Dear Holly: And Now Your Summer Before Kindergarten Begins!

5 years, 1 month.

Dear Holly,

We have a very exciting summer planned, which will end with you starting Kindergarten.

In addition to going to Alabama to spend time with your cousins here on this side of the country, we will also be travelling to California; where you will be reacquainted with many of those cousins who haven’t seen you since you were a baby!

Plus, we’ll be heading to the mountains of Georgia again; this time with Nonna and Papa.

And the week before you start Kindergarten, I have a special surprise trip for our family of 4… if I can manage to keep it a secret for nearly 2 more months!

Love,

Daddy

Dear Jack: Papa’s New Customized Tractor Machine Car Thing

10 years, 6 months.

Dear Jack,

Last weekend when we showed up in Alabama for Memorial Day Weekend, Papa had a surprise waiting for you to enjoy. The thing is, I still don’t know what the thing is…

I don’t know what it’s called- if it has a name.

But Papa took an old riding mower and customized it to go much faster; like a heavy duty, off road go-kart.

It was just your speed- both literally and metaphorically speaking. You loved it!

I get the feeling that Papa will continue to add more to it each time we see it again.

Love,

Daddy

Dear Jack: The BB Gun Range at My 40th Birthday Party

10 years, 4 months.

Dear Jack,

This past weekend we hosted my 40th birthday party in Alabama at Nonna and Papa’s house. Amazingly, your friend Landon and his family drove there too; though they live in the neighborhood next to ours in Tennessee!

I know it was a lot of fun to be able to hang out with one of your best friends… in a different state, 3 hours away!

Papa and I set up a “BB Gun Range” for you and your friends to shoot aluminum cans at in the woods behind the house.

You guys thought it was hilarious when Landon shot a BB and it got stuck right there in the middle of an acorn.

And having an April birthday, I was so grateful it only rained that morning, and stopped an hour before the party began.

Otherwise, we couldn’t have opened the BB gun range!

Love,

Daddy

When You Reconnect with a High School Friend and It’s Like Picking Up Right Where You Left Off

I have no memory of actually meeting William Coulter. He transferred in from Colorado our junior year of high school and it seems we just immediately and effortlessly became friends.

We never even had a class together. But we ended up hanging out together a lot, as teenagers in a small mountain town in Alabama.

I think it started when we went to go see Adam Sandler’s new movie at the time, Big Daddy.

Then William came to some church youth function where the manager of Hardee’s donated hundreds of burgers to feed everyone. Yet still after the event ended, there were dozens of hamburgers left- and because I personally knew the manager, she gave me all the left overs to take home.

So I took two garbage bags full of unwrapped hamburgers to my house that night. William and I decided to make our challenge to eat a minimum of 24 burgers throughout the hours of the night.

We failed. But we ate more for breakfast that next morning.

There was also the time, on a very short notice and a whim, that we went on a road trip to Pensacola, Florida our senior year. Our high school had allotted us a few days to go look at colleges and we hadn’t used them up yet. So we hopped on a van and visited a very conservative college that we had no intentions on attending. (See the picture where he and I were buried in the sand from 1999.)

And thinking back on our adventures driving my parents’ Ford Aerostar minivan, equipped with paintball guns, out on back roads at night, it easily reminds me of the Alan Jackson song, “We got a little crazy but we never got caught…”

Now, we are both married and have two kids who are nearly the same ages. Another coincidence is that his wife’s name is Holly, while my wife and I named our daughter Holly. And our son’s middle name is William.

Last weekend, my dad officially unveiled his new playground, which he has been building for years now. After remembering that William and his family only live a little more than an hour away from my parents’ house, I invited his family over.

My sister’s family was there too; whose children are also in the same age range; a total of three 4 year-olds, two 9 year olds, and one 11 year-old. Our families ended up all being a perfect match, as expected.

William is one of those close friends where we always pick up right where we left off. We get older, along with our hilarious shared memories from high school.

But we relate to each other just as easily now in 2020, as we did in the late 1990s.

Hiking Gilliam Loop Trail and Pogo Ridge (9 Miles) in DeSoto State Park During Christmas 2019

Christmas 2019 was extra special in that my nephew Matt (who is in the Air Force, stationed on Mississippi) and my niece Sara (who is a school teacher in California) were able to spend the holidays with my family in Alabama.

With all the Christmas cargo we had to take down from where we actually live in Tennessee and then bring back from Alabama, my wife and I decided to take both her Hyundai Elantra and my Jeep Wrangler for the nearly 3 hour drive there.

For me, it was just an excuse to be able to serve as a Jeep tour guide during Christmas vacation. I started out by taking Matt and Sara (and their mother Jeanene) on a 23 mile drive along Little River Canyon on Christmas Eve.

And for the day after Christmas, I announced I would be heading up a 9 mile hike in a “hidden gem” of a trail in DeSoto State Park, called Gilliam Loop (which begins at Cabin 21)- or at least, my version of it.

Matt and Sara agreed to join me, with zero hesitation.

Gilliam Loop is actually a mountain biking trail, but if you know where to veer off the path, you can connect to Pogo Ridge.

Back in 1934, the Civilian Conversation Corps (known as CCC) built culverts along the trail, which runs parallel to Little River.

So it is really cool to see these 86 year-old structures still in place.

Pogo Ridge leads a crossing point of Little River itself. However, we opted not to cross through the river, which would have meant we would have had to hike the rest of the day in wet clothes.

Therefore, we took Exit 4 of the trail back to the Road 12.

When it was all said and done, we had hiked 9.25 miles in 3 hours.

Before heading back to the house, I took them by Howard’s Chapel; the church built into a giant rock, where the founding pastor’s ashes are contained.

Oh, and I failed to mention:

Christmas Week 2019 contained perfect Fall Weather, which allowed us to have this much fun!

I had the top off the Jeep the entire time, as the temperate remained in the 60s for most of the time.

It will be a Christmas I never forget!