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FRONT-PORCH GOSPEL: This life story begins in 1973 (kind of) – part 32

Hoopla Ray Charles could see!

It probably wasn’t the cranking up of the truck that brought me back to reality, but the revving up of the engine, I said to Cheyenne, continuing the saga.

Still, even without giving it the gas, Red’s rugged old red work truck could make more noise than a teenager’s sports car that’d pull beside you while you’re sitting at a red light downtown LaGrange on a Friday night. And, like the sports car, Red’s truck filled the air with enough black smoke that day that it’s a wonder a fire truck didn’t come blazing up the driveway. I have to say, the old truck occupies a special place in my memory of those old days, maybe because it formed a fitting juxtaposition to its owner. Both the truck and the boss came with a smoke-stack accessory.

You understand.  

Standing in the living room of Corrina’s house – the two of us still engrossed in conversation – I took my eyes off of her bright face long enough to glance out of the picture window where I could see the red truck. I noted that Pee Wee, who always drove to and from work, had circled the truck around and had it facing due south, ready to roll for home. Doocy, William, and Hook were all situated comfortably in the back of the truck, as they always were no later than 4:o1 p.m. on any given day.

Just a glimpse of that scene alerted me again that lengthy speeches or mushy goodbyes might need to be bypassed.

But even before I could react, big Pee Wee, who had been in rare form all that day, hollered out, “Let’s go, Billy Boy Ray, it’s time to roll!”

Then Doocy hollered out, “Come on, Puppy, ain’t got time for no lovey-dovey romance right ‘bout now,” something that would’ve made me turn a red had Corrina not cracked a little smile I could tell she tried to conceal.

Then Pee Wee, with his patented laugh, hollered, “Billy Ray Charles, can’t ya see we’re about to leave …”

And Doocy kept right in tune with, “Yes’sir, bettah come on Mr. Ray Charles, if yuh be old ‘nough to open your eyes, you’ll see this truck is headed on to Gawgia right ‘bout now.”

“That was the day I got a new nickname,” I told Cheyenne, “and that always gave the boys a choice when they needed a name. They could go with the original ‘Pup,’ or, if they wanted to get fancy, they could pull ‘Ray Charles’ out of their back pockets.” Of course, Red could flavor up whatever name he chose with a non-mentionable choice word or two.

Pee Wee wrapped the conversation that was in progress between the truck and the living room with, “Ah, Ray Charles, see ya t’morra,” and he immediately started pulling down the drive heading home.

“Oh, my, baby-girl, I’d better run,” I said to Corrina, aware of the sass, and I gave her a quick semi-hug. Now that I think of it, that would have been the first time I had hugged her,

As I reached the front door, I added quickly, “See ya tomorrow – oh, love your room!”

I hit the front door running, and I could hear her following behind as I jumped off of the makeshift front porch and started hauling it toward the truck. By this time, Pee Wee was a good way down the driveway, at least fifty feet ahead of me. I had put it in high gear by the time I got to the driveway, and as I ran Doocy was hollering and laughing simultaneously,

“Hurry Pup, you gots to hurry.”

If I had had the time, I would have noticed that William and Hook were just leaning back against the side of the truck laughing their heads off and enjoying the show. At the same time, Pee Wee had his arm out of the driver’s window waving at me, and hollering, “Ray Charles, ya better come on, come on now …,” and so on.

I got to within a few feet from the tailgate of the truck and began reaching out for Doocy who was standing up on the tailgate hanging onto the side of the truck with his left hand and reaching out for me with his right, webbed hand, hollering non-stop for me to hurry. He was laughing all along, too, and I had gotten close enough that I could see every single one of his missing teeth. The whole scene still rolls in my mind in slow motion.

I reached up at just the right moment and grabbed that rough paw, thumb to thumb, and with his unusual strength he pulled me onto the tailgate like I was a feather. Just as I got one foot up on the tailgate, though, Pee Wee slammed on the brakes.

I paused in my re-telling of the story to put an exclamation behind it for Cheyenne.

“Cheyenne,” I said, shaking my head as if I were embarrassed all over again half a century later, “that sorry Pee Wee slammed on the brakes at the perfect moment, and there wasn’t but one thing for me to do.”

And I did that one thing, I said. I tumbled headfirst into the bed of the truck, tripping Doocy as I did, and he fell down right on top of me –all two-hund’ed-and-thirty of him.

“Did the dark-haired girl see all that?” Cheyenne asked, laughing.

“Oh, I never dared to look back, but I know she did,” I said, reliving the sad, pitiful, mean, sorry, embarrassing scene. Oh, I was mad, I said. I’ll never forget. I jumped up as soon as I got loose from Doocy, and said,

“Come on Pee Wee, get outta the truck, right now! Let’s go. You and me.”

Of course, it’s hard to be tough when everybody around you is laughing and Pee Wee’s graciously opening the door to see if you’re okay. Still, I noticed that he was not so gracious to refrain from leading the sweaty choir in laughter himself.

I’ll close the curtain on the rest of that scene, just to say that it was time in a bottle never to be forgotten, stamped now and forever in the folklore of this classic, romantic, and – sometimes – very, very sorry tale.  

It was beauty and beast at its best; but in the Rock Mills, Alabama version, it is beauty and the beasts, in the plural.

“It’s easy to see who the beasts were,” I summed it up to Cheyenne, with a laugh, “even Ray Charles could’ve seen that.”


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.

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