FRONT-PORCH GOSPEL: This life story begins in 1973 (kind of) – part 21
One day after a long, hard, hot day of work on our Roanoke brick job, Pee Wee drove me home in his own blue Chevy truck. He had picked me up at my house that morning so he and I could go with him to pick up some supplies at the lumber yard in downtown LaGrange.
When we got to my house, he pulled the truck into our gravel driveway that ran behind our house. I told him I’d see him tomorrow and jumped out; but instead of backing up out of the driveway, he turned the truck off and got out.
“I want to see your Mama a minute,” he said, almost solemnly. He knew she wasn’t doing too well, because hardly a day passed that he didn’t ask how she was doing. Sometimes he would even ask how I was doing, and I always just grimaced and shook my head that I was okay.
Mama took a turn for the worse sometime in late June, maybe even a little before. It was late June that day Pee Wee came in to see her, and Mama had been staying in bed a good bit of the time by then. There was another reason she stayed in bed, too, something regarding her brain tumor. Sometime in May or June she had moved from her bedroom on the west side of the house to the room Wayne and I slept in on the other side. Of course, Wayne had moved to Texas about a year before Mama got sick to work nearby where our sister Mary Jean lived. I think Mama changed bedrooms because it was bigger and had more windows and she could see out. I was glad to move to the front room which was Mary Jean’s room before she got married and moved to Texas.
It made my day to see Pee Wee come in, so I hurried ahead of him into Mama’s room and said, “Mama, somebody’s here to see you.” She lit up as soon as she saw Pee Wee. The first thing she said didn’t surprise me, because this was vintage Mama,
“Oh, Pee Wee,” she said, “how are you liking working with my baby?”
I noted her clean enunciation as she spoke. While she always had a pleasant Southern accent, she made sure she put the ‘g’ on the end of her ‘-ing’ words. For me, workin’ and likin’ were plenty good, with or without the ‘g,’ despite my English teacher Ms. Long’s funny looks when I would ask her if she had been “gradin’ our essays.” Mama was like Ms. Long, she was more particular. I thought of that and smiled as Pee Wee walked to her bedside.
Pee Wee just chuckled when she asked about me. He had that little laugh that was always polite, but I waited anxiously to see what would come behind the laugh. I had messed up more than a time or two by late June. I say ‘a time or two,’ which is another rare instance of understatement here for the teller of this story, who built a reputation for using a liberal portion of hyperbole in the years to come in his quarter of a century as a columnist for the LaGrange Daily News. You know the fella well by now.
I knew Pee Wee couldn’t tell the truth, because he was too much of a gentleman for that, so, as he removed his cap, he said, with a smile, “Oh, Ms. Louise, you sure raised a good one. He’s not quite what Timmy is yet but it wouldn’t surprise me if he wasn’t just as good as him ‘fore school starts back.”
Pee Wee glanced at me as he said that and saw that I was looking at him with a cringe on my face to see what he would say. He must’ve felt my slight uneasiness, because he gave me his patented smile to let me know he had my back and was not opposed to telling a minuscule white lie when it became necessary, which it did.
I also learned this summer that all the boys on the job would have your back when needed, even though they would spend every waking hour on the job on your backside. That would be something that would mean a great deal more to me later than right then. It may even have kind of saved my life once about mid-July.
What made that moment so special when Pee Wee gave me some rare praise in front of Mama wasn’t just that he had my back. That would’ve been enough. But what surpassed everything was the look on Mama’s face when he said that she sure raised a good boy and that I was going to make something of myself after all.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen such pride in a lady as I saw in Mama that day. She never let that faint smile fade or those bright eyes dim the whole time Pee Wee talked to her, five, maybe ten minutes worth. After a while, Pee Wee told Mama bye with the same grace he had when he greeted her a few minutes before. I walked Pee Wee back to the truck – that’s a Southern-thing, too – and I thanked him with a grin for that slight stretching of the truth earlier. He grinned back and told me he’d see me in the morning.
I walked straight back into Mama’s room and found her waiting for me.
“Come here, Son,” she said, in her gentle voice. She reached up and just gave me a hug as soon as I got to her bedside, and I could tell she used as much strength as she had in her weakened body. Then she smiled and laid her head back down to rest.
I didn’t allow those sixteen-year-old eyes to pour that day the way the rain poured that stormy first day on the job a few weeks before, but down deep there was a storm brewing every bit as fierce. If I had let it, the bottom could have fallen out of the sky that afternoon. But to make sure Mama wouldn’t open her eyes and see the mist, I turned to the window and watched Pee Wee’s blue Chevy turn onto Juniper headed home.
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.