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FRONT-PORCH GOSPEL: This life story begins in 1973 (kind of) – part 16

Storm-Clouds Gathering

Around eleven that morning, storm clouds started rolling in like a seventeenth-century scroll; but, truth is, they had been rolling in all morning way before that, starting at eight a.m.

I say ‘eight,’ you have to remember that Alabama’s time is an hour earlier than Georgia’s.

So, when we hit the brick-job at eight that morning, it was actually nine a.m. across the state line where I woke up every morning.

Our feet were going to have to hit the floor early for us to be on the job site by eight a.m. Alabama time because of the forty-minute drive; but we did “gain” an hour, which helped.

After a while, though, this time difference got kind of confusing and the workers just tried to talk in Georgia time, mainly so we would know what time to eat lunch and to go home.

One day Doocy got the bright idea while we were sitting around on buckets eating lunch that we would start on Georgia time but get from Alabama time, then finish up on Georgia time, all of which would give us a free hour of pay.

Red Williams didn’t even honor that suggestion with a reply, which in itself made Doocy mad and had him pouting all day, which made a bad day for me, too, as you might guess.

That time difference, later on in that hot, grueling summer, created some added stress one special night on a little date a particular young Georgia boy still wet behind the ears went on with a young lady who hailed from this Alabama town of Roanoke.

I smile at the thought of telling that saga, which you’ll hear when we get that far down the road of ’73.

Lunchtime on a brick job was a sacred hour, and the ‘boys out on the job’ as I came to call them wanted to eat promptly, and that is a bigger understatement than saying that in Noah’s day he and his folks got a little bit of rain.

On this job, it wouldn’t do for Red to cheat the boys out of half a minute of their lunch break.

Oh, no mistaking: Red Williams was a boisterous man, all right, and not to be messed with; but lunchtime was lunchtime, and even his boisterousness had a limit.

Over the summer I saw World World III almost break out more than once when Red wanted to “use all the mud up” before taking the break. 

In such moments, Doocy, William, and Hook, in particular, were not opposed to just walking off the job if need be.

Usually, they just fussed and grumbled but the supreme threat of “walkin’ all the way back to Gawgia if I hav’ta” was always in the mix in their grumblings.

It’s not that by noon the boys didn’t deserve a break because they did.

Half a day’s work on a bricklaying job is like a week’s work on most jobs I’d seen.

I was a young man then myself, as you know – younger than I am now, younger than I’ll ever be again, as the great American humorist Mr. Twain said (something I learned in Mrs. Long’s junior English class that I liked to show off every now and then), but by mid-morning I was already dragging despite my youth, and there just wasn’t any place to hide on that job.

So, when a certain part of your anatomy my sophomore Biology teacher Ms. Brown called gluteus-something started dragging you just had to gut it up or else take added abuse from the likes of Red and Doocy or any of the bricklayers who were on the wall waiting for mud.

Doocy was in charge of making the mud in the ‘mixer’ and dumping it in the wheelbarrows and pushing the mud out to the bricklayers on the wall.

We didn’t get right to making the mortar that first morning, as it takes time to get the job set up.

It took a while to get the brick stocked up around the house and for the bricklayers to hang what they called ‘story’ poles on the corners.

I watched when I could, and I could see that they would measure from the top of the house – or the cornice boards – and mark on the two-by-four story poles all the way down to the bottom.

When they got to the bottom, they may have to adjust the marks a little and make up a sixteenth of an inch or so per course; but the main thing, I learned, is that when you get to the top you need to have about six inches for the soldier course. 

The soldier course is just what you would think.  

It’s the last brick at the top where the bricklayers stand the brick up.

Since the brick on this Roanoke house was what’s called a modular brick – which was just sly of eight inches – the bricklayers would make sure that they had about two inches of the soldier course to go behind the cornice board. 

Of course, I learned all this over a few weeks, not just on this first day.

But one big thing I learned was that if I was standing up straight at the end of a day like a soldier brick, then that was a victory in itself.


Part 17 continues next week


Coach Steven Bowen, a long-time Red Oak teacher and coach, now enjoys his time as a writer and preacher of the gospel. And, after a ten-year hiatus, he’s also returned to work with students at Ferris High School as well. 

In addition to his evangelistic travels, he works and writes for the Church of Christ of Red Oak at Uhl Road and Ovilla. Their worship times are 10 a.m. Sundays and 7:30 pm. Wednesdays. Email or call or text (972) 824-5197.

Ellis County Press

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