Clem Walker Chappell (1896 – 1965)
I was regrettably young when Uncle Clem died in 1965. He was actually my Dad’s Uncle and thereby my Great Uncle, but he was always just Uncle Clem. He and Aunt Mary Liza could have been mistaken for husband and wife, I guess, but were in actuality brother and sister. Neither one ever married, but they always kept house together.
Some of my fondest childhood memories come from their home. It was just a short walk across two fields and through one little neck of woods. I always thought of it as the ancestral family home in that part of Henry County. According to the court house land records, some of my family had lived in that section since 1827.
The lap siding had never been painted in my memory. A long front porch. A screen door in the middle lined up by a shotgun hallway to the back screen door. Four rooms, two on the left of the hallway and two on the right. Each one had a fireplace with either a coal grate or stove.
Off the back left corner was an extension that was the kitchen. The back porch was an “L” shape to include the screen door from the kitchen. All the floors, walls and ceilings in the house were tongue and groove beaded pine from the kind of trees that don’t exist any longer. There was linoleum “carpet” on some of the floors which had been pressed on enough over the years that you could see the grooves in the wood floor beneath. The biscuits and fried chicken that came out of that kitchen fed men who went off to war and who plowed fields with mules from daylight to dark.
My clearest memory of Uncle Clem is of him riding a mule. He leaned over, reached down, grabbed me by the arm and hefted me up into the saddle in front of him. I wish I could remember how he talked. What he looked like. I liked the smell of his pipe. But most images are blurry, and there are no pictures.
The water spigot was on the back porch. A water bucket hung on a nail below and a ladle hung on a nail overhead. On a hot day that was the best drinking water in the world.
When I was in 9th grade shop, Aunt Mary Liza let me take an old wagon wheel hub from the barn. I made a fairly ugly lamp out of it. I still have it. It reminds of an era of farmers in Georgia whose lives I was lucky enough to have poured into mine. I am not them, but I am better because of them.
The thing that makes any of us better is the strength of character of those who have gone before us. Men who understood the rhythm of working side by side for the common good. Women who valued the gift of family, and who worked harder than anyone to give themselves to those who needed them. Sacrifices made for others rather than pleasures sought for self.
I am molded by them. My memory of Uncle Clem is one of those that cling to my mind like a child that refuses to let go. Some days it is easy to go there. To sit on the back porch under the big Oaks, skinny legs dangling over the edge, chickens cackling in the coolness beneath the house set up on field stones. I’m working on a stick with my pocket knife. Uncle Clem is rocking, smoking his pipe. Aunt Mary Liza is fanning herself with one of those wooden handle cardboard fans from Carmichael’s Funeral Home. Jesus is smiling in the picture on the fan. I’m smiling now.
“That hay field sure will be hot tomorrow.”
“Yes sir, I reckon it will.”