Dear Holly: You Ate Your Cupcake Like a Little Kitten

2 years, 4 months.

Dear Holly,

Last weekend as we visited my hometown of Fort Payne, Alabama for their annual Boom Days celebration, we stopped in a cafe called The Spot. Your brother chose ice cream as his treat, but you weren’t interested.

Instead, you grabbed a cupcake with blue frosting on one side and purple on the other.

As we sat down, you carefully unwrapped the plastic, then just became stoic as you discreetly enjoyed the cupcake; like you were getting away with something extra special.

It was like watching a little kitchen eat a cupcake.

You were so committed to finishing every last crumb, that by the end, you put your face down in it as if were you a contestant in a pie-eating contest.

That must have been some cupcake!

Love,

Daddy

Dear Jack: We Went to Boom Days 2016 in Fort Payne, Alabama (and Gave Mommy a Chance to Go to the Spa!)

5 years, 10 months.

Dear Jack: We Went to Boom Days 2016 in Fort Payne, Alabama (and Gave Mommy a Chance to Go to the Spa)

Dear Jack,

This past weekend, you had an unforgettable weekend! You finally were able to go my to hometown’s ever-growing festival call Boom Days; which celebrates the people and culture of Fort Payne, Alabama; where I was born and raised.

Being there reminded me that I didn’t grow up in a stereotypical Southern town, as typically featured in media. No, Fort Payne was always special.

Basically half of the city is on the mountain (where I lived) and the other half is in the valley.  There was always this artsy, Americana feel to the place. I was surrounded by DeSoto State Park and all its hiking trails, as well as well as Little River Falls (the tallest waterfall in Alabama) and Little River Canyon.

Dear Jack: We Went to Boom Days 2016 in Fort Payne, Alabama (and Gave Mommy a Chance to Go to the Spa)

It was a fun place to grow up, and apparently, a fun place to return to; and especially, with a nearly 6 year-old boy.

With Mommy’s youngest brother getting married in two weeks in San Diego, I convinced her to take the weekend off by staying in Nashville where we live, and to let me take you and you baby sister to Nonna and Papa’s house for the weekend.

Dear Jack: We Went to Boom Days 2016 in Fort Payne, Alabama (and Gave Mommy a Chance to Go to the Spa)

That way, Mommy could get us packed for the upcoming California trip, run errands, and relax with no parental responsibilities for a full weekend. I’m glad she took me up on the offer! She works full-time with a 2 hour commute round trip each day, so she definitely was in need of some down time. She got to go to the spa; getting her hair and nails done.

Meanwhile, we were with Nonna and Papa, and Baby Holly, in downtown Fort Payne at Boom Days. The first big stop for you was to go inside a “gerbil ball” which was a giant inflatable sphere in which you got to run and roll around the Alabama Band Park.

Dear Jack: We Went to Boom Days 2016 in Fort Payne, Alabama (and Gave Mommy a Chance to Go to the Spa)

You apparently got into a thrilling “fight” with another boy in another gerbil ball. I saw the two of you smiling as you both attempting to knock each other over.

It was funny because there weren’t really any rules and I was never told how long you got to be inside there. Turns out, it lasts as long as you do…

The guy running the event explained to me, as you finally were ready to come out, “He’s stayed in there longer than anyone else ever has!” You were very proud to hear that you won the unofficial contest of endurance.

Dear Jack: We Went to Boom Days 2016 in Fort Payne, Alabama (and Gave Mommy a Chance to Go to the Spa)

You also enjoyed riding a pony. I think your favorite part about that was getting to pick the one you wanted.

Next we made our way over to the jumpy house, where we definitely got your money’s worth. I paid just $3 and you stayed in that thing for over 90 minutes. You just didn’t feel compelled to leave.

Back in Nashville, whenever you get to go one of your friends’ birthday parties, you always hope there will be a jumpy house. And when there is, you are never ready to leave.

But for more than an hour and a half, I hung out with Nonna and Papa in front of the jumpy house, as we showed off Baby Holly to passersby.

That’s when I saw and flagged down two of my Class of ’99 friends, Kim Hester and Brian Winkles. They enjoyed meeting you; granted, it was the extremely sweaty version of you, as you only took a short break to get some water.

Turns out, they weren’t the only “Ninety-Niners” I saw while we were there. Out of our graduating class of 183, there were about 20 that I saw there.

