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.


Food Fast Companies Use Red And Yellow In Their Logos

Sometimes as an elementary school kid I would just simply luck out. An announcement would come over the brown loudspeaker in class to announce that in the afternoon in the auditorium we would be having a Snake Show. Maybe this is just a northern Alabama thing, I don’t know. But what I do know is the entire school got to skip Social Studies once a year to see The Snake Man share his crazy collection of snakes onstage.

Cobras, water moccasins, racers, and even a giant anaconda which he let a group of volunteers hold in a group effort. Every once in a while, he would purposely (“accidently”) let a snake slither off the display table onto the stage of the floor. And whenever that happened, a piercing scream filled the non air conditioned room as many of the girls (and boys) yelled in terror at the top of their lungs.

The Snake Man defined what it meant to have a backwoods country Southern accent, like the kind State Troopers have in Virginia. He had these old fashioned jokes that he thought were hilarious. And by the 4th grade, I had memorized his routine. When he pulled out the albino rattlesnake, he would always say: “The reason this snake is white is because of lack of pigment in his genes. Now I don’t mean blue jeans…” At the end of the show, he gave us all some tips on how to know which snakes were poisonous and which were not. And I will never forget this:

“Red and black, you can pet his back. Red and yella, will kill a fella.”

After the days of Snake Shows were done, I was part of DECA, a Marketing class and club in high school. I loved it. I was actually good at it. We had competitions and got to travel. In the class I learned some neat behind-the-scenes stuff about advertising. One of the things was this: Fast food restaurants usually only use two colors for their signs: Red and yellow.

A quick Wikipedia search of some of the meanings of these colors is interesting. Red: exit, energy, passion, love. Yellow: Slow, fun, happiness, friendship, hope. A person is driving along, sees the red and yellow sign, and subconsciously thinks, “I need to SLOW down and EXIT here, because I have a PASSIONATE LOVE for that food. It brings me HAPPINESS and HOPE, not to mention ENERGY. And Ronald McDonald is my FRIEND.”

It’s hard to find an exception to the red and yellow fast food sign rule. McDonald’s, Burger King, Hardees (Carl’s Jr.), Krystal, Sonic, In-N-Out Burger, Taco Bell, Arby’s, Wendy’s, Popeye’s, Pizza Hut, Bojangle’s. A Google image search will cease any doubts.

Red and yella will kill a fella. Applies to snakes and food.

Christianity and Wine

Wine not?

Taboo is an interesting thing. As the opening line to the theme song of the classic inter-racial sitcom Diff’rent Strokes goes, “Now the world don’t move to the beat of just one drum: What might be right for you, might not be right for some.” From the society of a small family, to a town, to a nation, certain collective behavioral beliefs help unify a group of people to identify as one, bringing a sense of safety in numbers as well as vindication that their own viewpoint really is the best one.

As I researched for my epic “Beauty and Self-Worth aren’t the Real Issues, Lack of Will Power Is” last week, I learned some interesting things about food and drinks that are considered taboo by certain cultures. For example, throughout the centuries coffee has been banned by different countries (including our own) and religious groups (at one time Catholics and currently Mormons). Caffeine is an addictive drug and many people have seen coffee as a controlled substance, as it causes its consumers to become dependent on a drink that can change their demeanor simply by its consumption or lack of it, after the tolerance is built up.

It’s hard to imagine that drinking coffee (and other caffeine-laced beverages like tea and Red Bull) would be taboo to anyone. But considering its addictive qualities along with its mood-altering and heart rate changing abilities, it does have some similarities to alcohol, which is more easily condemned by religious groups. Muslims, Hindus, Rastafarians (though they encourage/require marijuana use), and Mormons are the most solid in their shunning of alcoholic beverages.

As for Protestant Christians, it’s namely Baptists and Methodists that have a stance of little to no tolerance for alcohol, often stated in their church by-laws. (Being that my hometown is almost completely represented by Baptists and Methodists, the sell or purchase of alcohol was illegal in the county until 2006.) However, because of their proximity to the Catholic Church, Episcopalians and Presbyterians tend not to look down on alcohol consumption.

