FRONT-PORCH GOSPEL: A talk about a brother (part 1)
Good week to all. Welcome to the “front porch.”
“I just want to talk about my brother.”
Mr. Charles Nix, the man who ‘discovered me,’ as I like to say, once began a column for the LaGrange Daily News with that first line.
I say he ‘discovered me’ with a little laugh. What I mean is that he ran up onto Grandma and me one day broken down in her still-running 1956 Ford on the side of the Roanoke Road. We were headed out to see my Uncle Raymond. Mr. Nix not only stopped to help us and guide us to safety; but as we talked he said he’d arrange an interview for me with the LDN editor Ms. Andrea Lovejoy, once he found out I was ‘kind of a writer’ and thought I had the makings for a famous columnist. That was in 1997. I’m not famous yet, but we could probably lay a pretty good claim to a little infamy.
When Grandma and I got to Uncle Raymond’s house just over the Alabama line, he told me he liked Charles Nix’s writing, and he added, “He had one column I’ll always remember. It began with, ‘I just want to talk about my brother.’”
I never forgot that nice little first line, either. And even though we’ve kind of gone around the world to get to it – which is very fitting in this case, as you will see – for today I just want to talk to you about my brother. I am more than honored to do this.
When I say ‘brother,’ I am not talking about my two Bowen brothers Tim and Wayne. I am referring to one of those brothers you don’t meet until three or four years after you’re born. Tim and Wayne have been my brothers since 1956. I didn’t meet Ryan Howell until, say, 1962 – a little before, maybe, or a tad later. Truth is, I have known him as long as I can remember.
Ryan lived in Birmingham most of his life. We would see each other when we were younger when we went up to Birmingham for their “Spring Meeting” that ended on Easter Sunday every year. Mama would buy us new clothes, we would get all spruced up – or “High Karate’d” up – and we’d head up to Birmingham to hear the preaching of Lynwood Smith, the best storytelling preacher ever to hit the South.
The Howell family included Ryan’s mom and dad and four girls: Melondy, Angie, Donna, and Janet – and they became a part of our lives early on through church gatherings. At the first, I’m sure I liked a couple of his sisters a lot better than I liked Ryan. You understand.
When we were teenagers, Ryan, Coca-Cola Mike, and a bunch more of us all had good times when we would go to Roanoke every summer for a singing school held by Mr. Dorsey Yarbrough. That was down Ryan’s alley, because everybody who knows Ryan knows he could sing with any of ‘em.
Years later – after Ryan and I found the only two girls in the world who were misguided enough to marry us – Ryan and Sandy moved to Houston where the amazin’ blonde and I were living. Together again, we all continued making our mark on the world. For a while we attended the same little Aurora Street church of Christ on the north side of town – and I had the privilege of sitting in front of the greatest and most enthusiastic tenors I’ve known.
Words will not do justice as I try to tell you today about this other brother. Besides his singing, Ryan is one of the great storytellers, too – I mean the kind that feels it to be wrong to leave out even the slightest detail in a story. He never erred from the straight-and-narrow in that regard, for sure. A bit of Ryan’s long-windedness rubbed off on me, too, but I can’t hold a candle to Ryan Howell on telling a story with absolute, unflappable and unmerciful, detail. He told a story in vivid flying colors, laughing every step of the way, but that isn’t even all of it. Sandy, as vivacious as Ryan but more lovely, to be sure, is a super good talker, too, and she will jump in and say, “Oh, Ryan, don’t forget the part about...”
When Ryan and Sandy showed up, you always wanted to make sure you had a Snickers bar in your pocket. One of his daughters told me the other day how they remembered all of us in the living room laughing our heads off and telling stories. Those moments were magical. There was always us, with Ryan – my big friend who was as silver-headed as Charlie Rich – Sandy, the Southern girl with the world’s biggest and best smile – and often best friends Coca-Cola Mike and Glory – all together. It was always right. It was always perfect.
Those were the days my friend.
Ryan and Sandy lived in Houston near us long enough to have two girls – Lauren and Brittany – and then they decided to move back to Birmingham. There their baby girl Andrea came along. Their family was set, Ryan was back to his home church and to his parents and four sisters (that’s right – he has four sisters and three daughters), and he worked at Fed Ex until just a few years ago.
We all stayed in touch all through the years – but not nearly enough to satisfy any of us – and had a full day together home in LaGrange just a year or so ago. Since that visit, Ryan’s health began to slip. It was a number of issues, and he spent several weeks in the hospital over the past month. He and I talked some while he was there, and he was in great spirits, as always. That was Ryan, of course. He was never any other way.
This past Monday morning I was just heading home from my work in Oklahoma when Marilyn called with the unexpected bad news – Ryan had died.
My heart dropped. I pulled over on the side of the road at the first exit. For a few minutes there, I spent a little time with Ryan, my friend, just as before.
I suppose it is fitting that, as we share his story this week, that it will take more than one week’s writing. After all, wouldn’t you expect a long story told with unassailable details and with enthusiastic flying colors.
My brother Ryan wouldn’t have it any other way.
Coach Steven Bowen, a long-time Red Oak teacher and coach, now enjoys his time as a full-time writer and preacher of the gospel. 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.