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.


Real Life Thoughts on Death and the Afterlife

 What if I was wrong this whole time?

At the times of my life where I have doubts about my faith, by default, a few things come to mind which always bring me back to security.  After all, it’s not so difficult to get distracted with thoughts like, “with all the different religions in the world, only one can be right…how do I know I picked the right one?” 

I instantly remind myself that Christianity is the only religion where a person can not be a good enough of person on their own to earn eternal life: Aside from doing “good works” (helping those in need) a person has to become humble enough to rely on the grace of God to save them, through faith. 

Both necessary elements of salvation (good works and God’s grace) are based in love.  Our love for all other people (which reflects our love for God) and God’s love for us. 

If nothing else, the fact that Christianity is the only major religion in the world that requires love for it to work, that’s enough for me: We love God by loving other people; He loves us by showing us grace (undeserved blessings). 

And while it may seem New Age, or like a medieval fairy tale, or even an idea as “out there” as something from the show LOST, I can’t deny that it’s impossible not to think about what happens when we die.  Especially when someone in real life, that I know personally, dies. 

I don’t see how a person could go to a funeral and not seriously question what will happen when they themselves die.  It takes so much faith to say, “I belief when we die, we die” or “I’m a pretty good person, if there’s a heaven or an afterlife, I think I’ll make it”.  I don’t have enough faith to say that.

And since I have less faith, I instead believe in Christianity.  Because for me, it takes a lot of pressure off of me.  My good works aren’t the cause of my salvation; they’re the proof of it.  The rest, God’s has already taken care and is taking care of and will always take care of.

Worst case scenario: I’m wrong.  I live my entire life under the belief that a sinless Jewish man over 2,000 years ago somehow took on all the wrongdoings of every person in the world’s past and future by allowing Himself to die so that He could live with them in eternity, then came back to life to tell us to let everyone know that He loves them and that we should love others through our actions. 

So I spend time studying an ancient holy book written by a bunch of (mainly) Jews, memorizing the highlights of it that stick out the most to me.  And instead of by instinct worrying about things I can’t control (like trying to sell my house), I pray about them in the best faith I have, knowing that God will be glorified through it. 

And by doing my best to follow the teachings of that ancient book, I end up staying out of trouble, for the most part.  I eventually die and at my funeral people say that I was a good person and that I loved the Lord.

But in this worst case scenario, let’s say I was wrong about it all.  Let’s say that this life really is all there is- so I die and that’s it.  I have no consciousness or memory; I exist no more.  Like I was never born.

That worst case scenario is a risk I’m willing to take.

But aside from me thinking that Christianity is the best fit for me compared to other religions, aside from the fact that death itself makes me think about what happens when I die, there is the fact that life itself points me to a Creator. 

And if there is a Creator who took the creative thought and the time to invent the universe and the people in it, there I want to know who He is.  And if I know who He is, I want Him to like me.  And if I want Him to like me, I’m gonna find a way to do it.

So I did.  And ultimately, all those “God-given” thoughts led me to becoming a Christian. 

Christianity in a nut shell:

Ephesians 2:8-9: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, not that of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one may boast. (Shows the importance of being humble enough through faith to accept God’s love for us through the sacrifice of Jesus.)

 Ephesians 2:10 “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared behforehand so that we would walk in them.”  (Shows the importance of our love for other people through our good works, which mirrors God’s love for us and is proof that we love God.)