Wilma and George enjoy relaxing in "the outback", a
cozy retreat as close as their own backyard.
George Chapman, whose adventures in camping and
traveling have taken him and his wife, Wilma, over much of
the United States, may have developed his wanderlust
thanks to his father, Reuben, who moved his family all
over West Tennessee.
"Daddy liked to move," laughs George in what was clearly
an understatement of the many moves made during his
George was born in Dyer County on March 3, 1922. Like
everyone else, his family farmed the land. "That's all we
had," he said, as factories had not yet crept into the
He was eight or nine years old when someone gave his daddy
a blind mule whose strength was nevertheless harnessed by
his resourceful owner. Mr. Reuben fastened a seat for
young George atop a harrow that was pulled by the mule
behind his own plow team. George's job was to ride the
harrow (a rake-like tool dragged over plowed soil to
smooth it for planting) and keep the mule aligned in the
row. When the planting was done, George and the blind mule
harrowed the rows smooth of tracks.
George, his brother Leon and two sisters attended country
schools, with George finishing up the eighth grade in
Weakley County after moves that took him from Dyer County
to Obion County to Weakley County.
He recalls the move to Obion County, at around the age of
12, when he and his brother-in-law transported "two goats,
chickens, and I don't know what else" in a wagon to the
new homestead. A horse tied behind the wagon kept pulling
loose until finally they tied him alongside the mule
pulling the load. The trip from just outside of Dyer to
the new farm seven or eight miles past Rives took a full
day, from early morning until late in the evening, with a
mid-day respite at a country store in Kenton for lunch.
Even then, rest meant staying on the wagon while his
brother-in-law went into the store to buy a lunch,
"probably bologna or cheese and crackers," says George.
The trip was hardest on the animals, who were "so stoved
up they could hardly get out of the stable the next
George began contributing to the family coffer when his
father took on the responsibility of keeping up the
cemetery. "Daddy got me a job keeping cemetery in his
name," he explained. "Back then your parents hired you out
and they got the money, but we didn't have to go hungry."
He worked ten hours a day for 75 cents, or 7.5 cents an
The youngster had around five acres to mow with an old-timey
reel mower, a chore made especially difficult with all the
tombstones around which he had to navigate, though he did
have the help of little brother Leon who did the trim
work. "He was small to his age; he didn't start growing
'til he was 16 or 17 years old," George chuckles, "When we
was farming he was my water boy."
George was 17 when, like many depression-era boys, he
joined the Civilian Conservation Corps, a program devised
during F.D. Roosevelt's presidency to help conserve
natural resources while providing work for the nation's
George was stationed in Camden, which naturally meant his
dad moved the family to a farm outside Camden as well. By
that time, little Leon was the last child at home as both
girls had already married.
When the opportunity arose to transfer to Utah in order to
build more C.C.C. camps, George spent his first year away
from home. He returned to Camden briefly before taking a
job at a steel mill in Gary, Indiana, a move that secured
his release from the C.C.C., as regulations provided that
members could leave after obtaining employment outside the
Working at the steel mill was hot work, with the 3,750
degree molten steel pouring "just like water" into the
molds for the ingots that were shipped elsewhere for
A year after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, when
George was 20 years old, he volunteered for the Navy.
Because he was color blind, he was routed into the famous
Seabees, a militarized Naval Construction Force organized
to build advance bases in the war zone. The Seabees' name
was derived from the initial letters of Construction
Battalion, whose official motto also bore the initials C.B.:
Construimus, Batuimus -- "We Build, We Fight."
The 30 days he was promised before deployment quickly
shrank to three, and George left on Christmas Eve to
Chicago where he boarded a train to Rhode Island, arriving
on a cold Christmas morning. "We like to froze to death,"
Leon had also joined the Seabees and George looked forward
to his brother's arrival in Rhode Island; however, with
the death of the five Sullivan boys aboard the USS Juneau
during the Battle of Guadalcanal, the Navy was hesitant to
station brothers at the same port. Therefore, when Leon
arrived he soon shipped out while George remained in Rhode
Island for the next year and a half before heading to
California. From the Pacific Coast base, the Seabees
maintained Naval bases during duty time. On off days,
George enjoyed hitch-hiking through the great redwood
forests until time dictated the need to return to his duty
His final wartime assignment was in Hawaii, where he was
based in Honolulu for a year before finishing up at Midway
at the war's end.
