Going to See God’s People
By Mickey Dunaway
It is Saturday, August 13th, 2022, and Sandy and I are on the road to God’s Country to see God’s People in South Alabama. We are going with the purpose of finding out about my mama and daddy when they were young and their relationships with other Dunaways and Yorks and Parkers and Fuquas and Cowans through the years.
We’ll walk down the sandy dirt road of our lives. Might walk in the woods where we hunted squirrels and rabbits.
I want to determine how we became the geographically extended yet close family we are today. The standard for my search is my Grandaddy Dunaway—humble, loving, and genuine. With A 5th-grade education, he and Granny Dunaway raised a family who shared their values—then and now.
I’ll be visiting places where I grew up in the 1950s and 60s—if I can find them. The public school that started my life as a teacher. The river where I learned to tight-line fish with a cane pole, a sinker, hook, and worm on the end of the line in the swift water of the Escatawpa River that defines the Alabama-Mississippi line—a tannin-stained masterpiece of dark water holes and snow white sand bars.
I will visit my 96-year-old Aunt Hazel Dunaway, my daddy’s sister-in-law and the last member of their generation of husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, aunts and uncles.
Visiting my Aunt Pat—my mother’s youngest sister—is high on my list of priorities. She is 87 and tells me she is not sure what she can add! Yeah right! Afterward, I will sit down with my former boss, who taught me to be a leader and remains my dearest friend.
I will sit down with two older cousins born during WWII—my brother makes the third person in that group. They are the last of the children born to Granddaddy’s children, and, importantly, they were born during WWII. The ages of these three are 79, 80, and 81. Their contemporaries have passed on.
There will be a side trip to Gulf Breeze, Florida, for lunch with friends from our 20s. We went to church, played softball and basketball, and hung out together. Many of our children were born within months of each other, and parenting was a frequent topic when we got together.
On the way back to North Carolina, we’ll spend some time with my brother, Bill. I know he knows lots about mama and daddy that I don’t know. It’ll be fun to find out what I know and don’t know! I’m pretty sure we’ll find an afternoon for fishing, too.
We will visit with friends from Auburn. We were Best Men in each other’s weddings in 1968. A lot of catching up to do over that lunch. Long, long overdue.
We will stop by Atlanta and spend the night with the grandkids. And on our way back to Cornelius and home to pick up our two Brittanys, we’ll take a side trip to Tignal, Georgia, in Wilkes County. The town of Tignal sits near the South Carolina border. It is home to The Dunaway Cemetery, where we expect to find the graves of some of our oldest ancestors who fought with George Washington.
To document this desperately-needed-post-pandemic-exploration-vacation, I will be audio-recording our Dunaway-family conversations. Then, I will take pictures by the hundreds of familiar places of years gone by that likely will not be so familiar these days. And that is OK. That is how life evolves and changes.
Once back in my study on Coulter Parkway in Cornelius, NC, it will be time to categorize everything we have learned on this trip. I know there will be a lot of reflecting and coffee-discussions about what we learned before I ever begin the real work of creating a method of cataloging the facts and impressions we have gathered.
Facts will be easy. Verifying and clarifying and digging deeper with impressions is harder. I know that at some point, WE (my brother and his two contemporaries—Pinky and Liz—and I) will have to ask: If this seems genuine, and that seems true, is that the reason Granddaddy Dunaway’s family moved from Canoe, Alabama to Munson, Florida?
In the meantime—working in the “Way-back Machine”— is a professional genealogist I have hired whose specialty is colonial Virginia. She will look for the first Dunaways who set foot in America, eventually migrated through the Carolinas and Georgia to settle in God’s Country, and were directly related to Granddaddy Dunaway.
I can see my small office plastered with Post-It notes and the electronic equivalent in the iMac on my desk.
At this point, the real work begins. I must create a glue that will allow me to create entirely plausible and exciting fictional scenarios that tightly bind the facts we know to times and places we can only wonder about.
It will ultimately be a historical novel featuring the Dunaway family down through the decades and eras until the Dunaway-family sailors and soldiers return home from WWII.
The working title is tentatively “Down a Sandy Dirt Road” because there was a time when we lived many years in a shot-gun house at the end of that road.
As I was growing up, the Dunaways would gather under a giant Live Oak tree at the end of summers. My daddy would fry fish over an open fire using a frying pan built with railroad iron by my Grandfather Cowan—a man I never knew.
Wish me good luck!
I should have made this trip years ago, but I was too busy. Don’t wait until you are 75 to make your trip to see your God’s People.