When he heard about the Heat Homecoming 2015, James Huckcay and his family made plans to travel from their home in Ashville, Alabama to Covington.
After all, Huckcay was a long-time fan of the TV series, “In the Heat of the Night.” He has all eight seasons TiVo’d, and the family had been to Covington in August, visiting places he knew as Sparta, Mississippi.
“[We] went on the self-guided tour, and he got a kick out of it,” said his daughter, Sharon Zito. “He loved looking at the filming locations.”
That’s when they heard about the Heat Homecoming 2015. But a chance to meet some of the surviving cast members, in particular Alan Autry, who played Captain Bubba Skinner, and Dee Shaw, who played Corporal Dee Shepherd, was simply irresistible.
“He was really excited about it, my mom was excited about it,” Zito said. “Right after we got home, he got sick and realized he wasn’t going to get to go.”
Huckcay had cancer. It started with colon cancer, and while that was eradicated, it had already metastasized to liver cancer. So far, Zito said, he’s had surgery, radiofrequency ablation, and radiation and chemotherapy treatments. One spot was removed, another spot was found and he was readmitted to the hospital.
“He didn’t want us to know that he’d been getting sick,” Zito said. “He’s actually lost 20 pounds in little more than a week from the radiation treatments, but he wanted us to go [to the Homecoming].”
Determined her beloved father wouldn’t miss the event, Zito had a photo of him blown up to life size and created a cardboard stand-up Huckcay. His grandchildren, Anthony and Dominic, dubbed it “Paper PawPaw.”
The Adventures of Paper PawPaw begin
Last weekend, Paper PawPaw came to Covington for the Heat Homecoming 2015. Thanks to the staff of the Covington-Newton Chamber of Commerce, he had a private photo session with Autry, Shaw and others the day before the event. He stood behind the cast during the star panel on the downtown Square. He got to try on Chief Gillespie’s jacket, on display at the Welcome Center, and he got a private tour of the chief’s home.
“I knew Dad wanted to get Alan Autry and Dee Shaw’s autographs,” Zito said, “and it was really funny, because when we came in with the cut-out, [Shaw] grabbed it and kissed it.”
It wasn’t just the stars who posed with the stand up.
“People were coming up to us,” she said, adding they had read about Paper PawPaw in the blog on the GoCovington web site. “They’d come up and ask to have pictures taken. Everyone was great! We had the best time!”
After spending time in Covington, Paper PawPaw, along with Zito and her children, headed into Atlanta for the EyeCon Conference. Dominic, Zito said, is a fan of “The Vampire Diaries,” and “The Originals.” Though Zito couldn’t take the cut-out with them to any of the events, there were a few opportunities for photos—one with Chase Coleman, “The Originals” Oliver; another with the stand-up cut-outs of “The Vampire Diaries’” Ian Somerhalder, Paul Wesley and Nina Dobrev; and still more with other fans who found the story of Paper PawPaw irresistible.
PawPaw's travels continue
The Zitos have created a Facebook page for Paper PawPaw, https://www.facebook.com/adventuresofpaperpawpaw, and have already started sending him to friends and family members, who are signing it and sending messages of hope and love to Huckcay.
“If people knew how deserving my dad was and how much he needed something to make him smile,” Zito said.
And smile he did. When Zito and her children surprised Huckcay at the hospital with the photos from their journey, he was amazed.
“At first, we didn’t tell him [about the cut-out],” she said. “We just started showing him the photos. There was a close up of him with Alan Autry, and he said, ‘What did you do?’”
“We too you with us,” she said they told him.
Zito said she is grateful to the people of Covington and the cast of “In the Heat of the Night,” for bringing a smile to her father’s face.
“Covington is a beautiful little community,” she said, “and we’ll certainly promote it like crazy. We’re so grateful for the kindness and generosity people showed us over the weekend.
“As soon as my dad’s better, we’re going to bring him back and take him to some spots we missed on the first tour [in August],” she said.