From the Backbooth at Chappy’s … A Must-Read Treasure

Lyn Scarbrough

June 09, 2021 at 2:10 pm.

A lot of us had a person like her in our lives.

More than 60 years ago, back in the 1950s, David Housel had his.

It was “Miss” Ruth Junkin, a grammar school librarian, who volunteered her time so that children could check out books to read during the summer. She encouraged reading, knowing the learning that inherently comes with it and the appreciation for the written word that it cultivates.

David acknowledges the role that “Miss” Ruth played in his life in a chapter entitled “A Debt of Gratitude,” in his new book, “From the Backbooth at Chappy’s.”

The book is a compilation of pieces written by David. The phrase across the top of the book’s cover, sort of a subtitle, reads: “Stories of the South: Football, Politics, Religion and More.”

That’s a pretty good description. Some of the entries are stories. Some are thoughts and observations. Some are small if counting the words, but large if measuring the message.

The book doesn’t really have chapters. It has topics and titles, not really in a sequence or in order of importance. They’re not numbered. You could say that each of them, every different piece, is important in its own way.

Readers will owe David “a debt of gratitude” for giving us this book and “Miss” Ruth for helping instill the insightful, creative talents of David Housel, the author and the man.

From the Foreward written by a fellow Auburn graduate, talented journalist and writer, Rheta Grimsley Johnson, to David’s Epilogue on page 359, I didn’t put the book down. I couldn’t put it down. Didn’t want to. Even though, I had read some its entries in recent years, and had heard David tell a few of the stories, when I started this book there was no way that I was going to stop until there weren’t any pages left.

I don’t think you will either.

Prior to “From the Backbooth at Chappy’s,” David wrote six other books, all of them well worth the read. But from my perspective, this is the best that David has produced … by far.

So many of David’s experiences are similar to those that we’ve had during our lives, especially when we were young. So many of David’s insights and observations are things that we’ve thought before.

But, David is able to say it, tell it, write it in a way that few others can. His ability to write and communicate is God given. He’s had it since the days when he and I first worked together a really long time ago and it has only grown over the years. It has never been better displayed than in the pages of “From the Backbooth at Chappy’s.”

This book is David Housel.

It’s a book for everybody. It’s for older folks, people from the Housel era, remembering things they’ve experienced in their lives. It’s for their grandchildren with experiences so different, yet still so similar, sharing wisdom that can impact them for a lifetime.

It’s a book about everything, literally almost everything. If you’ve thought about it, David has probably addressed it.

Foremost is family. You’ll feel like you’ve known his family, and if you grew up in the rural South in days before computers and cell phones, in a sense you did. In “Was I Wrong?” he tells about his pride in his momma. In “Father’s Day,” he talks about David A. (for Alpheus) Housel, the “primary influence” in his life and “the greatest man I’ve ever known.” And, you relive Saturdays with David in his lucky spot on “Gramma’s Front Porch.” You’ll see Gramma’s photo on page 330.

And, Gordo, the small town in rural Pickens County in north central Alabama, his hometown and its sports teams, the Green Wave (that’s two words, not one). That’s important!

He writes about great people, some famous, like Muhammed Ali (“an ambassador for peace, goodwill, love the world over”), and C.M. Newton (“caring, genuine, respectful”), but more about people who had greatness, but not great fame.

Neil Davis, the newspaper editor who took tough stands not often popular, and who influenced generations of journalism students. O.C. Brown, the dynamic young preacher who gave David a “reason to go to church and give the faith of my childhood another chance.” And, “Mr. Jack” Howell, the hometown farmer whose friendship and example made a difference.

“From the Backbooth at Chappy’s” sprouted from a morning gathering at Chappy’s Deli at Glendean Shopping Center on East Glenn Street in Auburn where four friends – Kenny Howard, Francis Sanda, Chris Brymer and David – would gather for food and fellowship. The group grew, as did its fame, and conversations among those in attendance were broad and opinions were diverse.

The book is a collection of the group’s thoughts and recollections, penned by David, seen through his experiences and insights. When he started sharing his writings through the internet, they were given the collective name, “Backbooth at Chappy’s.”

It’s fitting that the writings in this book took root in Auburn.

