Woodshed Wisdom
By Freeman Martin

Ed. Note: Five years ago today, Jan. 1, 2010, we went to the Woodshed with a childhood memory entitled “Collards and Hog Jowls.” Then and now, it remains one of the most commented upon of all our remembrances of growing up on the farm at Route 4, Seneca, SC, in the 50’s. Each succeeding January 1st, in 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 and now 2015, we’ve changed the dates a bit, but basically repeated the story. Today is no different. For the 6th consecutive year, that love ‘em or hate ‘em relationship with something that you have to hold your nose to get ‘em in your mouth is the subject of our visit to the ‘shed’ on this first day of 2015.

If you’re a regular reader of the Woodshed, you’ll probably remember that our attention was first drawn to this ‘smelly’ subject of hog jowls and collard greens by our long-time good friends, loyal “Woodshed-ers,” and former school bus rider, Cathy and Randy Williams, as Randy was stinking up not only their whole house, but watering the eyes of all the animals in the woods all over the great northwest of Oconee County.

I haven’t heard from the Williams household this year. Maybe they were told to cease and desist by SPCAN (Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and Neighbors). However, confirmation that we should stay the course on this pungent subject has come overnight and today from two different sources. I’m thinking there might have been some kind of conspiracy up there in those northern woods. While there seems to be no dead polecat aroma emanating from the Williams household, possibly due to the aforementioned SPCAN sanctions, I’m told that they’re sending investigators to another site just across the ridge from the Williams.

I’m guessing here, again, but those SPCAN (almost sounds like spit-can!) private eyes were tipped off by a simple social media message (or cry for help) from a computer located in the cabin in the deep northern woods belonging to Pete and Nancy Cumbee. It was such an innocent message – “my whole house stinks” – and one that could have been caused by wandering skunks. Or maybe Easter eggs that were never found. But given the proximity of the Williams site to the Cumbee site, I’m going out on a limb and guessing that the SPCAN detectives didn’t have to follow their noses very far to find the incriminating evidence at the Cumbee Cabin. After all, this ain’t rocket surgery, folks.    On a windy day that smell has been known to burn the paint off houses as far away as 50 miles.

My second confirmation, ironically, came in another social media message. And would you believe – this one from someone I’ve known since the day she was born. Yep, our #1 and only daughter Kim was quoted as saying she hopes there’s something to that old superstition that ‘whatever you do on the first day of the year, you’ll be doing all year long.’ Wonder where in the world she could have heard such foolish thinking. But since she and a friend are lolly-gagging down the road toward the beach, I can only guess that she hopes she can be lolly-gagging down the road toward the beach every day of the New Year. And why does that not surprise me? That girl would live at the beach if she could. But, of course, modern gurus say that parents are responsible for training the minds of our babies, so I guess we shouldn’t have let her play in her sand box every day of her life. Anyway, her brother Jeff would probably beg to differ with her, especially since he’s spending the day ‘0n the clock’ as opposed to her lolly-gagging.

I just don’t buy into this ‘first day of the year’ hogwash anyway. So, to Randy and Pete and all you other stink-eaters who have to put a clothes pin on your nose to get something past your lips hoping all the while that eatin’ something akin to road kill will bring you good luck, I have a news flash for you. A stomach pump is real. And it’s bad luck. Why in the name of Sam Hill do you think that stuff only grows once a year? Call it Woodshed math or old-age head-scratching, but I can still put two and two together and come up with four.

But I have a confession. Take a deep breath. Here it comes. If I had any inkling of an idea in this well-worn dirt road country boy brain that what my MHB (mill hill bride) and I are doing on the first day of 2015 would continue for the other 364 days, I would tell Randy and Pete to load up a two-horse wagon of that stinking stuff and bring it to me ASAP. I’d hold my breath as long as possible and dive into the mess head first ‘cause I surely hope and pray that this old-timey flu-induced quarantine and accompanying heavy antibiotic fog are gone before the first full moon.  After all, the neighbors are beginning to wonder why our friends are throwing food under the garage door and running away!    

Now, with a few date changes, herewith is COLLARD GREENS AND HOG JOWLS, PART VI, Jan 1, 2015.

It was just a little wooden sign about two feet high by the side of the road. But it might as well have been one of those double-decker lighted billboards. It was in the shape of an arrow pointing down a dirt road. And painted in red on the sign was one word. Collards. Funny thing about words. You see or hear the right word at the right time, and before you can say ‘hog jowls and black-eyed peas,” you’re in another time and another place.

Every New Year’s Day since I was old enough to eat cornbread without gettin’ strangled, that’s what we had for dinner (the noon meal) back home at Route 4. Black-eyed peas, hog jowls, and collards. And if we turned up our noses at this ‘finger-lickin’ feast, we’d get Daddy’s standard speech. Something about coins and greenbacks and good luck. But a farm boy can only take so much ‘yuck.’ So, one New Year’s Day, I got brave. Or just plumb dumb. On hindsight, it might well have been the latter.