Dear Jack: We Went to Boom Days 2016 in Fort Payne, Alabama (and Gave Mommy a Chance to Go to the Spa)

Therefore, I am convinced that from here on out, we need to attend Boom Days every year; that way I don’t have to wait to see my classmate every 5 years for each official class reunion.

Speaking of, a little while later on the closed down the main street, I ran into more classmates, Jason New and Kris Holcomb. Kris’s daughter Libby had just bought a pet baby turtle she had named Raphy. You loved petting the turtle.

You also got to hold a baby squirrel as well, at the pet adoption tent.

Dear Jack: We Went to Boom Days 2016 in Fort Payne, Alabama (and Gave Mommy a Chance to Go to the Spa)

So everybody got what they needed: Mommy got rest and relaxation back home in Nashville. I got to see my kids enjoy themselves at the festival. Nonna and Papa got to spend time with you and your sister.

And as for you, Boom Days made all your dreams come true. It was the perfect place for a Kindergartener boy to get to burn energy and explore.

We shall return in 2017!

Love,

Daddy

Dear Jack: We Went to Boom Days 2016 in Fort Payne, Alabama (and Gave Mommy a Chance to Go to the Spa)

P.S.

I made this video with Papa the next morning featuring the park where Boom Days took place, which features the Alabama band monument.

The Return of the Small Town: Boom Days 2010 in Fort Payne, AL

A glimpse at the culture of Fort Payne, Alabama.

It can be common for people who grow up in a small town to want to move away as soon they graduate high school, as was the case for myself.  Since I graduated from Fort Payne High School in 1999, I have lived in Florida, Virginia, and for the last five years, Nashville.  That means for over 11 years, I have pretty much lived away from the hometown that molded me.  Now, I realize that a lot of this could be that I am married now and have a baby on the way, but I must admit, my old hometown suddenly seems really cool again.  Maybe it’s because the pace of my life is slowing down, compared to my single days and even my married-with-no-children days, and is now starting to match the speed of a small town and no longer a big city.  But I still think something special is happening in this small town, apart from my interference or commentary.

This past weekend my wife and I spent the weekend there with my parents, sister, and her husband.  My sister Dana had mentioned to me that there was this thing going on called “Boom Days” on Saturday in the city park.  She heard something about free pancakes and people dressed up like “old times”.  That’s all she knew.  I was way too curious about this possible Lord of the Rings picnic not to go.  So I went.

Turns out the pancakes weren’t free, but instead they were part of an all-you-can-eat-pancake-buffet for just five bucks, and the people dressed up were Civil War reenacters, not from Medieval times.  There was also a llama, a clown, a car show, a guy on a unicycle, horses, cool crafts exhibits, three concert stages, (four if you count two guys playing bluegrass on the sidewalk), a BBQ competition, and even a dog show.  I had originally only planned to check it out for a little while to say that I went, then leave.  But instead, I was there for over two and half hours and left with a slight sunburn.

In other words, I had a whole lot of fun.  It was a reunion of sorts: I caught up with some childhood classmates like Alex Igou and Tiffanie Baker Vincent, as well as our legendary elementary school librarian, Mrs. Jane Mauldin.  Boom Days 2010 was truly the kind of city wide event that had something for everybody.  I predict that like the days of June Jam (1982-1997), Boom Days will similarly help the culture of the town to resurface.

It wasn’t really until I was in college and started bringing friends home for the weekend that I realized that Fort Payne supersedes commercialized stereotypes of what a small Southern town is supposed to be like.  Fort Payne is not simply Country music, cows, and tractors- which are all good and necessary.  Being that when I was growing up I was constantly in plays and musicals, most of them written and directed by native Eddie McPherson, I was always aware of Fort Payne’s love of the arts.  It has to mean something when there are two theatres in downtown, on the same street, a block away from each other.

Fort Payne is also set apart from many towns in that half of the city is on a mountain and the other half is in a valley.  I grew up on the mountain side, sandwiched in between Little River Canyon, Little River Falls, De Soto State Park, and the artistic town of Mentone.  So while the valley half is where I learned to be social and outgoing, at school and at church, it was the outdoorsy mountain half that catered to my introspective and artistic side.  Simply put, Fort Payne is the perfect environment to yield well-rounded and level-headed people.

It takes a village.  Mine was Fort Payne.

All of the scenic route snapshots  used in this post were taken during Boom Days 2010, courtesy of Nick Shell.