Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Sallie Howard Memorial Chapel (in the 2016 Lexus ES 300h)

5 years, 8 months.

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Sallie Howard Memorial Chapel (in the 2016 Lexus ES Hybrid)

Dear Jack,

Right before we crossed over from Mentone to Fort Payne, Alabama, I surprised you by parking the Lexus ES 300h at an old church that is built around a giant rock; which is named Sallie Howard Memorial Chapel.

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Sallie Howard Memorial Chapel (in the 2016 Lexus ES Hybrid)

It was built back in 1937, when Colonel Milford Howard constructed the chapel as a memorial to his wife. And equally interesting is the fact his ashes are inside the rock itself, as his sort of burial place.

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Sallie Howard Memorial Chapel (in the 2016 Lexus ES Hybrid)

Another fascinating thing about “Howard’s Chapel” is that the doors are never locked. That means that travelling passersby from DeSoto State Park can visit it at their convenience. This fact is openly promoted on the sign.

A couple Christmases back, I took you there with Uncle Andrew and Papa. However, you told me you don’t remember that.

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Sallie Howard Memorial Chapel (in the 2016 Lexus ES Hybrid)

So it was like a brand new experience for you this time. I believe I was about your age when I first became aware of this chapel.

It’s such a rare thing- to be able to walk inside an old church with a giant rock inside, which contains the builder’s ashes. Seriously, how many people can say they actually have been there and seen the inside?

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Sallie Howard Memorial Chapel (in the 2016 Lexus ES Hybrid)

I bet most people have never even heard of it, outside of my hometown. It’s just so tucked away.

You were obviously fascinated. I’m sure it seemed like a bizarre dream to you. But it was all real… I was there too with you.

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Sallie Howard Memorial Chapel (in the 2016 Lexus ES Hybrid)

And to think, I just grew up a few miles from there.

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Ghostbusters and The BFG (in the 2016 Lexus ES Hybrid)

The next stop on our father and son trip: The Azalea Trail at DeSoto State Park. But first, on the way there, I decided it would be cool to show you that little brick house I grew up in… coming up next.

Love,

Daddy

P.S.

Here’s the collection of stories from our father and son road trip…

Ghostbusters and the BFG

Nick A Jack Road

Cloudland Canyon State Park

Sallie Howard Memorial Chapel

Azalea Cascade Trail at DeSoto State Park

2016 Lexus ES 300h Father & Son Road Trip (Table of Contents)

Dear Jack: Our 1st Father and Son Road Trip- Sallie Howard Memorial Chapel (in the 2016 Lexus ES Hybrid)

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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.


dad from day one: Monkey See, Monkey Do

Twenty-six weeks.

It’s not so much that I will relive vicariously through him as it will be that I will raise him according to what I know boyhood to be; therefore, Jack’s youth will in certain ways resemble mine.  And not only will I influence him regarding what it means to be a boy, but also by what it means to have a dad, based on how my own dad influenced my life.  Looking back, I can see that my dad was extremely patient with me and willing to spend his free time with me doing whatever goofy thing it was that I was into.

Whether it was helping me make the perfect Pine Wood Derby car for Cub Scouts, going exploring out in the woods, playing “Ninja Turtles” with me (I still have  an impressive collection of those action figures at my parents’ house), or playing Nintendo for hours at a time.

Being a dad to a son also means confronting potentially dangerous situations and keeping him safe through it; whether because he has to, or for fun.  And in the process, the son learns to trust his dad to take care of him, knowing his dad wouldn’t allow him to get hurt.

Like when he was leading our family in a 5 mile hike in Mentone, AL and he encountered a Copperhead snake- he killed it by throwing a huge rock on it.  Then when we got back home he skinned it and displayed it for all of us Cub Scouts.

And like when I was really young, my dad would put me in a pillow case, hold on to the open end, and sling me around the living room.  And because I was a boy, I loved it.

I also would sit up on his shoulders while he stood under the ceiling fan, in front of the mirror, so I could see that my head was just inches away from the spinning blades.  He called the event “The Head Chopper-Offer”.  And because I was a boy, I loved it.

