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"I Ain’t to the Quittin’ Place!"

It’s not unusual to walk into any cafe in Texas, in the early morning or late afternoon hours, and find a table full of older men drinking coffee, laughing and swapping stories. The Hwy 6 Café, in DeLeon, Texas, is no different.

Charles Chupp, a 78-year-old man with the look of a weathered cowboy and the soul of a poet, can often be found at these gatherings, and while he does his share of talking, those who know Chupp well know it’s when he’s listening that he’s happiest. Because once the other coffee drinkers go back to their ranching, farming, or desk jobs, Chupp will often times head home with enough material for another edition of his “Got No Reason to Lie” column.

Photo by Laura Kestner

Those columns, peppered with homespun humor and wisdom, Latin phrases, and the occasional French curse word, have been a featured addition to the local newspaper since the early 1980s, when Chupp moved “back home” to DeLeon after working and raising his family in West Texas. When he’s not writing about the comical mishaps and antics of his friends, he often writes about his own hardscrabble childhood in rural DeLeon. He’s also devoted many hours to writing about his life and the experiences that came between that childhood and these “coffee years” including 35 years as a right-of-way negotiator for a major electrical supply company. Of course, an observational humor column is not the ideal fit for all narratives, and through the years Chupp has used many different means to share his talents. He’s published six books, a magazine, and, for five years in the 1990s, a newspaper.

“I write just about every morning,” Chupp said. “I write for about two hours when I first get up, at about 4 o’clock. I guess I’ve always had a bad conscience,” he added with a laugh, “because I can’t sleep long. Around four hours a night’s about all I make it.”

Chupp does all that writing with a Scripto pencil, on a lined pad. “I’ve never used a computer,” he said. “There are two typewriters in the house, and a computer, but they were both used by Margaret.”

Margaret was Chupp’s child-bride, having married him when “she was just a lass of 15.” The two were wed in 1950, and Margaret passed away, due to complications from Alzheimer’s, in March of 2008. For years, in addition to raising his children, and working, she also typed his columns and dealt with the day-to-day issues of his publishing. Charles always referred to her as “Ol Margaret” or “my first wife, Margaret.” His faithful readers got the joke of course -- Margaret was the one and only love of his life. Chupp always ended each of his columns the same way, with “Let me hear from you, Ol’ Margaret, my operator, is standing by.” He quietly dropped those words from his column, permanently, in February of 2007, and the next month let the readers in on what was happening to Margaret, and the struggles the family had endured during the past year. He noted that when Margaret, for her own safety, was placed in a care facility, he “suffered the most devastating loss in my 77 years on this planet” and that, “the wounds to my soul may scab over, but I doubt they will ever heal.”

That ability to write -- to express his thoughts, emotions, joy or pain with the written word – knowing that sometimes it moves people to tears and other times makes them laugh, is not a responsibility that Chupp takes lightly. “I absolutely love to write,” Chupp said. “And I know if I can make people laugh that it’ll make for a better day. But there are those rare occasions when I have something else to say -- when I know it’s going to make people sad, or maybe just thoughtful. Words are my Lincoln Logs, and I just build to suit the occasion.”

Once he starts writing, Chupp said he writes straight through. “First tell the story,” he said. “Then if you need to edit it, do it. But don’t stop writing and check things all the time – just write it.”

While his methods may not work for everyone, Chupp figures “there’s no sense in fixing something that ain’t broke.”

“I’ve written for profit since I was in high school,” he laughed, “when I wrote essays for some of the other kids. My teacher, Miss Roger Mae Smith, used to say ‘Charles, I know you wrote it – I can’t prove it -- but I know you wrote it.’”

"To bee or not to bee"

 — Copyright©1982 Charles Chupp

Interestingly enough, Chupp’s also gifted in other mediums and is, in fact, a well-known artist. Although much of his art work has a western touch, he’s equally adept at more traditional pieces, and much of his work grace homes, businesses and galleries across Texas.

He and a friend, Harley Murray, were the founding members of The Texas Wild Bunch, a group of independent artists who joined together in the 1970s and “showed everywhere there was a shade.” According to Chupp, the group was formed because galleries kept going up on their commissions.

“We were showing at a gallery in Ruidoso, New Mexico, one in Wyoming, some in Dallas and Fort Worth,” Chupp said, “and they got to where they were taking 40 percent. Of course, they got a lot of money for our work, but me and Harley decided we’d just cut out the middle man. We’d book our own shows. The elastic limit was 30 – we wouldn’t have over 30 members,” Chupp said. “And most of the time we were at about 30. If they moved out of Texas, they had to drop out of The Wild Bunch. Or if they got too big for their breeches, or got mad at somebody. We always had a waiting list – I guess we still do.”

Chupp said that eventually, two of the members were named State Artists – George Hallmark and George Boutwell. “Boutwell’s still in the Bunch,” Chupp said. “He’s running it now. They bestowed old Harley and me with lifetime member status, because we’re so old,” he laughed.

"Saturday Night"

 — Copyright©1972 Charles Chupp

Chupp also free-lanced cartoons, and punch lines for other cartoons, in his younger days. The Walt Disney Company thought Chupp showed promise, and encouraged him to contact them again when he turned 21. But by then, he was married, and in the military, and never gave it any further consideration.

Even though his column has been published under the “Got No Reason to Lie” header since the 1980s, Charles said that he wrote similar pieces as far back as the 1950s. “I didn’t call it Got No Reason to Lie back then,” he said, “but I wrote for Joe Small’s True West magazine down in Austin. The first piece was published in 1954.”

