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.