Growing up in Smalltown, Alabama

I grew up in the tiny town of Wilmer, Alabama. Wilmer was so small it only had one Baptist Church. I once heard one of Wilmer’s senior citizens brag that in the old days, Wilmer had a movie theater and a hotel, but I never believed them. Its biggest business was a feed mill. That should tell you something about the town. It did have a Methodist Church to give some liberal balance to First Baptist or at least a place for Baptists to go if they got mad at the preacher. A tiny Post Office, Mr. Ward’s Groceries, and Sonny Dossett’s Garage were the heart of the economy of the community.

……….

In those days, when a visiting evangelist came to the First Baptist Church (I don’t think the Methodists had visiting evangelists), he would preach once in the morning about 10:00 and once at night.  Since the church was only about 300 yards from Wilmer School, the older students could attend the morning preaching with a note from their parents. I only went one time because the preacher, in his best booming evangelical voice, told all us seventh-graders on the back pew to be quiet and listen to his preaching.

The only thing more embarrassing to a Southern Baptist-child was having momma come down out of the choir loft on Sunday morning and sit next to them because they were squirming around in the pew. Not that it ever happened to me personally, but I saw it happen. I bet that youngun got switched with a peach-tree switch that he had to pick himself. I heard about that, too.

……….

During the years my years at Wilmer School, we lived on a dirt road with no name, or at least not one that I ever knew about three miles from the town center. Across that red dirt road without a name lived Granddaddy and Granny McAdams.

Granddaddy Mac was not my real granddaddy. ­That was Granddaddy Dunaway, my Daddy’s father, but I didn’t learn about that until I was maybe in the first grade. To increase the familial confusion in my young mind, I had three cousins, Buddy, Bobby, and Cindy Dunaway, who lived down the hill and across the highway from our house.  Their father was my Daddy’s brother, and their mother, Hazel, was Granddaddy Mac’s daughter.  

Just up the no-name dirt road lived Granddaddy Mac’s son, Elmo and his wife, Dubie, and my cousins, Gary and Terri. Dubie (Christian name–Gloria) was a Dunaway before she became a McAdams. So, Buddy, Bobby, and Cindi were double-first cousins with Terri and Gary, who were all just regular old first cousins to me.

I only mention all this to say that real grandparents and almost-real grandparents really do not make much of a difference when you grow up on a red dirt road-with-no-name. I just ate supper at whichever house on the road had it ready first, and then I ate again when my Daddy got home from work.

……….

Growing up, I was a pissant. Clear and simpl. But I could run forever up and down that red dirt road. As I recall, probably the fastest I ever ran was when a nest of yellow jackets decided to fly up my britches legs when I was mowing grass to make some money to go to the Mobile County Fair. I gotta tell you that when a bunch of angry yellow jackets are in your britches and zooming up toward your privates, there is no pride or embarrassment left in your body. Those pants have got to come off, and off they came, as I ran around the yard in my tighty-whities trying to escape those tiny insect fighter jets. Once I made it inside Granddaddy Mac’s screened porch (my britches still on the grass out in the yard), with the dozen stings covered with masticated chewing tobacco or wet Garrett snuff (from Granddaddy Mac, of course), healing the stings could begin. Healing my pride took a bit longer.

One of Granny Mac’s leftover biscuits, a hole punched in the middle and filled with wild honey, and a glass of fresh-from-the-cow milk took care of my pride while I fetched my britches from the yard.

29 Comments »

  1. I, too, grew up in Wilmer, and reside here still. Mr. Buddy Dunaway was one of the most amazing men ever in my life I stayed at he and Mrs. Dot’s house so much growing up, as she was in charge of us GA girls from the Baptist Church. My grandpa, Gene Tanner, was his good friend!! I’m sure they are in Heaven having the best time. I loved reading this, made my heart smile with memories!! Thank you for sharing and I’m glad someone shared your blog so I could see it!

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  2. It sure was nice to here about the good old days in Wilmer . I lived on fourth street. Daughter of warren and Agnes Mcadams’s. We would walk for miles around Wilmer without a care in the world because you always new someone was looking out there window or sitting on the porch like dick and Emma Finn watching you as you played. My mom also had neighborhood children stopping by for whatever she had left on the stove. They would stop by just to see if she had a cold biscuit left. Wilmer also had a skating rink that has been some of my favorite memories of my childhood

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  3. Wilmer had a hotel and a lumber yard at one time. And the train would stop where the hotel was on 6th. My father was born at the Wilmer Hotel. My parents have a business in Wilmer that my mother still runs. My father went to be with Jesus 3 years ago. If you would like to see pictures there are some at Evans Hardware.

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  4. Read your article about the ‘good old days’ and I enjoyed it, but I would like to stress that Wilmer is still that special kind of place. Not too long ago in late March 2011 my husband and I were travelling with our truck and fifth wheel when our truck suddenly died. We later found out that it was catastrophic engine failure and
    the truck engine had to be replaced. We were stranded on the road , not knowing a soul and no way of getting to a safe place. The short version of this story is that 2 brothers Mr. Barry and Mr. Randy pulled our truck and trailer into their farm; allowed us to hook up to water and electricity, and lent us a vehicle. We were complete strangers from Canada and they could not have treated us any nicer. We were their ‘guests’ for 6 days and their kindness and generosity was greatly appreciated. We have very fond memories of what could have been a difficult and stressful time.