Discussing other writing ventures, Chupp describes the late Star Telegram columnist, George Dolan, as his buddy, and describes a unique relationship wherein he supplied Dolan with material for “hundreds” of his observational pieces. After Dolan’s death, in the mid 80s, a book of his work was published, and Chupp received recognition for those efforts with the following passage: “Chupp was a friend of George Dolan’s and was also the source of many funny stories for Dolan’s column.”

“At the same time I was writing for him,” Chupp said, “I was writing for Texas Art Circles, and others I can’t even remember.”

Although he doesn’t remember all the places he’s been published through the years, a more recent one really stands out in Chupp’s mind.

“I wrote for the New Hampshire Gazette,” he said, explaining how he’d “beguiled” the publisher to print his pieces. “I read somewhere that it was the oldest newspaper ever published in America that was still in print. And my friend Fred Turner was going to New York, so I told the old boy up there that I was going to send my agent by.” The articles Chupp submitted, political pieces, were published several times. Chupp noted that Turner, a friend for the past 16 years, handles all his computer and Internet needs, including the prep work for the book publications.

Even though Chupp’s columns are filled with small town vernacular and colloquialisms, he’s actually a very well-educated and well-read man, and will occasionally throw in a word or two that has readers running for their dictionaries – just to make sure people are paying attention.

Chupp said that two stints in the U.S. Army put him through college.

“I was inducted into the Army in 1948,” he said. “I was there 13 or 14 months, and then they sent us home. Then the Korean War started, and there I went again. I didn’t go overseas, I was stationed at Fort Hood the last time I was in. I was in special services. I was an illustrator for a newspaper – I think they called it “Tracks and Half Tracks” -- for a tank division.”

Once he was home, Chupp used the G.I. Bill to attend classes at Odessa Junior College and Sul Ross University -- all while juggling a career and family. “I went to college at night – from 6 p.m. to 10:20,” he said. “I was working 40 hours a week, at Texas Electric Service Company (TESCO) and I worked for an architect on the weekends, drawing house plans.”

Born in 1929, Chupp likes to say that his parents, Hugh and Thelma Chupp, didn’t blame him for the Depression, nor the Depression for him – and that they went on to have two more children, John Franklin and Benny Wayne. His most recent book “Frankly Speaking” focuses on his early childhood, particularly his brother John Franklin.

“I think this book is my favorite,” Chupp said. “I didn’t start out to make it about him (John Franklin); he just sort of took over. That’s something that’ll surprise you sometimes when you’re writing a book, the thing you started out writing about comes in in second place. Damn if I can understand it.”

His grandmother, Nancy Webster Brownlee, known to the family as Gogo, is also featured prominently in Frankly Speaking. “She had 12 kids,” Chupp said, “including my mother, and they were scattered from hell to breakfast, and whenever any of them would get enough money together for a bus ticket for her, she’d take off from here and would go, go, go.”

Many of Chupp’s preferences and beliefs make him more interesting than the people he writes about. He never eats meat, but says that is not for religious or health reasons – he’s just never liked the thought of eating animal flesh. He also never reads a finished piece of writing, after it’s published, and he tries not to look at his art work again.

“When I finish writing a book, I never look back at it,” Chupp said. “And I never really look at my pictures again, because once they put it behind glass, or in a frame, there’s nothing else I can do, and I don’t want to see it.” Chupp confessed that he often finds himself wishing he could make changes, and, of course, by then it’s too late. So once he “lets go” of his creations, he never looks back.

Chupp is often invited to appear at various club and society luncheons to do a “reading.”

“I tell them I don’t do readings,” he said. “I say, ‘I’ll tell you a story, but I’m not going to read out of one of my books.’”

In addition to writing and painting, Chupp served as DeLeon’s mayor during the 1990s, as well as serving on the school board. It was during that time that he also published a newspaper, DeLeon’s Monitor, as well as a regional magazine, The Messenger. Both publications were family efforts, and the resulting Texas Press Association awards still grace Chupp’s wall.

Photo by RILEY STUDIO, Comanche, Texas

Now that he’s retired from publishing (after having already retired from the electric company), and sold the newspaper and magazine, and cut way back on any art work, Chupp said that except for the column and books, his family and dog Butterfly, are the focal points of his life. During their 50 plus years together, he and Margaret had two children, Ace and Tracy; three grandchildren, Taylor Anne, Mercedes and Audrey; and two great-grandchildren, Angel and Alia. Butterfly was Margaret’s beloved pet poodle, and brought much comfort to the couple during Margaret’s struggle with Alzheimer’s. Butterfly is now Charles’ constant companion.

The following brief passage, from Frankly Speaking (which covers a time period of November, 1940 to December, 1941) reveals why, at age 78, Charles Chupp may feel that it’s important to keep going – he’s just a natural born story-teller: “It had been a long day, and I still hadn’t been converted, but that was now a small problem. Hugh, Thel and Gogo were huddled around the radio listening to all the details of the bombing in Hawaii. I lit up a Chesterfield snipe and Sooner treed a squirrel in the oak tree outside the corral. “Thanks Boss,” I whispered, as Sooner held the squirrel at bay and John Franklin sat on top of the house looking for Japanese airplanes. I regretted all the trouble I’d caused by asking for this freedom to sin a little while longer.”

“I don’t really know if being able to write is a blessing or a curse,” Chupp said recently, “but it’s all I think about. Once I get an idea, the only way to get rid of it, is to write it. It bugs me in my head.” When asked about his plans to retire completely, Chupp’s answer was a simple one. “I ain’t to the quittin place yet.” And Chupp fans everywhere, breathed a sigh of relief.

For more information on Charles Chupp, visit his website www.charleschupp.com

—— by Laura Kestner

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