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FRONT-PORCH GOSPEL: This life story begins in 1973 (kind of) – part 33

Two roads diverging in a yellow wood.

We have no way of knowing which details – whether intriguing conversations or scenes of roll-on-the-ground humor – get lost when half a century separates the actual events of a story and the telling of it.

We say details get lost, yet, in another sense, many are as clear as if we had loaded up in Red’s rough red truck with Doocy and the boys early this very morning and had taken that trip across the Alabama line headed north and slaved away on that bricklaying job and the burning Alabama sun until my hands were raw, my rear-end was chapped (from getting it kicked so often by the ‘gentlemen’ Red  and Doocy), my skin was blistered from that scorching sun, and my legs sagged like heavy logs by the time we crawled to the red truck and headed back across that Georgia line heading home.

That all transpired just this morning to one part of my reflective mind.

Telling the story as we are here – my grandson Cheyenne sitting and listening to it attentively in its virgin form, for it has never before been told as it is here, as you are reading it now – is funny, too, because sometimes the most minor details will come to mind, and those details, like a leaf we would examine under a microscope in Ms. Brown’s sophomore biology class, become as vivid as the red clay upon which this entire saga takes place.

The reason for such clarity lies in the youth, in the young mind that – in this case – is at perhaps its most impressionable stage of life. I am not sure a boy’s mind is ever as acute as the age of sixteen, almost seventeen. It is an age where a young man – a young lady, too, I am sure – comes to that crossroad of life that separates childhood from manhood.

We stood that summer – ah, Mrs. Long would love this reference – we stood on the brink of seventeen at a crossroad in a yellow wood, two roads diverging before me, and we would have to decide soon which road had perhaps the better claim, and that decision would come soon after the summer leaves of ‘73 began to turn yellow and fall, just as in the poem. Yes, I would have to choose a road and take the same on the heels of our August birthday, and the choosing of that road would, with the Lord’s help, make all the difference.

If we were delivering a grand analysis of Frost’s poem in front of English class right now – with Pippen, Ruth, Motsy, Anya, Whitfield and the rest sitting in that grand audience – I would glance at my dear English teacher right about here, her black-rimmed glasses resting on the end of her nose, and look for some sign of approval – approval that would surely come in the form of a wry, half-smile.

I don’t want all of these musings to sound trite. I am sure the sight of a young man’s standing awkwardly in front of a junior English class might seem that way. Sometimes the scene of reading a poem in class, even as great as Mr. Frost’s, may come across as just a cluster of fancy words and images that do not mean a great deal to a sixteen-year-old student. Normally the love of poetry and suchlike would be more in line with the brainy audience previously mentioned, along with a good many others of my distinguished class of the year nineteen-hundred and seventy-four. No, no, those things were far incongruent with the silly jokester whose main objective was to get a laugh or two from his classmates until such time he could be released at the merciful, hallelujah tolling of the final bell so he could head to the Y to shoot baskets and explore his first love.

Basketball was his love, not this poetry stuff, not even Frost. I would not have admitted it then, I am not even sure I knew, that the day would come when I would feel compelled by that literature and would find in the years to come that I felt as much like Mark Twain as I did like Huck Finn. Strange creatures those English teachers such as Mrs. Long: When you aren’t looking, they will fuse into your mind literary things that you resisted every day with all your fidgety being.

Academics and A’s on the report card were as foreign to me as, say, playing chess, or joining the Honor Society, which I am not sure it is something you can actually join. I get the feel you needed a great deal more A’s on that report card than what I earned to walk into that distinguished room.

Oh, we had the decent ability, even back then, of putting one word after another until they culminated into a  profound masterpiece – at least, every essay we wrote seemed profound to me, and I held stringently to that view, like a man hanging by his fingertips on a cliff, until years later a professor or two would send me home with my tail between my legs and with my masterpiece stashed in my bag with hard red letters carved in it and, perhaps, a big “WHAT?” in the margin beside one of my most proficient, profound points.

But Ms. Long was not guilty of such outbursts or a profusion of red ink. She saw something a little deeper than what the boys I ran with saw, or the basketball boys I looked up to such as the six-foot-ten-inch Boatwright, Sauter, Boatwright, Walters, or Cool Hand Luke, whose names we mention here because some of their stories are likely to find their way in this ongoing saga.

Ms. Long quietly guided me along, ignoring the murmuring of the restless crowd nestled in front of her, because she was one of those special teachers who looked at you and saw what they knew you could become instead of seeing a silly boy on the front row who was staring out into space thinking about hitting the game-winning basket while she was talking about a steamboat pilot turned humorist by the name of Samuel Langhorne Clemens.

Isn’t it funny that, even now, after half a century of looking at ourselves, we never do seem to get around to seeing ourselves the way some obscure teacher did from when we were sixteen! It’s amazing who the Lord puts in our paths both before and after we come to that road that diverges in a yellow wood.

And it’s a marvel that it takes half of a century to realize that the teacher with the chain around her neck holding those dark-rimmed glasses, she who ordered you to sit in the front row on the second day of school did so not because she was just stern but because she saw something in you that she might help cultivate if she could get just a tiny, little-bitty piece of your star-gazing attention.

I guess, her unfounded faith in me is just one more of those small details, magnified under the microscope of time, that I am glad that I remember.

I am glad I remember other significant details for our tale, too, details regarding Pee Wee and Red, Doocy and me, and Corrina and Mama.

Especially those latter two noteworthy ladies: Very soon now, as you turn the page, that lovely twain indeed shall meet.


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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