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  5. Hi I live on Fourth St. in Wilmer,we have been here for 30 plus years our property is where the sawmill and general store once was my mother in law use to tell me stories as well as my husband’s late Aunt Cornelia Pate …

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  6. My husband grew up in Wilmer, as did his dad and grandparents. The Hare family. We are members of that so called Baptist church you speak of…lol…but guilty of attending functions with our friends over at the Methodist church.. I’m glad we can come together every now and then. 😉 I love history and have always heard stories about what Wilmer used to look like. I’m certain my father in law (Joe Hare) was a councilman back in the day. And I too have heard of the theater and hotel. What a sight it must have been back then, compared to now! And oh how I Iove that old Garage building on the corner, it’s an architectural reminder of the simplicity and beauty of long ago. As is alot of other places in our community. Although now much more run down and lacking splendor. I enjoyed reading your story! I lived in Tanner Williams as a child and I am part of the Historical Society in Tanner Williams. I have thought many times at trying to organize a society for Wilmer. I know there are many who long to clean up our little town, and community! Maybe one day I will! 😊

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  7. Mickey I went to Semmes too same classes as you but, I was one of the students that stood back. Have been reading your stories and love ❤️ going back in time. Keep writing and I will keep reading. 👋

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    • Thanks so much Allie. If you are not a follower of Southern Exposures, just open a post and look to the side or the bottom (depending on what device you are reading it on, and select the FOLLOW button and include your email address.

      You might also be interested in my new book, Angry Heavens: Struggles of a Confederate Surgeon. You can find info about it a few blogs back.

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  8. I was thirty when we moved to Wilmer and stayed for fifty years. Wonderful years. Sooo happy there. Wonderful people. Always something going on.

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  9. I half grew up in Wilmer. My mother and father were from Wilmer. My Grandmother Vira Cox was the Postmaster for over 40 years and my Grandfather ran the grocery store on the corner. They lived in the pretty house next door. We had the best of both worlds. We would come to Wilmer and go to Bible school at the Baptist church where my grandfather was a member and the come back for Bible school at the Methodist church where my grandmother was a member. And the we had Bible school at our church in Mobile. And yes there was a hotel. I have a picture somewhere. Thanks so much for the memories

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  10. Hi my names christina i grew up in Wilmer my great grandfather name was Dan Maples and his wife was Aline Stringfellow Maples . my grandma was Bonnie Maples. I sti live here today

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    • I remember the Maples and the Stringfellow names for sure. Thanks for reading my blog. Hope you will choose to follow Southern Exposures. Just look to the right side of the blog or at the bottom for the FOLLOW button. Hit it and put your email and I will send you a notice each time I write a new story. Again, thanks so much for your comments.

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  11. Great story Mickey, I grew up hearing stories from my Dad and Uncle about staying with their Grand Parents in Wilmer. Lots of family still there. I will be following future stories.

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  12. I still live on that little dirt road. Grandaddy Dunaway built the house that I live in. He died before I was born but I did have the privilege of growing up here with all of his children. They were my great aunts and uncles and grandparents. our blood runs deep on this hill. It’s still a wonderful place to live. Thank you for the story.

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  13. I still live on that little dirt road. I’ve moved away a time or two but I’m here to stay now. I had the privilege of growing up surrounded by all my great aunts and uncles. My great grandfather( your grandfather)built the house I live in. The memories I’ve made here are worth more to me than anything else I possess. Wilmer has changed a lot through the years but there is still a strong sense of community here that spans back through generations. It’s a wonderful place to call home.

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  14. I grew up in Wilmer on a dirt road called Grady Dunn rd. Some of the best years of my childhood was to jump on my horse and ride to snuffy smiths grocery. Have a cold pop and ride back home. My parents never worried. Wilmer was safe. I no longer live in Wilmer but my parents still live on the same land on Grady Dunn rd that I grew up on. I still go home for holidays and to visit sometimes. A lot has changed over the years. No longer a red dirt road and snuffy smiths is closed now. My bus driver Ms. dossett passed away. Still love going home.

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  15. So I am one of the many Evans’ that have lived and grown up in Wilmer. My Daddy (Perry Evans) was born in the Wilmer Hotel to talked about. About 65 years ago he open and ran Evans General Store. In 1975-76 he sold the grocery part and just did Hardware. It then became Rex’s Dixie Dandy.
    I have considered Wilmer my home for 60 years. I am a member of the other Church….Wilmer United Methodist Church. I loved we shared and sometimes still share Vacation Bible School and Easter Sunrise Service at Thornburg’s Lake. Thornburg’s lake is where we all learned to swim. My mother is still working in what we call Evans Hardware at 86 years of age. It is not easy on small business people anymore. Wilmer is changing, but still a great place to live.

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    • What a wonderful family story. Thanks so much for adding it to my “kinda” true story. I remember when the Methodist and Baptist Churches had joint services. Certainly an example of a different time and place.

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    • Edith, I knew your Aunt and Uncle really well. I had Miss Mary Ellen for Biology and perhaps my fondest memories from her class are the leaf and insect collections we had to do. My only picture in the Camellia Yearbook was a pic of me showing off my insect collection! I also remember going out to her home and picking blueberries! Thanks again for stirring these memories for me. I hope you follow my blog. Lots more stories to come!

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