Down MANY Sandy Dirt Roads

By Mickey Dunaway

Many of the wonderful people we had discussions with on this remarkable trip Down Many Sandy Dirt Roads have already received the written version of this post. However, they have not yet received this version which contains the pictures I took with my iPhone 12 and my Fujifilm X-T100. It also includes many old family photos that my cousin Liz provided. Cousin Pinky was saving a big envelope of memories I have not yet opened. I have a similar envelope that my brother Bill gave me. Once I returned home, my most frequent demon, PROCRASTINATION, whispered in my ear and told me that once I opened these envelopes, I must get serious about writing this book. And I cannot disagree. Procrastination has been a companion since college as I do my best work when I wait until near the deadline.  


As Sandy and I headed home from Marietta and the grandkids, most of our four-hour drive up I-85 was spent talking about The Trip. Truthfully, I am not a “Bucket List” kind of guy. I tend to be a let’s do it again kind of guy. As in—if it was really fun catching redfish in Louisiana, then let’s do it again.

But if you are a bucket list person, then a Down-a Sandy-Dirt-Road trip needs to be at the top of your list before memories—yours and others — start slipping away. We have zero regrets, and the fun was beyond measure. Besides conducting what I will label for the IRS as research for my next book, we built in time to visit with special friends we had not seen in two forevers. We ate seafood at Lulu’s at the Gulf with friends from our twenties with whom I played softball once a week for ten years. We were on a team of players for the Springhill Avenue United Methodist Church, which is why I am a Methodist today. You had to attend church if you wanted to play on the team! That group hung around together each year, long after softball, until we all had kids, and that “changed the game” as it does for everyone. 

We picked up my former boss from when I was an assistant principal at Baker High School in Mobile from 1978-84. She was the first female high school principal in Mobile County, and I came on board during her first year. I attribute most of the skills I used when I was hired as a high school principal in Alexander City, Alabama to her mentoring and remarkable friendship through the years. Those years now number forty-four. My students at the University of NC – Charlotte were also the beneficiaries of that friendship.


Once we returned to Bill and Helen’s in Montgomery, we recorded a session trying to think of all the questions we left out of our other sessions. However, Bill and our mutual friend, Philip Saunders, and I spent an afternoon bass fishing at a favorite spot south of Montgomery. The next day, Sandy and I had lunch with two very special friends. How special? I was the best man at Mickey and Sue’s wedding, and he was the best man at our wedding. Hard to get more special than that unless you have not taken the opportunity to sit down with them in more than forty years. As we sat down for lunch, the years passed away, and the memories flowed like an artesian spring—the water was cool and fresh and unending as our memories from days at Auburn.


Sitting at my desk, with Boomer on his bed and my iMac at my fingertips, I started reflecting on why our road trip was so special above the things I mentioned above. 

I think I have a clue: I like to put things into tables—it helps me see relationships and the strengths of relationships. Below is the table on which the rest of this retrospective is built—the memories shared across five groups of people who were special as I grew up and have remained special even though I have far too often let years slide by without telling them what it means to me to be a Dunaway in our large Dunaway Family Tree.

The table below represents my attempt at developing a means of melding together all the years of what it means to be a Dunaway. Certainly, this is not everyone. Finishing the gathering of memories will lie with you here and your direct descendants.  Please keep the spark, the bond, the glue that has held us together fresh and strong by remembering the stories. Please write them down—old and new— and don’t worry about grammar or spelling. That is what computers are for these days. Worry about feelings—what it felt like when it happened and what it feels like right now as you remember it.

Name, Age, Years of Dunaway-influenced Memories, Relationships

The total number of 792 years of memories just astounds me and challenges me to adequately represent our Dunaway Line that began for us with Granddaddy Dunaway. It goes far backward, and I don’t think that Granddaddy just emerged out of the miasma of the depression to be our paragon of Dunawayness.


The Dunaways of Wilmer, Alabama

Many members of the modern Dunaway Family line are buried in Wilmer Cemetery, including William Herbert Dunaway and Bessie York Dunaway.


Below are many members of the Dunaways family who lived in Wilmer for a lifetime or at least most of their lives in Wilmer, Alabama. Munson, Florida, is the Dunaways’ homeplace of the 1930s, and they moved as a group from Munson and also to Wilmer-Georgetown Road. Grandaddy Dunaway, our patriarch, married Bessie York, our matriarch and Grandmother.  Did they meet in Wilmer?


