May 28, 2024
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As I write this morning, I’m sitting in a comfy fold-out rocking chair on the porch of my grandparents’ old home in Robert Lee, Texas. 

I love being in Robert Lee. My three pastor brothers and I have been coming to this sweet little place at least twice a year, once in the fall and once in the spring, for over forty years. That hardly seems possible!

I call it the Coke County Pastors’ Conference. Not only is it an incredible amount of relaxation and fun (particularly since for the last bunch of years we’ve done a lot less actual carpentry work here than we once did), it’s also been for us the best ministry conference we ever attend. For more than a few of those years, our pastor father was also here with us. Sweet memories.

At this moment, my two-years-younger brother is actually working; I’m providing valuable input. The big money is in consulting.

Jim is working with concrete. I’ve offered several suggestions. I am close enough to him that I’ve needed to avoid a little of the concrete dust he’s creating. But I’m far enough away that I’ve not broken a sweat. He seems to be doing a passable job, but I have a column deadline to meet as his concrete cures.

In all of our trips to Robert Lee, steaks play a role. We’ve been doing our part for the cattle industry. That’s appropriate as Granddaddy Key raised cattle, trucked cattle—he had the only cattle truck in Coke County for years and hauled cattle to Fort Worth for folks—and he even cowboyed in Arizona some during his younger days. “Beef! It’s what’s for dinner!” (I suppose I could be a vegetarian, perhaps at gunpoint. But, my apologies, I’d rather just quietly pass away.)

As pastors gather, a little incense (in cigar form) is also offered.

What my bro is working on presently (and I actually have helped some in a minor way in previous stages) is recreating a front porch column. Granddaddy built this house in 1928. It surely seemed a lot bigger in my childhood in the 60s.

You can find houses of this vintage all over a wide patch of geography—kind of a “shotgun” style, the simplest of roof-lines, with a front porch and a column (or two) supporting the roof above the porch (one column in our case). The column was supported on a brick stack that went about one-third to one-half of the way up and then, perched on a concrete platform, had 1 x 4 boards angling up to support the eave on the corner.

A few years ago, we noticed that the brick stack had a pretty pronounced crack in its mortar where the bricks had shifted a bit. We figured the seemingly eternal drought (and consequent porch and house settling) was taking its toll. After considering the situation for a couple of years (one doesn’t want to rush into these things), we decided to rebuild the post and, in the Shelburne way of building, decided to over-build incredibly by making the new column completely independent of the porch and foundation.

Oh, it would look just like the old one, without the crack, but it would be built with a fairly massive and deep Sonotube concrete form underneath, newly cleaned ancient brick (from the original), a few new bricks to replace old cracked ones, the original “mid-pedestal,” and new 1 x 4s.

Among the required temporary frame material as we worked were two roof jacks and accompanying hardware used to hold up that corner of the house while we built the new old porch column.

Maybe about halfway through the project, we found an old picture of Grandmother Key sitting on the porch, possibly in the late 1930s or early 1940s. It’s a sweet picture. But . . .

But the crack in the column that we thought was somewhat new? It was clearly already there in the old picture.

Maybe—just maybe—it was a little worse by 2020? I say that to make us feel better about the work. But a few hundred pounds of concrete sacks later, it is now most definitely improved.

My brother requests that I mention that he did indeed do the lion’s share of the work.

And we both are of the opinion that the new column will be here long after the rest of the old place has fallen down beside it.

Is there a point to this? I can think of many.

I’m thankful for decades of time spent with my brothers.

I’m thankful for faith and family foundations that are longer-lasting than concrete and are building materials that are incredibly strong.

And I’m thankful that Jim did the work while I wrote this column.

I have so much for which to be thankful. Yes, indeed.

Curtis K. Shelburne


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