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FRONT-PORCH GOSPEL: This life story begins in 1973 (kind of) – part 18

Bottom Fallin’ Out

The fire drill that ensues on a brick job when the skies get dark as night and the bottom falls out is something to see.

When the rain started coming down, everybody went into panic mode. Red knew it was coming, so he had already grabbed three large sheets of plastic, called polyethylene, and had them ready out by the wall on the north side of the house where the bricklayers were working.

When the bottom dropped, the bricklayers grabbed those huge sheets of plastic and started pulling them up on top of the brick that they had on the scaffolding, which served to hold the brick and the mortar boards while the bricklayers were still laying from the ground.

Red, Pee Wee, and the other bricklayer named Charlie – both of whom were Red’s brothers-in-law but much more gentle of spirit – had not jointed all their work.

So, they had to do that while we held the plastic over their heads to keep the rain off of the newly-laid wall while the water ran down the plastic and soaked Red and me even more than we already were.

I said they ‘jointed’ their work: A bricklayer uses a metal tool that looks like an ‘S’ to run through the mud joints in the wall to smooth them out.

I would learn later – when I myself became a bricklayer – that in the South bricklayers laid more modular brick than jumbo brick.

In Texas, where my life’s river ultimately would flow in time, we laid more jumbo brick but quite a few modular brick, too. Bigger jobs, such as schools, would use more of the modular brick, but houses often are made with jumbo brick, some of which were a softer, less durable ‘Mexican’ brick.

For a Mexican brick, you could use a stick for a jointer that was like the end of a big broom handle to joint the wall. No few bricklayers had cut off the end of their wife’s big broom at home and faced the music later when she grabbed it to sweep.

But few Georgia or Alabama jobs used brick that allowed that rough look. They almost always required the smooth finish of a metal jointer, which required more precision and time.

After they would joint the wall, they would brush it down with a soft brush that had bristles like cat’s hair. Because even the soft brush would leave little marks in the mortar, they would have to go back over it more gently a second time after brushing the wall. 

That first day, during the hectic rain storm, I saw that for the first time and wondered why they would take the time to go back over their work with the sky falling down on all of us.

Later the bricklayer Charlie gently explained it to me, teaching me a good lesson on doing things the right way, rain or no rain.

Bricklaying, from the start, intrigued me; and, as I would learn in the years to come, it was about as close to artistry work as I would ever do, unless you stretch ‘artistry’ to include wordsmithing, of which I had already begun figuring out by the age of sixteen-and-a-half that I had a slight knack.

But bricklaying is art. I suppose that is one of many reasons this rugged job site made the perfect setting and backdrop for the events that were just beginning to unfold, here in the fateful summer of ’73.


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

208 S Central St. 
Ferris, TX 75125