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Remembering Poppa and Momma Graybeal

A newspaper article characterized Harvey Dolphus Graybeal as "one of North Knox County's most colorful old-timers." I knew him as Poppa, my great grandfather, the father of my paternal grandmother.


I am fortunate to remember Poppa well, but he was a quiet man, so much of my knowledge came from personal observation and the stories with which my father and his cousin Kyle regaled me about him.


Poppa was born in 1880. He had a brother, Walter, and three sisters: Minnie, Tennie (short, I think, for the unusual woman's name Tennessee), and Dossie. I vaguely remember Dossie, but I don't recall either of the others.


The earliest record I have found of Poppa is an indenture document stating that on December 7, 1907, "William Graybeal and his wife Cornelia J. Graybeal" sold to "H.D. Graybeal and Lula B. Graybeal his wife" a piece of real estate for $250 cash. This transaction was witnessed by M.H. Mynatt, a notary public, and Dossie Graybeal.


I also possess a certificate dated August 23, 1918, and signed and sealed by Tennessee's governor at the time, Tom C. Rye. It acknowledged Poppa's election as justice of the peace for Knox County on August 1, 1918. Poppa's term of office ran from September 1, 1918, to September 1, 1924. It was probably because of this elected office that many people called Poppa "Squire."


Poppa apparently moved to and lived in Colorado sometime during his term as justice of the peace. I have a deed that declares that on June 16, 1920, David Lay and David L. Lay of Baca County, Colorado, sold to "H.D. Graybeal of the County of Baca . . . in consideration of the sum of One Thousand and NO/100 Dollars" a 160-acre "parcel of land, situate, lying and being in the County of Baca. . . ." Baca County is in the southeast corner of the state and borders New Mexico, Kansas, and Oklahoma. In 2018, the population of the county was only 3,561, so in 1920 it must have been a lonely, isolated place indeed.


Poppa apparently did not like living in Colorado because he was issued a Tennessee driver's license on July 29, 1920. He was 29 years old at the time. Furthermore, on August 31, 1928, "H.D. Graybeal . . . of Fountain City, Tenn." contracted to sell to "F.M. Peterson . . . of Springfield, Colorado" the same property "for the price and sum of $2,000.00" with $50 to be paid upon the signing of the contract and the remaining "1950.00 payable on or before sixty days from" the date on the contract. I speculate that F.M. Peterson might have been Field Peterson, one of the sons of Joshua Peterson, who was my direct ancestor. Poppa had amazing foresight because the Dust Bowl of the 1930s did extensive damage to the county.

In addition to being justice of the peace, Poppa was at various times (often simultaneously) a "stock trader" (i.e., he bought and sold cattle, horses, mules, and other livestock), a blacksmith, a farmer, a sawmill operator, and a storekeeper. Daddy often referred to him as a "horse trader" and a "knife swapper," but apparently it was as a storekeeper that he was most widely known. When I was growing up, he had long been retired. I never remember his doing anything other than tinkering in his woodshed and sitting in his easy chair.


Daddy used to tell us stories about going fox hunting with Poppa. They would sit in the dark woods for hours, listening to the baying of the hounds as they chased a fox through the hills and ridges and valleys and trying to identify the dogs by their distinctive barks at various points in the chase.

Poppa married Lula Belle Weaver and together they ran a store at the corner of Hill and Fort Sumter Roads in Halls, a small farming community north of Knoxville. My grandfather, Blaine Garfield Peterson, ran that store for a time after he married Omega Graybeal, one of Poppa's five daughters. Daddy was a child at the time, and he recalled living in the rooms above that store when his parents ran the store for Poppa.


The Graybeal home was an inn of sorts. Often, the family boarded overnight travelers who were passing through the area. One newspaper account at the time of Poppa's death stated that the Graybeals "fed the travelers' horses the best hay in the barn." Many of those guests also were revival speakers at Salem Baptist Church, which was situated across the road behind the Graybeals' home and of which Poppa was a member. In those days, churches often held month-long revivals, so many of their guests were long term.


Poppa grew a handle-bar moustache when he was 21. He kept that facial feature the rest of his life, although he trimmed its size a bit. I always recall its being rather bushy and yellowish. Daddy explained that he recalled watching Poppa drink coffee and then "wring out" his moustache. Perhaps that's why his moustache was yellow.


Poppa and Momma Graybeal (as we called Lula Belle) were intelligent, well-read people. Mother and Daddy bought them a subscription to Reader's Digest for Christmas every year, and they read each issue from cover to cover. The also read the daily newspaper and, late in life, watched the news on television.


We visited Momma and Poppa regularly since they lived only half a mile from us. Where we parked depended on how long we planned to stay. If we were only dropping something off or simply saying hello, we parked beside a high hedge that ran the length of their property along Hill Road. A narrow opening in the hedge allowed access to their yard. If we planned to stay longer, however, we entered on the upper side of their property along Salem Church Road and parked under the large oak trees there.


My memories of Poppa are of a quiet, soft-spoken old man who always dressed in khaki or olive work pants and a matching shirt. (I think my father inherited both his reticence and his wardrobe from Poppa. Both were quiet men and wore khaki work clothes.) Poppa's moustache covered an ample upper lip over a wide, straight mouth. He had a strong chin and walked with a slight stoop.


I seldom remember his saying anything, certainly nothing of great length, other than a quiet greeting as we entered the house and a quiet farewell when we left. I can still picture his sitting through an hour or longer visit and saying hardly a word, perhaps chuckling softly or nodding at something that someone else had said. If asked a question, he answered in the shortest possible way.


Momma Graybeal was the talker of the two. My most vivid memory of her, though, was of how she treated me when we visited. As soon as I entered the door and she saw me, she would grab me in a big bear hug and smother me with kisses. Although that might sound warm and comforting on the surface, it certainly wasn't for me because she dipped snuff, and the snuff ran out of her mouth when she talked or laughed and into the multitudinous wrinkles that crisscrossed her chin, and her spittle got all over me! She finally would let me go, directing me to a high cabinet behind the front door, where she kept a crystal dish filled with stick candy. My favorite was horehound, but I would choose a peppermint stick if horehound was missing. That made the snuff bath worth it.


Momma and Poppa vacationed in Florida every winter for as long as I can remember. Their daughter Mavis and her husband Blutcher ("Blutch") lived in Ocala in a house that Daddy built for them when I was still too young to attend school. The house was located behind the Swift Motel, and we spent our nights there and ate meals in the adjoining restaurant. The Swifts had a grandson named Kim who was my age, and we played together with his pony, Index.


Momma and Poppa Graybeal were married for nearly 67 years. They died within a few months of each other in 1968. They are interred in the Salem Baptist Church cemetery across the road from where they lived.


Not many kids today have the good fortune to know their great grandparents. I'm privileged to have known mine.

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