It's a great time of the year to celebrate my Irish heritage!! Now, where's my "Kiss Me, I'm Irish!" button?
Do you ever wonder how you got here? No, I’m not talking about the cabbage-patch thing. I’m talking about your roots, and what brought you to Statham. Unless you’re of Native American heritage, chances are, somebody hanging from one of the branches of your family tree got on a boat somewhere, sailed across the pond, and set up housekeeping on good old American soil. Several of my friends are into the genealogy thing, and have traced their roots back to Eve. Well, maybe not quite that far, but I have seen some pretty impressive family lines, one even dating back to Charlemagne. Royalty!
It takes little imagination to guess the origin of my family. With a name like Dunahoo, (variant of Donahue, as in Phil… no relation to yours truly) it’s pretty natural to assume an Irish lineage. There’s gotta be some ‘taters in there somewhere. “Dunahoo” is actually the reduced, Anglicized form of the Gaelic name O’Donnchadha. Sometimes it is Anglicized as Duncan, for those of Scottish descent. The “meaning” of the name has something to do with a brown-haired man or chieftain, and the word “battle”. Maybe that means my great-grandpappy 20 times removed was a Fabio-esque, brown-haired warrior, fighting for Truth, Justice, and the American… I mean the Irish Way!!
Or not. I have seen photos of some of my ancestors. There is nothing Fabio-esque about any of them. It seems they were a rowdy bunch, though, and back in 1825, my great, great, great- grandpappy William Michael Dunahoo decided he’d had enough oppression from the King of England. He made the decision at the ripe old age of 16 to come to America. The original American Dream. The fact that he had no money for passage was only a minor deterrent. Ticket? Who needed a ticket? There was all manner of space within the bowels of the ships headed to America. In the wee dawn of morn back in 1825, he made his way down to the docks under the cover of darkness. Looking over his shoulders to be sure no one was watching, he grabbed onto the ropes that moored the ship, and climbed hand-over-hand until he reached the deck. No Homeland Security personnel to pat him down, or ask for his papers. Just a few crew members on lookout, snoring softly at their watch. Stealthily he found his way down, down, down, into the belly of the ship, and settled in among the wooden crates. Weary from his adventure, he fell into a sound sleep, awakened only by the gentle sway of the vessel as it crept out of the harbor at daybreak. For several days, he kept himself hidden, surviving on stale bread that he had brought along in his knapsack, and small sips of water from a bottle. Once he was sure they were far enough out to sea that they wouldn’t return and force him to disembark, he showed himself on deck, and began working as a crewman. At the end of the voyage, he set foot on American soil, and proclaimed it home. He never again saw the family he left behind in Ireland.
I’m so glad that Great-Great-Great Grandpappy Michael was an adventurous young man. I don’t fancy myself as looking so hot in plaid, and I’m really glad that my daddy didn’t wear a kilt. (Not dissing the culture, mind you, I simply prefer to see men wearing britches instead of skirts.) Great x3 Grandpappy Michael had a son named William, who meandered around the south and landed in Alabama for a while. At some point, he loaded his family and belongings onto a covered wagon and headed east, eventually landing in Jackson County, Georgia. Soon we find the Dunahoo clan right here in Barrow County, where Great x2 Grandpappy William’s son, Lawrence Edward, would end up in a little settlement that would become Statham. Great-Grandpappy Lawrence would have three sons: My grandfather Willie, my great-uncle Ralph, and my great-uncle Clarence. Lawrence brought his family to Statham, where he purchased the land that is now home to the American Legion. There he would raise his three boys, and work the land as a turnip farm. My grandfather, Willie, had found work that took him away from Statham. He was 24 years old when he received the news that his father had been struck by an automobile on the Atlanta Highway, near the present-day Little League fields, and was killed. Daddy Bill returned home to take over the turnip farm. My mother Doris, her siblings Carolyn, Joyce, Sue, and Peggy, were all raised at “The Legion House”, as we now refer to it. Two sisters, Linda, and Sarah Nell, died as children. My uncle Ricky was born later, after they moved “to town”.
My great-uncle Ralph also chose to stay here in Statham, where he would marry and have two girls, Becky and Cynthia. He was a wood worker/carpenter, and had a great shop in his back yard on Broad Street. I loved to go in there and smell the freshly cut wood, and play in the piles of sawdust. Great-uncle Clarence took off for parts unknown and ended up in California. I have relatives out there whom I’ve never met, and most likely, never will. Such a small world, sometimes… yet so big.
Our little town was first known as “Beadland”, because the first white settlers purchased the land for 14 pounds of beads from the Creek and Cherokee Indians in 1784. When the post office was built, we were known as Barber Creek, then Delay. The town was re-named Statham in 1892, after the rail lines came through. The railroad was built in 1890, resulting in a booming little town that ensured us a permanent place on the map.
