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FRONT-PORCH GOSPEL: This life story begins in 1973 (kind of) – part 50


“Cheyenne,” I said, turning back to him, “I have to shake my head in wonder at that night. I think I learned more about my daddy beginnin’ that evenin’ than I’d ever known. It was one of the special parts of the Summer of ’73. You couldn’t put a price tag on and sell it if somebody offered you all the money in the world, especially now lookin’ back on it after all these many years.”

Cheyenne nodded, gathering, I could tell, that the story of the summer was about to drift into deeper water.

It was good seeing Mama sitting up that night, I continued. She looked stronger than I had seen her in a while; and it was good seeing that sparkle in her eye, the one she had whenever she would introduce me to an old friend from the cotton mill by calling me “her baby.” It was also the sparkle she got when she talked about my daddy Zeke. 

Daddy’s proper name was Zion, but most folks called him “Zeke,” which came about, Mama said, when Daddy’s little sister Eula Mae tried to say it when she was a baby and could only get a “Z” hissing sound out. So, Zion turned to Zeke and stuck, the way nicknames names do.

“Nicknames must’ve been a thing back then, Popman,” Cheyenne interrupted. “Everybody out on the brick job had one, from the Doocy, the Cool Breeze, to the Pup.”

“And everybody in between,” I said, “Red, Pee Wee, and Hook were all nicknames, and they all fit who they were except for Pee Wee’s, since he was six-foot-two and stout.”

Mama sometimes called Daddy Zeke, too, I said; but when she dipped deep into her heart in talking about Daddy she always would call him by his proper name, Zion. Mama preferred Zion because it had an elegant ring to it. Few things in the Bible were more elegant than when the writers took to writing about Mount Zion where David built the temple. I suppose Mama saw the house and home that Daddy and she built as up on that kind of a mountain, too.

Mama and Zion, the love of her life, had gotten to know each other when Mama was about fifteen. She said she was smitten with Daddy from the first time she saw him. That’s where she was in her story when I sat down quietly by the door.

“Of course, sweetie,” she was saying, smiling at Corrina, “I was hardly any older than you are. But I guess back then we grew up a little quicker because of all the hard work.”

Mama went on talking about how she and Daddy were raised, both being born during the Depression in the 30s. I closed my eyes as I listened. Speaking of hard work, it took me some time every day to recuperate from a grueling day in the hot sun. Every day on that brick job you would put sunburn on top of sunburn and callouses on top of callouses. When I said at the start of the summer I wanted a man’s job, I got it, and then some. The sky was hot, the work was hard, the expectations were high, and the treatment was tough. Red never packed any kid gloves in the truck to slip on, nor did any of the other tyrants in the crew, especially Doocy. Diplomacy and etiquette were as foreign to those fellas as wearing a tux or eating a steak dinner.

On top of that, if it were possible, the workmanship was more brutal than the companionship: Carrying sixteen-foot walk boards on the shoulder, hauling a hundred-and-fifty brick on a flatbed, pushing a load of mud around the house, sometimes through the mud, then having to shovel it up on the mortar boards on scaffolds, and turning around and going right back to refilling the wheelbarrow and doing it all again – It was an endless cycle, and you were always a minute late, no matter how hard you tried.

“Pup, if you waz back right ‘bout now you’d be a minute late,” they’d holler.

Or, “Pup, we’ve got a dollar waitin’ on a dime,” they’d growl, a little saying I must’ve heard a thousand times by the end of the summer. No need to tell you who the dime was in that proverb.

I was daydreaming on all of this – more of a nightmare than a dream, I guess – while Mama and Corrina were talking. You would think I’d have better things to think about sitting there twenty feet from these two elegant ladies, who hailed from two different generations, as they talked. But all of the sore muscles along with the Doocy-hoopla just wouldn’t go away. You couldn’t drive them out of your mind with a whip. Fortunately, Mama’s soothing words gave me a momentary reprieve, and I leaned back to rest my eyes and listen to the flow of her gentle voice as she narrated her story.

“I met Zion after a tragedy happened out on their farm,” she was saying. “Zion’s brother Robbie Ray – that’s who we named Billy Ray after – was about eleven at the time. He had taken a gun that Pa kept hanging above the mantle of the fireplace, and took it outside to the front porch to show Eula Mae, who was about eight years old at the time. Zeke and Pa were big coon hunters from way back, and they always kept guns around the house. Billy Ray even went coon hunting with them once when he was about five years old, but he fell into a creek in the middle of the night, and I didn’t let him go anymore.”

I opened my eyes when she mentioned my name, and Corrina laughed. I knew she would pursue that story when she tossed me a glance over her shoulder, and added a smile, both of which helped water down the impending embarrassment considerably.

I chuckled back, then scooted down in my chair to get comfortable. Mama had a couple of stories on her mind, one funny, and one tragic, both from out on Ma and Pa’s farm.


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 p.m. Wednesdays. Email or call or text (972) 824-5197.

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