I think it was Jan. 1, 1955. There probably were a lot of problems in the world back then. But the only problem this country boy could think about was how he was goin’ to be able to digest this stuff that the catfish down in Coneross Creek could smell when Mother fired up the kitchen stove. The problem was that we didn’t just have it on January first. Daddy could grow collards on that red dirt farm where kudzu wouldn’t even grow. And if he thought that two rows would be enough, he’d plant half an acre. “Just to be on the safe side,” he’d say. And I’d pray, “Lord, please let the worms and rabbits eat every bit of that stuff.” But it didn’t work. Wrong kind of prayer!

So, collards and hog jowls made regular appearances at our table. Maybe that’s why on that particular New Year’s Day, I should have been eatin’ instead of thinkin’. As Daddy looked down both benches at the kitchen table and saw nothing but facial expressions that resembled pretzels, he goes into that speech for the umpteenth time about how we needed all the good luck and coins and folding money we could get. And he emphasized every single word by pointing his fork at each and every one of those pretzel faces!

When he stopped long enough to get another mouthful of collards, I should have done likewise. But I just couldn’t help myself. “Daddy,” I said, “if that good luck story was true, we’d be rich by now.” You could have heard a pin drop in that kitchen. Except for Mother choking on her collards. And Daddy gettin’ up out of his chair like he had been shot out of a rocket.

On the way to the woodshed I was privileged to hear his other speech about how we should be thankful for having a roof over our head and food on the table. I didn’t interrupt this speech, but I’m thinkin’ that I really was thankful. So very thankful, in fact, that we didn’t have any boiled okra on the table.

So, today is Jan. 1, 2015. But before we get too deep into twenty-fifteen, let’s take a quick look at how we did in twenty-14. We chewed on a bunch of problems, didn’t we? This world is in a mess. And I’m not talking about a ‘mess of collard greens,’ either. Seems like everybody you run into these days is in a ‘stew’ over something or the other. Like Mother used to say when we’d complain about something, “If it’s not one thing, it’s half-a-dozen.” But the current heartaches, hurts, and hunger are very real and seem to be reaching epidemic proportions.

What’s the answer? I don’t know what it is. But I do know where we can look. When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we ask Him to give us our ‘daily bread.’ And we readily accept the bread that feeds our physical needs. But what about the Bread of Life? This just me, but I believe that way too many folks in the world today, some of ‘em in high places, have twisted their faces and turned up their noses at the Bread of Life – God’s Holy Word.

We get choked by chewing on problems instead of potential. While we could be getting daily nourishment for the soul by ingesting and digesting daily doses of His Word. Everybody I know would love to get rid of bad memories and tough circumstances that the world has seen in 2014. Don’t raise your hand, but I wonder how many people in the free world will actually read the Bible every single day of the New Year beginning today. Talk about a New Year’s resolution! There’s one that could change the world if we’d just stick to it. Call it a r-e-v-o-l-u-t-i-o-n, not a resolution were the instructions from my pastor Rev. David Gallamore in a recent sermon.

In the first chapter of Proverbs this morning, I found some bad news and some good news that I had not seen and/or heard before. First the bad news. Just when we think we’ve heard and seen all the evil that the devil can produce, something else happens to further convince us of the depravity of mankind.

Proverbs 1:29-33, New International Version (NIV)

29 since they hated knowledge and did not choose to fear the LORD.
30 Since they would not accept my advice and spurned my rebuke,
31 they will eat the fruit of their ways and be filled with the fruit of their schemes.
32 For the waywardness of the simple will kill them, and the complacency of fools will destroy them;

Some preachers in some churches don’t use the word ‘revival’ much anymore. Back home at Return Baptist Church, you could always count on at least two Revivals a year – one in the Spring and another one in the Fall. And they lasted for seven days, I might add.

God is a gentleman. He won’t stay where He’s not wanted. And in this great nation founded on His principles, we used to want Him in our family, in our schools, and at work and play. And if there’s ever to be any hope for a return to the America we once knew, that hope goes by the name of R-E-V-I-V-A-L. And that’s the promise we find in the last verse of Proverbs, chapter 1:

33 but whoever listens to me will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm.”

Life doesn’t come all wrapped up in pretty paper with bows and ribbons, but every day is still a gift from God. How we choose to use it for His honor, glory and pleasure will determine whether or not we leave a stench in His nostrils like three-day-old collards and hog jowls.

God, please bless America in twenty-fifteen! Give us enough good ol’ horse sense to know that true revival starts in the heart of the one we see in our mirror, so that we, your people, don’t continue to be mule-headed stubborn.

Even if it comes to eatin’ a mess of collards and hog jowls.