"I was fortunate in lots of ways," he says of his military
After arriving in San Diego after the war, he spent his 30
days of leave with his parents who were living just
outside of Newbern, then headed back to California where
he was stationed at Arcada on the Oregon line until he was
discharged in 1946 at the age of 25.
"This is when the trouble started," he says, laughing.
"That's where she came in," he continues, referring to
Wilma, who was a 15-year-old high school student at the
Wilma was among a group of friends who got together
frequently, their transportation often the big truck that
was driven by George. "Everybody would just load up in the
truck and go," Wilma says, recalling one evening when the
crew headed out to a night carnival that George thinks may
have been a part of the Strawberry Festival.
The two aren't certain how they ended up together in a
time when dating was more casual among many friends. "She
dated all my friends then I got her," he jokes, "I don't
know how we got together; I guess we both ran out of
somebody else to go with."
Wilma graduated from Gleason High School early, a result
of starting school along with her sisters when she was
only four years old. "She was a little white-headed pet,"
George teases affectionately, basing his remarks on
stories told by her family members.
After the ceremony in which the speaker, a preacher, had
spoken about seven dragons in relation to the challenges
the graduates would face in their new lives, George says
he advised Wilma, "The only dragon you have to worry about
With no work available for young women in the area, Wilma
and a girlfriend moved to Memphis where they took jobs at
Sears. George stayed behind long enough to help his father
get the crops out for the year, then moved to Memphis as
well, where he enrolled in Draughn's College of Mechanics.
Soon, it seemed "everyone else was getting married"; Leon
married in February and their cousin, Malcolm, in June.
Marriage seemed the thing to do, and George and Wilma
followed suite, marrying in Hernando, Mississippi on July
18, the day after Wilma's 16th birthday.
"Most people, when you see a 50th wedding anniversary
these days, went to Mississippi to get married. Except for
the rich and famous there were no big weddings back then,"
On the trip back to Memphis after a visit home a little
over a year after their move to the big city, car trouble
caused them to turn around and come back home where they
stayed, spending the first year home with Wilma's parents.
They bought a team of mules to farm with, after the first
crop, trading the mules for a team of horses as they
prepared to set out on their own.
George relates, "We got $200 somehow and went to Williams'
in Greenfield and told them 'We've got $200 to set up
"O.K., let's get started," the storekeeper replied, and,
George says, "We came out of there with everything we
needed except a debt of $50 to pay for a kitchen cabinet
she had to have."
For a quarter at an auction, the couple bought a
high-backed bedstead that George cut down to suit Wilma's
tastes. "She didn't like it high. We left the top pretty;
we just lowered it down," he explains.
One of Wilma's sisters supplied a kitchen table, with part
of the $200 going to buy six chairs to go around it, four
of which the Chapman's still have today.
"Back then, you went through everybody's outbuildings to
see what they had you could use," George declares, "In the
30's you couldn't borrow from nobody cause they didn't
have nothing either."
George farmed for three years in Gleason, then farmed for
Jack Brummitt before going to work for Max Campbell,
drilling wells. He later worked at the Esso Service
Station at the edge of town, then in 1960 bought his own
station, George's DX, where Raceway is now located, which
he ran for eight years before going to work at the post
office from which he retired after 20 years. Wilma worked
at Wilker Brothers for 26 years until they closed.
Six years ago, the couple sold their spacious home for a
home with half the yard and half the size of their former
dwelling. "We had a big house with a big lot and a dining
room we used two or three times a year," George says, "We
moved here with the intent of downsizing, then when we got
over here we decided we needed more room!"
