Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

I caught bits and pieces of a report on television the other day that almost caused a short-circuit overload of my Route 4 memory hard drive. There were a couple of experts discussing the state of our health and well-being in this country today. Both of them had more degrees than a thermometer. The first thing that popped up in my mind, like little bean sprouts sticking their head through the crusty dirt in the garden, was Daddy’s back-home definition of an expert. He’d always say that an ‘ex’ was a has-been and a ‘spert’ was a drip under pressure.

I think maybe he was just trying to teach a woodshed lesson to some rough-around-the-edges country boys about using their God-given brain to think for themselves instead of just repeating what somebody else said. That advice usually came about when we would start running our mouth before engaging our brain. Or in plain English Daddy would say, “Boy, if you paid a nickel to think about what you just said, you’re due four-and-a-half cents change.”

Anyway, back to the main road. These experts were using their fifteen minutes of televised fame to bring to the waiting world a startling revelation! And just before the commercials that preceded this earth-shattering news, the host uttered something like “News that could save your life – when we come back.!”  Now, doesn’t that just make you want to stop the coffee pot from perking and hold your breath for two minutes?

And on the other side of the break, the host set up the announcement in this most dramatic, suspense-building tone of voice you’ve ever heard! You’d think that Expert Number One was about to read from one of one of Moses’ tablets. And, finally, the moment comes. The proclamation is issued as Expert Number Two looks squarely into the camera lens and says, ”America, Wash your hands before you eat.”    

Along about here, I remembered one of Mother’s favorite expressions when she heard something like that. In her kind, sweet and gentle spirit, Mother would say, ‘that just takes the cake.’ Until I was old enough to understand what she meant, I’d get mad because I thought my brothers had run off to the barn with the last piece of chocolate cake and I didn’t get any. Now back to the news.

The experts quoted some numbers from ‘such-and-such’ study that revealed that over fifty percent of the people in this country don’t wash their hands before they eat. And out of that half, fifty-four percent said they don’t use soap when the DO wash their hands! Now, hold the phone! The math has just gone too high – never was too good with fractions. You’re telling me that half of us don’t bother to wash our hands before supper, and half-of-half-of-us can’t find the bar of Octagon soap? That does, indeed, take the cake.

Back home on the farm, our kitchen table was a big old oak thing that looked to be about twenty feet long when you reached for the gravy bowl. And there was a bench on either side of the table and a chair at each end. Yep, two benches and two chairs. I didn’t know till I got married that kitchen tables usually come with four chairs! Of course, Daddy guarded one end of the supper table from his chair and Mother rode herd on the gang of biscuit thieves closest to her chair at the other end of the table. And what his long arm couldn’t protect, her over-the-glasses stare could melt the ice in your tea glass!

And it never failed – one or more of us boys (the girls didn’t do anything to get their hands dirty) would bypass the Octagon and show up at the supper table with the day’s accumulation of red dirt, pine sap, and other various and assorted farm grime on our hands. Mother never, ever called her little darlings ‘hypocrites’ or ‘Pharisees’ or anything like that but then she never heard about something called Swine flu.  Not to make light of a serious illness going around today, but could somebody explain to me how the hogs got involved in this?

Why, just yesterday, I looked around to see if Mother was watching me when I went into the grocery store without washing my hands! They don’t have water and a bar of Octagon soap and a towel at the front door, but they do have some of those little anti-bacterial wipes right there where you grab the handles of your buggy. And everywhere you go you see people squirting stuff on their hands! The only stuff we ever squirted on our hands back home on the farm was some kerosene to cut the pine sap build-up on our hands from stocking the woodshed.

Germs, germs, germs, they’re everywhere! Before they get to the three R’s, teachers are telling their class to cough in their arms. They’re sending notes home to Mother and Daddy telling them to keep their little angels at home if they have a runny nose. The risk of infection is on everything we touch. Reminds me of Mrs. Pepper, my fifth grade teacher who broke me from biting my finger nails by sprinkling liberal amounts of her name sake seasoning on my hands every day for a month! Again, somebody please enlighten me – are there more germs in the world today than fifty years ago? And, guys, don’t even think about leaving the restroom at our favorite restaurant and grabbing that door handle without washing your hands! I have to grab that same door handle and I might just be carrying a bar of Octagon in my pocket!

That brings me to the end of this dirt road today with a question. Is there such a thing as a ‘good germ?’ What do people ‘catch’ when they’re around you? Have you ‘infected’ anyone recently with the twin germs of kindness and compassion? There was once a woman in a big crowd following Jesus. She had a disease and she just knew if she touched the hem of his garment, she would get well right then and there on the spot! She had a burning desire to be infected and affected with this Man called Jesus! And, Instead of getting sicker, she was healed when she touched Him!

And there was another time in the Bible where it talks about washing your hands before you eat. See what you miss when you don’t read the Bible! In Matthew, chapter 15, verse 2, a bunch of tattle-tale Pharisee boys saw the disciples come to the supper table one day without washing their hands. I can just hear them now – “We’re gonna tell Jesus on you!” I heard that a lot back home on the farm, mostly from Ollie and Wade who were gonna tell Mother on me for just sticking my hands in the wash bowl and drying them on my pants on the run to the table.

But it was Jesus’ answer to those old boys in Matthew 15:10-11 that makes me smile just thinking about getting tattled on! In so many words, He said, “Listen, let me make this perfectly clear. Get this through your noggin. It’s not what goes into your mouth that infects you and makes you sick. It’s what comes out of your mouth that makes you need to get up close and personal with the Octagon. And right here, I can testify that Mother was always much more concerned about washing our mouth out than she was about washing our hands! Jesus said in v.20 that eating with dirty hands does not  make you dirty. Let’s all sing ‘What A Friend We Have in Jesus!” 

Yes, it’s really important in today’s world to wash our hands with hot, soapy water and do everything we can to keep from making ourselves and other people sick. But, in the light of eternity, it’s also crucial that people ‘catch’ something when they’re around us.

And His name is Jesus – the spotless Lamb of God who left Heaven to wash up some ol’ country boys and girls who have the germs of life all over their hands.