And I always liked to wrestle my dad.  Obviously, it was impossible to beat him.  He was way too strong and way too big for me; not to mention he had a black belt in karate.  And because I was a boy, I loved it.

It was about testing those limits of danger with someone whose job it was to keep me safe.  Ironic, yet necessary.  My dad and I wrestling on the brown shag carpet represents what being a dad to a boy is all about.  The typical “play fighting” allows a boy to test his own strength and power against his own protector and guardian.  And it’s a very natural way for a father and son to be physically close- without even realizing it.

Dads and sons are close in their own unspoken ways.  And as a dad, part of my job will be to initiate some of these weird ancient rituals.  Even if it means confronting danger- it’s part of the journey of becoming a man. And these types of adventures are a rite of passage meant to be passed down from father to son.

Baby Jack is the size of an eggplant.

Here’s what The Bump says about Week 26:

Let your spouse put an ear to your belly — he might be able to pick up baby’s heartbeat (no stethoscope required). Inside the womb, the formation of tiny capillaries is giving baby a healthy pink glow. Baby’s also soaking up your antibodies, getting the immune system ready for life outside the womb. Eyes are forming, and baby will soon perfect the blink — perfect for batting those freshly grown lashes.

http://community.thebump.com/cs/ks/blogs/2ndtrimester/pages/weeks-25-28-month-6-eggplant.aspx?r=0

All pictures with the “JHP” logo were taken by Joe Hendricks Photography:

Blog- www.photojoeblog.com

Website- www.joehendricks.com

Party Like It’s 1999: My Ten Year Class Reunion (Fort Payne, AL)


Last week as I mentioned to people here in Nashville that my 10 Year High School Reunion was coming up on Saturday, I was surprised to hear more than a few respond with, “Well I’m not going to mine. Everybody I want to see or talk to from high school, I already do. Most of those people I didn’t like then, and so I know I won’t like ‘em now.” Not one tiny part of me can relate to that statement.

On the same token, there have been times when I have hyped up an upcoming event in my mind for weeks or months, only to find my high expectations were not met. Again, this was not at all the case.

Ultimately it comes down to the fact that the Fort Payne Class of ’99 is a special group of people. Yes, I am being bias.

If the definition of a true friend is someone you can be apart from for years and the next time you see them, you can just pick up where you left off last time, then I have more friends than I realized. Because that was the case with everyone that was there.

I saw how warmly my wife was accepted by everyone there. (It actually reminded me of when I introduced her to my family a few years ago.) How often an official introduction wasn’t even necessary. Just straight to conversation like an old friend. That sort of instant familiarity with a large group of strangers is rare.

Ten years can definitely change people in a way I hadn’t considered; by bringing them to a more similar place in life than they were in before. Kristin Bailey Gardner works in journalism, whereas I am jealous that she is. Kim Thomas Clowers married my 2nd cousin, meaning we’re related now related and see each other at family reunions. And the should-be action movie star Morten Maaegard, the foreign exchange student from Denmark our senior year, was in the same parts of Thailand as I was in 2004. (He actually flew in from Europe for our class reunion- that is impressive.)

When an event this big goes so right, I have to take a look at why. Aside from a bunch of cool 28 year-olds all truly wanting to be there, a lot of it had to do with the planning. Tabitha Thomas Greenwood found and followed a formula that was flawless. First, during the day, we met at the new city park. That was a way that those with children could bring them and have something for them to do as the adults caught up on life.

Then that night just us adults met at an old yet restored hotel and restaurant in the crafty/artsy neighboring town of Mentone. Our senior yearbook was placed on a table along with a memorial of the four we’ve lost since graduation: Grant Dobbs, Derek Hood, Brooke Craig, and Joey Kean.

It was like a big house where after dinner we could just walk around and hang out as the band played. That was the ideal casual environment that kept everyone comfortable and in good spirits.

I have heard of class reunions where people had to pay $100 just to get in. Ours was affordable, practical, fun, and perfectly planned. We could have met in the Santa Fe room at Western Sizzlin’ (or The Sizzler as it’s known in the rest of the country). But no, the Fort Payne class of ’99 does things right. We knew not to play around with something as monumental as our one and only 10 year reunion.