While the railway was being built, fill dirt was needed for the tracks, and lots of it came from the land behind where the Legion House would later be built. This left a huge hole in the ground that became known as the “Ballas Pit”. (I’m pretty sure the correct word is ‘ballast’, but part of our Southern Charm is how we pronounce our words-- right, ya’ll?). My mom and aunts tell stories of great adventures in the giant canyon just over the hill in their back yard. Exploration of the pit often produced treasures of broken dishes, arrowhead stones, or other discarded items from years gone by. A giant mound of sand served as the perfect place to play King-Of The-Mountain. Sounds like a tragedy waiting to happen to me, but I’m not aware of any landslides or cave-ins.
I guess I never thanked Daddy Bill and Uncle Ralph for setting down their roots, and staying right here in Statham. Over the years, as the economy wax and waned, there must have been temptations and opportunities elsewhere, but these two Dunahoo men stayed the course, and remained in Statham until their deaths, Daddy Bill in 1989, and Uncle Ralph, who we just lost in 2010. For sure, I’d like to thank my great-granddaddy Lawrence for coming to Statham to start with, and for having a part in building our little town.
I used to be jealous of my cousins who lived in The Big City (suburbs of Atlanta). Life on Broad Street was often boring. The end of the road where we lived wasn’t even paved with asphalt until I was a young teenager. My end of the road was riddled with potholes, and the city’s idea of repairing them was to fill them with tar. That worked fine in the cold weather, but the hot summer days would find us popping the little bubbles in the tar, and riding our bikes over the sticky spots, leaving behind a trail of tire tracks. There were many days when boredom would take over, and I would form an obstacle course over the potholes, and challenge myself to see how fast I could get from point A to point B, making sure I hit every hole. My city-slicker cousins never got to do that! Nor were they able to get on their bikes, round up a group of friends, and be gone all day long. Our mamas knew that SOMEBODY in town would be keeping an eye on us. We couldn’t get away with much. There was always someone watching… someone who would tell our mamas if we misbehaved. We’d stay at this house for a while, then ride over to another house, pick up a few more friends, and off we’d go again.
On Sunday afternoons, we would pool our nickels and dimes, and one or two brave girls would cross “The Highway” on foot and go to Seagraves’ store. There we would purchase one can of Underwood Deviled Ham, a small loaf of bread, and if someone had extra riches to share, a small bag of potato chips. We would then load our stash into the wicker baskets on our bikes, ride through town, hang a left then a right, and coast down the hill to J. S. Hall’s little fish pond. We’d gather in a little circle, and the picnic would officially begin. Invariably someone produced a dull kitchen knife, and maybe we had napkins, maybe not. Sometimes we would wash our hands in the murky water of the pond, sometimes we didn’t bother. A deviled-ham sandwich never tasted so good, as when shared among a small, tight-knit group of girls enjoying the freedoms of living in a small town. There were two rules at The Pond. No Swimming, and No Boating. There was a tiny little john-boat that was always pulled halfway up on the bank. For those of you not familiar with J.S.’ pond, it isn’t very big at all-- maybe 25 yards across, at best. I never knew how deep it was, but I’m sure I could probably stand in the deepest part and not have to worry about drowning. But to our young minds, it was as deep and treacherous as any ocean, and we were horrified of falling in, and never even once considered getting in the boat.
Well… we did consider it just once. One afternoon, we were all feeling a little sassy. So we decided we would get in The Boat and take a little paddle around The Pond. Once we piled in and shoved off, we were met with a terrible truth: There Were No Paddles. We were stranded in the middle of The Pond with No Paddles. About that time, a car turned onto Lakewood Drive, and we started to panic. I was wearing my mom’s watch that day, and I vividly remember being more afraid of ruining her watch in the water than I was of drowning in The Treacherous Pond, or even the prospects of being caught in The Boat. Thankfully, the driver of the car was NOT one of our parents, nor was it J.S. (The driver must have been a lost stranger driving through. For sure it wasn’t anyone local, because our mamas and J.S. never found out about The Boat Incident.) Somehow we used our hands to splash our way back to the safety of dry land, and the adventure was over. Well, actually, THEY splashed us back. No way was I going to chance ruining my mom’s watch by putting MY hands in the water!!
Such fun memories from days gone by, when life passed at a slower pace, and we took such pleasure in the little things. Like riding bikes down friendly streets, stopping to talk with folks sitting on the porch. Taking a break from the sun on Uncle Ralph’s front porch, enjoying the cool breeze and a ride on the famous kiddie swing. At the time, we didn’t realize how truly fortunate we were. We just felt safe and secure in our little town where everyone knew everyone, and our curfew was “before dark”. No pagers or cell phones to keep track of our every move. We had each other, and we had neighbors who cared.
My City Slicker Cousins may have had easy access to the mall (I didn’t even know what a mall was when I was a kid), and more exciting things to do and see, but I feel lucky and ever so blessed that my Irish rainbow ended right here in Statham. There’s nowhere else I would rather have grown up. Now, if I could just find that leprechaun who took off with our pot of gold…
[Edited to add]: A very special thanks to Uncle Ralph's Daughter, Becky, for the family history. She has done an impressive job of tracing the Dunahoo roots, and she graciously shared the fruits of her labor with me. Thank you, Becky! You Rock!