other.

I also realized by attending my 20th high school reunion, that I was fortunate to grow up with a particularly special group of people, at a special time, in a special place.

We were born in 1980 and 1981; during the start of our town’s economic boom, as Fort Payne, Alabama became “The Official Sock Capital of the World”; thanks to our town’s massive hosiery production.

Not to mention, the country group Alabama had just become living legends… and they just happen to be from our little town, located in the tail end of the Appalachian Mountains.

It was magical time and place to grow up. We are a close group of people.

Our class reunions are a really big deal to us and I am confident they always will be.

-Nick Shell