There definitely is a dream-like quality about seeing so many old friends again after so long. Like a blurry Vaseline-on-the-camera-lens kind of feel. And because so many truly looked the exact same as they did in high school, it was kinda like a dream where we all just appeared in the same place and the only thing that really changed was the time in between the last time we were all together.

Eleven year reunion, anyone?

Parks and Rec: How Growing Up Near DeSoto State Park in Fort Payne, AL Made Me Who I Am

“A crooked chimney standing in the middle of a field once surrounded by walls of work, by laughter and by love…  It once was beautiful, right here.  It still is beautiful, in here.  You once were beautiful, I hear.  I hear it can be beautiful, just remember.”

– “Just Remember” by Sister Hazel

I grew up in the wooded mountains of Alabama, a few miles down the road from DeSoto State Park and the Boy Scouts’ Camp Comer. It was only inevitable that I would forever enjoy hiking and exploring trails, well past the days of Cub Scouting. Barely marked paths are rough draft adventures that offer something more sacred and wild than any tourist attraction I could know.

Whenever I trek through new terrain, I always wonder how few people in the history of the world have stepped where I step. And I wonder how long it’s been since anyone else was there. And what kind of animals cross the path throughout each day.

Saturday my new friend Daniel is coming over. That means two things will happen. We will play New Super Mario Bros. Wii. And we will go hiking in the woods behind my neighborhood. There’s an urban legend that an Indian man has been sighted out there meditating. And wild boars.

I’m not inspired by sporting events where the players and coaches switch teams each new season. So when another guy chooses to hang out with me, I will find a way to incorporate some sort of exploration of the wild.

In 2001 my dad and I spent a Saturday morning exploring the undeveloped, unmentioned land in between the Interstate and main street of my home town. I had never talked to anyone who knew what was back there. Forty-five minutes into the hike, we found what we didn’t exactly know what we were looking for.

We looked up and it was as if it just suddenly appeared. An old abandoned house with no power poles or roads leading to it, but instead, an isolated railroad track ran right in front of the house.  Only a few miles from civilization, yet completely forsaken. The entire house was covered in moss. We dared to step inside.

The front door was already open. The couch in the living room was rotted out. The floor of the back bedroom and bathroom was gone. The only proof of recent life was in one of the kid’s bedrooms. Blue shag carpet. Tinker toys. And the local newspaper, The Times Journal, from 1986.

Mentone, AL

The year I started kindergarten was the last time a family had lived there, evidently. In a way, my dad and I discovered it. If anyone in my town wanted to know details about this forgotten house, they would have to come to us. Otherwise, for all practical purposes, it doesn’t exist.

And it’s that sort of discovery that is the motivation for my constant attraction to hiking the woods. It’s what I do. I thrive on it. Not hiking a three day excursion through Catskill Mountains surviving on Cliff Bars and filtered urine. But just finding simple forgotten pockets of wilderness wherever I am.

Today I spent my lunch break from work hiking in the woods behind my office building and found a mysterious soccer field with no parking lot or road leading to it. And an old pony stall. And a frozen baby snake. Perfect.

And as I was searching for pictures of Canyon Land yesterday I stumbled into a new discovery about myself. I am fascinated with abandoned amusement parks. While I didn’t successfully find many pictures of Canyon Land, I did come across several others that fellow abandoned amusement park enthusiasts have taken the time to post. These wonder-playgrounds that once brought thousands of people joy now sit tucked away on the corner of town.

Maybe I romanticize the situation. I see them like Cinderella waiting for someone to come along and save them, bringing them back to their full potential. Like Jim Carrey in The Majestic, I imagine bringing the lost back to life. But for now, these broken-down Ferris Wheels and rusty roller coasters sit quiet like Atlantis.

Below is a collection of the beauty and wonder I see in abandoned amusement parks.  Sometimes creepy.  But what a life they once saw.

And one more thing… Now that you’ve read my take on this, why not read my perspective on being a dad?  That’s right- parenting from a dad’s point of view.  I have been documenting my thoughts as a dad since the week we found out my wife was pregnant.  I formally invite you now to read my “dad blog” by clicking on the link below:

dad from day one