Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

There it was – right before my eyes. I couldn’t help myself. Driving down the street in good ol’ Hometown USA the other day and, lo and behold, what do I see? I had to blink twice. And when I looked again, I’m back home on Route 4. What was it that put me into the mule-drawn time travel machine? None other than the Tuesday morning Farmer’s Market on Main Street!

 Spread out under the downtown ‘shed,’ and that’s really what it is – just doesn’t have any sides, but still a wooden shed with a green roof – were a bunch of tables with just about any kind of produce you could imagine. Corn (on the cob), pole beans, butterbeans, ‘maters, you name it, they had it. Why, I even saw some jars of honey with the comb still in it! If I had looked closer, I probably would have seen some homemade blackberry jam or fig preserves. All that was missing was some of Mother’s cat-head biscuits with cow’s butter dripping out the sides.

 But what landed the dirt-road time machine right smack dab in the middle of our Route 4 garden was a sight that made my goose bumps have goose bumps of their own! A huge table of that long and green dreaded stuff that made my hands and arms immediately start itching – OKRA! Probably wasn’t more than a bushel or two, but to me, it looked like enough to feed every family in the county for a week or two at least.

 Can I tell you how much I dislike that slick, slimy stuff when it’s boiled? And even when it’s covered in corn meal and fried, it’s just a missed opportunity to enjoy a mouth-watering piece of buttered cornbread! I’ve thought long and hard over the years about my Okra Relationship. Adam and Eve, the First Family of Farmers, must have had some in their Garden. Why is it that I have a mental block about that stuff?

 I think I have traced it back to its roots – pardon the pun. When you plant okra, you don’t put the seed in the ground one at a time. You grab a handful, run down the row that Daddy plowed, and when your handful runs out, you go get another handful of seed. And on and on it goes until you’ve planted about fifty rows each a mile long! Daddy never wanted to run out of okra.

Then when the little green shoots start sticking their itchy little leaves through the earth’s crust, you have to thin out a few of them with your hoe so the stalks can grow strong and tall. What a complete waste of garden space. Why couldn’t it all be watermelons and cantaloupes? Anyway, I’ve traced my feelings for okra back to a garden incident that occurred over fifty years ago.

 I had been assigned the duty of thinning the okra. With Daddy’s razor-sharp hoe blade, it was a breeze. With every swing of the hoe handle, I imagined that I was eliminating this stuff from the face of the earth, and I’d never have to endure that slick stuff sliding down my throat again at the supper table! Thinning is probably not a good word to use for what I was doing. Thinning it out indicates that some was left. Not with my little ten-year-old hands at the controls of that hoe handle!

I think I had wiped out about a half a row before Daddy came to check on me. Have you ever seen a feather pillow hit the blades of a fan when it was running? That’s a good description of the dust flying out of the seat of my britches when Daddy saw what I had done! That was the day the woodshed moved to the middle of our garden.

 It didn’t take me long to devise a plan after he left. If I couldn’t chop all the stuff down, I could just do away with the hoe. With all the force and might that I could muster in my 85-pound body, I sunk that hoe into the ground. The sound of metal meeting rock is still firmly etched in my mind. The metal and the rock collided and the wooden handle split into three pieces. Now, there’s no way he can make me help that stuff grow.

Wrong again! Here comes the woodshed again tromping across the garden! After a meeting of the board of education at the seat of my learning, I was instructed to get down on my knobby little knees and finish my okra-thinning job with nothing but the blade of the hoe! And that’s how dogs came to love okra fed to them through the holes in the floor under our kitchen table. I feel better already!  

Thanks to the Farmer’s Market, I’ve been thinking way too much about okra lately. What are you thinking about today? The bad economy? Lost jobs? Dwindling 401-K’s? Death, disease, debt? Just like boiled okra, all that stuff can be depressing and totally ruin your day. God gives us free will to control our own thoughts, but our thoughts are influenced by our choice of what we see, hear, read, watch, and listen to. If all we watch, see, listen to, and believe are the ‘talking heads’ of the world, pretty soon we’re down on our knees thinning okra with just the blade of the hoe!

 It’s called the GIGO principle – Garbage In, Garbage Out! You can’t plant okra seed and expect to enjoy an ice-cold watermelon! Doesn’t work that way on the farm, and it doesn’t work that way in the garden of our minds. After he got knocked off his donkey and got his sight back, the Apostle Paul came up with some pretty good advice that I believe is still good stuff today for you and me. In Philippians 4:8, Paul encourages us, and for good reason, to think about and focus on things that are praiseworthy, excellent, pure, noble, lovely, and right. In my mind, at least, that doesn’t include okra. But I can smile when I think about buttery corn-on-the-cob, sweet ‘tater pie, and homemade ice cream! My legendary friend Mack Poss, another Route 4 boy, or was it Route 2, the number doesn’t matter, but Mack describes thinking about the good stuff as ‘Burgers, Fries, and Cherry Pies!’

 So what are you thinking about today? Remember, every sixty seconds you spend sad is a minute that you’ll never get to spend being happy. Penny for your thoughts? Please don’t sell ‘em that cheap – they’re worth much more than that!