Being Baptist my entire life, I always thought it was weird that Catholics actually drink wine during the service, in particular for the Lord’s Supper. Obviously Jesus and his disciples drank wine for the Last Supper, but we always used Welch’s grape juice (a company that got its start by offering non-alcoholic grape juice to the American Christians who saw drinking wine as sinful). After high school I moved away from my “dry” hometown and graduated from a one year (Baptist affiliated) Bible college in Florida then earned my English degree from Jerry Falwell’s (openly Baptist) Liberty University in Virginia, both saturated in an “alcohol is taboo and prohibited” culture.

Then I moved to Nashville.

An interesting crossbreed between churches and bars. A culture where drinking beer is in the same category as drinking soda. In other words, it’s just another beverage. Like in Europe. And I quickly learned that judgmental attitudes towards alcohol were nowhere to be found, even in Baptist circles. A person could actually sincerely love both Jesus and beer. In fact, last Fall my Sunday School class took a tour of Nashville’s own Yazoo Brewery as a fun activity.

When I finally accepted the fact that alcohol was no longer a moral issue to me, a revelation I had was this: Alcohol use does not necessarily equal alcohol abuse. Before, my mind saw any consumption of alcohol as an instant link to drunkenness and alcoholism. That is a stigma that has since been dissolved from my mind.

An interesting exception to the alcohol ban in Christian circles is best expressed in a quote I would always hear from my friends growing up: “My parents don’t drink, except for a little wine on their wedding anniversaries.” The alcoholic content of the average beer is around 5%. However, wine typically starts between 12 to 15%. Why was strong wine overlooked for special occasions but weak beer condemned?

There are several reasonable answers to this paradox, just like there are many understandable points on why certain religions prohibit alcohol. And because good cases can be made for both acceptance and rejection, it’s remains taboo for some and completely normal for others.

Ironically, the same parts of the Bible that caused me to believe alcohol consumption was wrong before, are now the same verses that give me confidence that for me, it’s no longer a moral issue. In fact, some of the best spiritual growth I’ve done in my entire life was during the time period that I figured this thing out for myself. Whereas before I was either too young to drink, banned by my college, or a part of a culture that shunned alcohol, the independence I found by sorting out my view on the issue helped me become aware of the spiritual side effect that a “no alcohol” lifestyle had on me: I was secretly judgmental of those Christians who drank.

But in the classic case of “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em”, I realized that I had been treating the issue like some of the Jewish leaders did the law of Moses. They judged Jesus for healing sick people on the Sabbath. Even though the law more generically instructed the people to make the Sabbath day a time of rest and remembering God, the Jews stretched this and in their own interpretation added to the law, stating exactly how many steps a person could walk on the Sabbath, considering anything more than that to be work, therefore breaking the law of Moses. Judging the people by a higher standard of the law than God actually gave to the people.

I allowed myself to believe that the wine of the Bible was different than wine today. Because that excused Jesus of drinking it. And that helped me better accept the fact that Jesus’ first miracle was turning the water into wine at the wedding, and that he knew enough about wine that he might the good kind, and people at the wedding noticed it. But even if there was less alcohol content in the wine of Biblical times, it couldn’t have been much less. Jesus drank real wine. I finally stopped judging Jesus and others for it. And once I joined the crowd, not for reasons of peer pressure but because of personal conviction, I realized my walk with Christ matured.

Now I know that a person can have a daily personal relationship with Jesus, can read and study the Bible, can pray for others, and appreciate good wine and beer, because I have become that person. After daily praying for years that God would show me my flaws and my sins, my prayers were answered when I, in a sense, took real communion for the first time.

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Here are some excerpts from Paul’s letters to the church in the book of I Corinthians regarding eating food sacrificed to idols. These are the quotes that have bounced around in my head as I’ve established my own beliefs regarding food and drink:

“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not from your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body. (6:19,20).”

“But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak (9:11).”

“For through your knowledge he who is weak is ruined, the brother for whose sake Christ died. And so by sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ (8:11,12).”

“Whether, then, you eat or you drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (10:31).”

Water2Wine