David Housel is an Auburn man, almost as much as he is anything. Few people qualify for that recognition as much as David. So, there’s no surprise that the book has an abundance of Auburn content.

The most important names in Auburn sports history …

In “The Man,” he talks about Ralph “Shug” Jordan, “forever my Auburn coach and the man who defines Auburn football for my generation.”

In “It All Began on a Front Porch,” he talks about Pat Dye, whose “passion for Auburn was contagious.” There was always a place for him at Auburn.

And, “In Sickness and Health …,” he talks about Fran Davidson and her husband, Buddy, one of the few men who could legitimately be considered, along with David, for the title, Mr. Auburn.

He looks back at head coach “Iron Mike” Donahue and his star athlete Kirk Newell, “the Forgotten Man,” who led Auburn to its first football national championship in the undefeated 1913 season.

David will also surprise you with some of his football observations, none more so than in his look at Nick Saban (see page 170). After several pages of narrative, he admits, “I still like Saban. A lot. I just wish he wasn’t at Alabama.”

And, in “Words to Live By,” he quotes former high school coach and Alabama High School Sports Hall of Fame member Randy Ragsdale: “Football is a terrific game, but a terrible god … “

David is a man of faith. There are at least 10 passages in the book about religious thoughts and raising questions. This includes everything from God’s involvement in the outcome of games (“God Doesn’t Care,” page 17) to always being honest with God (“It’s Okay to Get Mad at God,” page 81). From judging others (“A Matter of Perspective,” page 125) to determining what is truth (“The Ultimate Question,” page 334).

He looks at forgiveness in “Forgive and Forget?” He says, “Jesus had it right. He didn’t say we had to like everybody; he said we should forgive everybody. … It may be the most important thing you ever do.”

I agree with David on that and found myself agreeing with him on a lot of things that he has to say about things of less substance:

** “If the game’s not played in Birmingham, it shouldn’t be called the Iron Bowl.” – “Ain’t No More Iron Bowl,” page 83

** “Dr. Seuss was a wise man.” – “Wisdom,” page 241

** “Thank God for the bells of Samford Tower.” – “In the Beginning,” page 193

David let’s you know many of his favorites … The Lone Ranger, the New York Yankees, trips

to New York City, the Masters Tournament, Annette Funicello from the Mickey Mouse Club and bears. Yes, bears! (see page 159)

You’ll find one of my favorite sections of the book beginning on page 163, “From Lewis Grizzard,” a column reprinted from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, March 17, 1978, titled “David Housel Auburn’s Evangelist.” The late Grizzard, one of the great Southern wordsmiths, writing about another, his close friend, David. To Grizzard, Housel was “the best Auburn man I know.”

The final passage in the book, titled “All I Know, All I’ve Ever Learned,” is a transcript of the address given by David at Auburn University’s Graduation on May 7, 2017. This section alone makes it worth getting the book.

David closes with this admonition:

“Each life has a beginning, middle and an end. What is important is not how long, but how deeply and fully we live … Drink of the cup deeply, my friends, for it passes your way but once.”

Back on page 196, David says this: “… I go forward with only one hope. It is the same hope that has driven me all of my life. I hope I’ve made a difference. … It is the only thing of lasting value.”

We probably all feel that way, David. And for sure, you have achieved that goal, never more clearly shown than in the pages of “From the Backbooth at Chappy’s.”

I hope that everybody reading this review will have the book. Read it. Enjoy it. Learn from it.

“Miss” Ruth would be proud, David. You’ve given us a treasure.

Book signings will be held at the locations shown below. Hope that you’ll make plans to attend, get a copy of “From the Backbooth at Chappy’s” and talk with the author.

June 15, Chappy’s Deli, 754 East Glenn Avenue, Auburn, Alabama, 36832, 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.

June 16, Chappy’s Deli, 1611 Perry Hill Road, Montgomery, Alabama, 36106, 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.

June 17, Chappy’s Deli, 585 Pinnacle Place, Prattville, Alabama, 36066, 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.

June 21, Davenport’s Pizza, 2837 Cahaba Road, Birmingham, Alabama, 35223, 11 a.m. – 2 p.m.

June 28, Southern Sportsmen Club (Selma), 9022-8 U.S. Highway 80, Tyler, Alabama, 5 – 7 p.m.

For more information about the book, go to