Yorks and Dunaways – Close in Life and Close in Death

Immediately below are many members of the York family who resided at least for a time in Wilmer, Alabama. Their homeplace was Georgiana, Alabama, but they moved as a group to Wilmer-Georgetown Road.  


The Town of Wilmer

Wilmer was named in honor of Richard Hooker Wilmer, the second bishop of Alabama in the Episcopal Church. The first post office in Wilmer opened in 1894. Wilmer’s first mayor was Perry Walter Evans, who also founded Wilmer’s fire department. Wilmer’s zip code is 36587, and its population is 12,053, whereas Semmes’s population is only 4,941. In my growing-up years in Wilmer, I recall that we were always considered the redheaded stepchild compared to Semmes. After all, Semmes had Semmes High School that graduated about 250 people in 1965. 


Having spent one whole day driving around the remembered-Wilmer of our youth, our memories, and with maybe a few tall tales, likely exceeded the current population or at least the population of our youth. As I reflected on my Wilmer-years through the stories we told as we drove around and the photos I perused afterward, I am taken aback by the influence of the people and places of this west Alabama small town on who I was, who I became, and still am. From about 1950 to 1963, until we moved a few miles down U.S. 98, Wilmer was certainly Backwater, Alabama. However, it was also damn sure what this naive but infinitely loved (and frequently tolerated) growing boy needed.


Wilmer Remembered August 15, 2022


Boman Cemetery Populated by Lowerys and Dunaways.

It sits between Atmore and Canoe


The Dunaway Cemetery

Outside the Tiny Town of Tignal in Southeast Georgia

Sandy and I made the trip to The Dunaway Cemetery in Tignal, Georgia near the South Carolina state line on our final Sandy Dirt Road . I was expecting a cemetery with many Dunaway gravestones. What I found is in the four pictures above. I found a gravestone of William Dunaway and a marker placed there by “direct descendants.” Read the marker and the gravestone as Sandy, and I did down this last Sandy Dirt Road of our two-week adventure.

Does our line direct descendants come from this William Dunaway, who fought in the Revolution? We don’t know that yet. As we do know, William was an unremarkable name in this Dunaway clan of ours and others. I have an expert determining as I write this if the Tignal version of William Dunaway is directly related, and that is the key word: DIRECTLY.

What I do know is the influence of the people and geography in the pictures and narrative below that describe an unremarkable Sandy Dirt Road are real—not hoped-for famous ancestors and I wouldn’t trade these God’s People for any ancestor no matter how remarkable.


The Sandy Dirt Road

The Sandy Dirt Road of my youth represents as many precious memories of people, events, and places as one single lane dirt road can possibly create in the life of two country boys who lived in a shotgun house, finished 9th grade at Wilmer Junior High, and graduated in 1960 and 1965 respectively. Both went on to Auburn, a place as foreign as that Sandy Dirt Road would be to a person who never felt sand between their toes or the sting of an angry yellow jacket. Wilmer was home. It was a recreation center filled with squirrels, rabbits, quail, and diamondbacks. It was the stars when stars could still be as bright as the streetlights that still have not appeared on that Sandy Dirt Road. The heavens were at our fingertips after dusk and on our minds after Sunday services at Wilmer First Baptist Church. When the Reverend Billy Dodson gave up his leadership of First Baptist and enlisted as an Army Chaplain to serve in Vietnam, the Almighty sent chills down the spine of this teenage boy contemplating his future. Thank you, Brother Billy, for playing softball with us on Sunday afternoons in the Summer. You will never know how much that taught me about spirituality and piety. Bless you.

The events on or across The Sandy Dirt Road and formed connections and hinges between family members produced the kinds of bonds that held us fast together early in our lives. And gave us the strength to build our own Granddaddy Dunaway Family Tree. With only an eighth-grade education at Canoe High School, Granddaddy Dunaway ground out a family bondable adhesive made of a hard life and hard work and tempered with more than a disproportionate amount of heart and soul, love and gentleness, and kindness and generosity. And he and Granny passed this self-healing, protective, honest, and rock-steady adhesive on to their children and to the wives and husbands who joined the Dunaway Family. Aunt Hazel Dunaway, with whom I have talked and listened for hours, is the last precious original example of the children of William Herbert and Bessie Lee Dunaway. My goodness, how I enjoyed being in her presence and just listening to her memory.  I have it recorded, and one of these days soon, I will put that recording out so that you can hear her, too.