The dilemma turned into an opportunity to enclose the back
porch into a comfortable sitting room decorated with
beautiful and creative baskets weaved by Wilma and other
unique, country accents.
The Chapmans created a cozy retreat they call "the
outback" by constructing a porch off the side of their
shed complete with flooring. From beneath the shaded
canopy the couple have a view of their lovely manicured
lawn, the creek that runs alongside their property and the
road in front of the house.
Wilma and George display the crafts they make in
their woodworking shop that doubles as a winter-time
In the wintertime, they take refuge in their shop behind
the garage where they enjoy making woodcrafts. When
they're done, Wilma says, they feel like they've been
Not that they haven't done plenty of traveling: "We used
to camp a lot but after we retired we didn't have time
anymore," Wilma says. The couple spent 30-35 days a year
camping before their retirement, but quit after two or
three times once they were no longer working.
Wilma explains, "We enjoy doing things around here. When
we were working we thought we had to go and other things
could wait; after we retired we thought camping could wait
- we wanted to do this first."
The camping trips made with Leon and his wife, Joyce, make
for wonderful memories as did trips across country with
George's cousin, Malcolm Kee, and wife Sarah. One trip in
the 1960's took the whole crew on an adventure with the
three men in the front seat and the women in the rear on a
summertime trip with no air conditioning. "I don't even
remember getting hot," Wilma muses.
"I was the driver, Malcom was the navigator, and my
brother was the cashier so we put him in the middle,"
George reminisces with laughter.
Another favorite trip in 1990 took the couple 7000 miles
in 18 days through New Mexico and Nevada and across the
Golden Gate Bridge in northern California where George
fulfilled his promise to someday show Wilma the redwoods
he had hitchhiked through in the years just before they
met. The return trip took them through the Dakotas and
Montana among other states.
"We had a wonderful trip," the couple agrees, "We've had
some good times." Other favorite trips have taken the
couple to Niagara Falls, the Grand Canyon and Texas.
Eating sandwiches on the road, sleeping in the car, and
spur of the moment, midnight trips make the memories all
the better, with one late night trip taking the restless
crew to Cairo, Illinois for the sole purpose of driving
through the high water after a flood.
George's fears that the engine would stall in the deep
water were unfounded, but the water did come up through
the door and into the back seat.
"We went up there and drove through it and came back. We
were dumb kids," George grins, relating the trip took
place after Sarah Nell declared, "I'm going somewhere if
just the corner drug store." In his early 30's at the
time, the forever young demeanor of the group made for
good times many years down the road.
The couple never had children: "We just have nieces and
nephews," Wilma begins, with George finishing, "But we
have hundreds of them."
The couple was treated to a fabulous 50th wedding
anniversary by their nieces and nephews with over 200
friends and relatives in attendance. "Ain't nobody's kids
no better to their parents than these are to us," George
Local nieces and nephews include: Kyle Chapman, Debbie
Chapman, Valerie Sanders, Aletha Jones, Nancy Wainscott,
and Verilyn Smith.
George and Wilma are active members of the Church of
Christ, where they can be found this week participating in
Vacation Bible School activities. One a month, they and
other Prime Timers from the church go out to eat together.
The couple is well known for attending to the needs of the
elderly and sick, though they are reluctant to accept
recognition for their activities.
George admits, however, that Wilma has "made a hundred
angel food cakes."
"Once in awhile she'll make us one," he says in mock
The couple also enjoy helping deliver flowers for Violet
at Nanney's Florist on Mother's Day and Valentine's Day.
"It's a good job - it's not a job, it's a pleasure,"
George says, "It's good to do stuff like that, it don't
hinder you to take some time off we enjoy it."
Wilma says the couple's future plans are "to wake up every
morning and thank the Good Lord we've got the day before
us; just don't plan and whatever happens, happens."
"There's not many days we've got to worry about sitting
here because somebody's going to call," George adds.
"We've got a lot of friends, thank goodness."