FRONT-PORCH GOSPEL: This life story begins in 1973 (kind of) – part 19
When the bottom dropped out, trying to keep that wet wall dry was a fire drill unlike any you’ve ever seen.
Red hollered for me to “come help right now, and I mean now,” and I ran over to the wall to help him pull the plastic up on the scaffold. After we stretched it out across the brick, we had to pull it up over the wall and hold it to keep the rain off while Pee Wee and Charlie frantically jointed the wall underneath it.
This scene would be just one of a million reminders of what became a staple for this summer: As far as Red was concerned, you could never do anything right. When I say ‘you’ I mean me, although Red, being a Democrat, would share the wealth with some of the others from time to time.
The whole time we were trying to get that plastic up over the wall, he was hollering at me.
“Pup, gotta hold it up higher, boy… Sonny, cain’t you see that wall’s gettin’ soakin’ wet right there, bring it this-a-way, hurry, boy, this ain’t a game of chess…” and so on.
After a minute, Doocy started hollering for me, too, and I looked around for help, not knowing which way to turn. Truth is, they were turning me every which way but loose, and this was only the third hour on the job.
About that time, William – ‘Willum’ as Doocy called him – snatched the plastic from me gruffly and ordered me to go help Doocy. I could see already that they don’t hand out congeniality awards on a bricklaying job.
As soon as William snatched the plastic, I took off across the already-muddy red clay to get to Doocy out on the southeast side of the house where the mixer was. I say I took off, I should say I slipped and slid my way over to him and almost fell on my face the whole time I was sliding his way.
By the time I got to the mixer, Doocy had already pulled a sheet of plastic over the bags of mortar stacked up on the pallets by the mixer. But the wind was whipping up and blowing the plastic off, and he couldn’t get one end tied down before the other would fly up. The wind had picked up with the rain and was slinging the cold rain right straight into your face, stinging your face and eyes like little bees.
Doocy hollered at me to “grab some mo’ brick fast, Pup,” which I did. I only grabbed three or four at first, but that wasn’t nearly enough to hold the plastic down.
The fire drill continued getting worse, and I ended up running back and forth for three or four handfuls, slipping and sliding as I went, and putting them on the plastic. In the meantime, Doocy had the hose pipe and was having to dump out the unused mortar into a wheelbarrow and dumping it out toward the back of the property away from the mixer.
You never wanted to waste mortar because that was wasting money (“Money don’t grow on them trees yonder,” as Red would say, pointing at the tall pines that surrounded the house), but you don’t have any choice when a deluge comes.
It took Doocy two full wheelbarrows to empty the mixer before he could wash it out with the hose pipe and dump the milky-looking water out on the ground making it look a little like snow on the ground – nasty, wet, chunky snow, not the pretty snow Mama and I we saw back last winter standing out on our front porch.
All this time, the rain just continued to pick up and wash the dogs out from under the house, as Southerners say, and every stitch of clothing we had on was drenched by the time we got to the garage and out of the rain.
Doocy and I arrived at the garage about the same time the other four did, and we all grabbed some old rags lying around and tried to dry ourselves off. Pee Wee always wore a towel around his neck when he worked, a good habit I adopted later on in my bricklaying life; so he had that to try to dry off, even though it was about soaked too by the time he and the others got the wall jointed and covered up.
Something I didn’t add about that thunderstorm was this: Without a doubt, I heard more ‘cussing’ in that ten-minute span than I had heard all of my sixteen-plus years put together.
Red would use all the words without being prejudicial with one denomination over another. He would sling those words like nothing when he got really mad, reminding me of how Doocy’s mixer would spit out mortar while it was churning.
Red, he could go from zero to sixty quicker than the sweet ’69 Firebird I bought a few years later. He would use the Lord’s name in vain, too, without conscience. Basically, he recycled as many unsavory words as possible, regularly and without discrimination.
Ah, if Mama had known the vocabulary of a bricklaying job she would have gotten out of her sick bed and driven over the Alabama line and up the long red-clay driveway up to this house on top of a lovely Roanoke hill and fired me from that job herself. But what she didn’t know didn’t hurt her at all.
Besides, she was really proud that I had taken that man’s job, as I always called it, although I was definitely just a boy among men. But before the summer was over, I’d be more of a man than I really wanted or needed to be, and far, far more than a seventeen-year-old ever should have to be.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or call or text (972) 824-5197.