I can vouch that this bond endures in my cousins, all of whom I can still name, and their children and grandchildren, who I cannot name. The cousins our age with whom we romped on Mayo Street and shot at birds with BB guns are older now. I know because I am among that group, and Liz, Bill, and Pinky are still older. The Cousins and Aunt Hazel are really the reason I began this project. We are all examples of the molecular structure of the bonds that join us together in 2022 and shall for the future whatever it may bring.


One day not long ago, I realized how much I did not know about the Glen and Annah Dunaway branch of the Dunaway tree, and I realized (I think with the Almighty’s urging) that I needed to remedy that situation for my children and grandchildren. Because the William Herbert and Bessie Lee Dunaway branch of our Dunaway Tree gave us an inheritance of talents beyond measure passed on to Bill and me through our parents. My experiences with God’s People on The Road Trip impel me beyond hope and rather to expectations that my exploring will define connections I have not known existed to this point in my life.  Putting this new knowledge into words will be both exhausting and exhilarating and has just begun.


I have learned, based on the little I know about our family that came before us, that they invested themselves in us. Their investment was taken surely and directly from the roots of dire poverty and initiated the inventiveness that created the ultimate Grandaddy Dunaway bond that showed us how to become successful and proud Americans. 

Down the way, I will take this retrospective, and I till the fertile loamy soil the Almighty has given us in the Dunaway Name and Dunaway Constitution and plant for future generations. I trust that these seeds will keep OUR FAMILY growing and always celebrate our roots through the bonds of kinship that hold us together and make us uniquely Dunaway.


Once I get started on the dedicated writing of the history, I will post excerpts on Southern Exposures, Facebook, and LinkedIn. If you have not subscribed to Southern Exposures, that is the easiest way to get a notice in your email that I have posted a new story. To follow the stories, go to, open a story, and look toward the bottom right for the Subscribe icon. I hope my research of our distant past proves me right. I will let you know.  


Keep this Conversation Going!


  1. Your words and memories are honey on my tongue and instantly bring back memories and feelings of deep nostalgia. Each grain of sand also brings a level of sadness and longing for something I can only describe as “Semmes.” When I drive through Wilmer, Fairview and then turn left onto Snow Road next to Mary Montgomery High School, I so want to go back to those days, those days of barefeet, walking through the fields and the pungent smell of tomato vines as I pick lucious, ripe, jewels.

    I was a typical youngster, hating chores, shucking corn and shelling butterbeans. On summer vacation, Grandma would wake me up early so I could go out with her and weed flowerbeds before it got too hot. At the end, though, she would surprise me and say, “Now, go get cleaned up. We’re going to Pat’s to take you kids to the pool.” I learned so many things at her knee, lessons I reach back to at least every week to apply to my current daily life. God, I miss those days.

    I was absolutely heart broken when Aunt Pat called me to say Aunt Dadean had sold Grandma’s place. I later found out from the new owners they bought it for $27,000. I didn’t have that kind of money in 1993, but I wanted her place so badly. It was my HOME, where my roots were grounded and I felt secure.

    Yes, I feel the sands of the road you speak of and although we cannot go back in time and change things in our hearts we wish we could, the memories are still there.

    Your mom was so kind to me and I will forever be grateful to her for allowing me to spend a few special weeks in her company in that tiny little cinder block house in Fairview. Sorry about your Gary Lewis album… loved that guy, still do.

    As a post script, please forgive the length of this tome. Karma always bites those in the butt that treat others with disrespect. Aunt Dean and I have never gotten along, but that’s a story for another day. Down in the “corn crib” where the cow stayed at night, there was a big stack of old, moldy books. I don’t know where they came from. The new owners told us that in cleaning out the building for demolition, they found a copy of Mark Twain’s Huckelberry Finn. Turns out, it was a first edition. They sold it and the proceeds paid the mortgage on the place for several years. When we told Aunt Dean about it, she exclaimed, “And they didn’t tell the family (meaning HER)!” KARMA!

    Thank you again for letting me know that I’m not the only one who looks nostalgically on that loamy, sandy soil of a wonderful place called Wilmer, Fairview and, always for me, Semmes.


  2. Nothing like growing up in Wilmer. A place I so desperately wanted to get away from at eighteen – and so joined the Navy – and to which I will excitedly return when I retire in the next few years.


  3. Andy,

    You are so right. I felt the same way when I went off to Auburn.

    But, the reflections after our trip on how much Wilmer and its people have given me growing up, I am astounded at the effects on my life and am so appreciative of it now. We made the trip as a research junket for a book on the Dunaways, and came away with a wonderful appreciation for growing up in small-town Alabama.


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