Paul Kimbell Chappell (1886 – 1951)
My Granddad Chappell was called D’Daddy by my cousins that knew him. He passed away five years before I was born, a fact that has forever made me feel a little bit like I got cheated in life. He is my namesake. There are only three Pauls in the family tree. Him, me, and my grandson who carries it in the middle. The Kimbell came from his grandmother’s maiden name.
Robert Milton was his oldest son and my uncle. Named for both of his grandfathers. My Dad, John Weldon, was named for his great-great-grandfather, and Weldon was the name of the doctor that delivered him into this world.
Those who remember D’Daddy remember him as a farmer and a school bus driver. I’ve seen pictures of the school bus from the old days. Don’t think Blue Bird yellow. It looked more like a Model T Ford on steroids. Rowdy boys hanging out the windows. “Hampton” hand painted on the side. Every now and then he would give a nickel to a kid on his bus that needed it.
I have a page out of the county register that spells out a few details. He was 34 when he signed it in 1920. I notice that I make my cursive ‘p’ a lot like he did. There are three boxes for height: Tall, Medium, Short. Three boxes for build: Lean, Medium, Stout. He checked short and stout. Eyes grey, like mine. Hair brown, like mine. Like mine used to be.
Dad described him as a man who “farmed in the planting season and ran a saw mill in the winter months”. That was his life. The old barn that still stands at the home place is built out of timber he cut right there on the farm. For years, when we hauled cows to the sale, we covered the bed of the truck with sawdust from his old mill site. A pile the size of a house on the back of our place.
I don’t know the exact years, but it was in the 20s that the boll weevil wiped out his cotton crop. He thought it was a fluke of nature and planted again the next year only to be wiped out again. The Great Depression came along and like a lot of families, they barely hung on.
One time he was helping the Nutt family farm about a mile down the road. That evening, when he started his walk home, a storm came up. It got dark quick and he stepped just inside one of their barns to get out of the weather. There was a bench next to the crib. Sitting there, every time the lightning flashed, he could see another fella walking toward the barn. See him plain as day.
What he didn’t think about was that the other fella couldn’t see him inside the shadow of the barn. So this guy steps under the shelter into the dark and sits on the bench right next to D’Daddy who said, “Bad storm.” As the story goes, that fella tore out of the barn and never looked back. Said he always wanted to apologize but never knew who he was.
I’m told he kept a pearl handle pistol hanging on a nail over the mantel. One night the farm hands got a little loud drinking and playing cards. He could hear the racket from inside the house. He took the pistol, went to the back door, swung it open and from under the door frame emptied it out across the field in the direction of the farm house. It got real quiet. Next morning, one of the hands came into the kitchen to get some warm water for milking. D’Daddy asked him if everybody was alright.
“Yes sir,” he said. “That first shot knocked the door knob across the room. The second shot made the stove pipe fall to the floor. We all scattered. But ain’t nobody got hurt.”
Dad always said that it was a miracle nobody got killed. But that was D’Daddy. He worked hard and expected everyone else to work hard. He was willing to give anyone anything they needed if he had it. He loved Susie, his wife. They had six children. One died as an infant. One girl, Mary Kate, died at around 10-12 years of age. Three I knew as my Aunts and Uncle. And he died way too early at 65 years of age.
I own two things that I know for sure were his. A 1917 Ithica Double Barrel 12 Gauge. And an old mule harness with the traces and hames still intact. Both hang on the wall in my manly room at home. They are among my most prized possessions.
Though I never knew him, I have walked where he walked. The terraces where we cut hay were the terraces where he plowed behind a mule. We have seen the sun rise and fall from the same hilltop. I imagine that we have cupped our hands and drank from the same creek. One day I hope his grandson gets the chance to shake the hand of the man he is named after.