FRONT-PORCH GOSPEL: This life story begins in 1973 (kind of) – part 22
Life is a funny thing, you know.
It looks far different looking back on it than when you’re in the cage taking the last shot in a game where you’re down one.
I say, ‘cage’: In the beginning, basketball players were called ‘cagers’ because they played in what in essence was a cage until around the turn of the twentieth century. My years as a cager don’t go back that far, but they do go back to maybe when I was about three years old. You already know the infamous tale of Mama’s ‘baby’ shooting baskets in the snow down at the Whatley house, scaring the family to death when they couldn’t find him.
From that moment onward, maybe even before that day, I learned that sometimes you can be in the midst of a scrimmage – just as we were in hundreds of times down at the Y – where you exhaust every ounce of energy you have and sweat pours down on you like a waterfall. You can come to realize, somehow, that something bigger than life is happening at some of those soaking-wet sweaty moments. It dawns on you that you are in the midst of a sort of microcosm, as Ms. Long taught us, a place where all your hopes and dreams are stretching out before you like the vast waters of the ocean, the waves rolling in and out with the roar of thunder. I wrote something similar to that in one of my English essays, and Ms. Long wrote “Good!” in sharp red ink, making me think that there was a chance I could become a writer someday.
The other hundred red marks on the paper did quell my enthusiasm just a bit, enough, at least, to keep me humble.
But Ms. Long’s microcosm seemed to be the way of this Summer of 1973. Somehow, I knew this cager’s summer – pardon the third person here – was not just the start of some distant voyage that lay ahead miles and miles out into the deep. (Ms. Long, I hope you approve of our mixing metaphors here and will write “Good!” in your mind in strong red letters.)
No, these events comprise something that at that exact juncture in life I would have to take and fold neatly away and tuck in the heart for the years to come. I use the expression tuck away in your heart a bit prematurely, as it is an expression that I first encountered out here on this brutal bricklaying job, of all places. Incongruity clearly is no stranger to this tale.
The expression comes from the most unusual source, too, but at the most opportune time, though it seemed to be abrupt the day our friend stopped me on the job with his famous lecture on the heart. I probably do not need to tell you that the source was none other than Doocy himself, the most ragged and rough-looking, the most abrasive and brash poet, gentleman, and scholar I have ever met, or shall.
I am being unfair here a bit, friends, because we are way ahead of ourselves, and Doocy’s grandiose lecture on the heart will have to wait until the plot that is about to be introduced at this juncture unfolds. Waiting ahead is a special “Enter stage left” that will change the dynamics of the summer like the changing of the weather come winter. This reminder, even for the teller of the tale in this chronicle of ’73 will serve as an alert to all that we are about to pull a rose from this rigorous and rugged construction site bricklaying job, making it even more of the perfect backdrop for a summer of growing up.
Ah, truth, certainly, is stranger than fiction, indeed.
It happened a day or two after the big storm rained us out on my inaugural introduction to brick, mortar, and chaos. It came just out of the blue, and it was like adding fuel to the fire that came blazing in the form of Doocy and Red, and others. We had not been working long that morning until we saw a black car start its journey up the long red-dirt driveway. I wouldn’t have paid much attention to the car coming up the drive normally; but I was out by the mixer on that south side of the house making mud when I noticed the dust. As I shoveled the sand into the mixer, I glanced that way, and it caught my attention. The car hypnotized me momentarily as it would come into view for a flash then disappear just as quickly, hiding behind a stretch of elegant tall pines.
I smiled as I let my mind wander – a problem in all my high school classes that was carrying over to this new life – because I thought it was like the black car was winking at me, playfully. I didn’t let my mind wander so much that I forgot to get that mud made, because about the time it had mixed thoroughly and was ready to be dumped in the wheelbarrow, Pee Wee, Charlie, and Red were hollering, “Mud, need some mud! Come on, Pup, get t’lead out,” words that naturally removed a bit of the lead and put my rear end into high gear.
The yelling continued even after the black car – a Studebaker, maybe a ‘51 – came to a stop in front of the house, and a tall middle-aged gentleman and his wife, a pretty woman slightly younger, got out. It was embarrassing that as soon as they closed the door they could hear the racket,
“Mud, come on Pup, where are ya? Git thet mud o’er here,” as they slammed their trowels on the walk-boards. The bricklayers had moved to the south side of the house by this time, the same side the mixer and sandpile were, so they were staring holes in me as they shouted. Red saw the gentleman and knew him to be the owner of the house and the one who had hired him to brick the house. The job had no contractor, so the man, Mr. McClain, was coordinating with all the subcontractors directly.
Red jumped down from the scaffold and lumbered hurriedly over to the gentleman. Everything from that moment for the next minute-and-a-half seemed to go in slow motion. The minute-and-a-half was an hour just on its own; but in slow motion, why, it becomes a lifetime.
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 email@example.com or call or text (972) 824-5197.