Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

It was a simple little chore. Or so I thought. My great adventure started when Helen said, “I can’t see to fix my hair.” Turns out, one of the light bulbs was burned out in our rusty old medicine cabinet with the sliding-mirror doors. It was one of those fancy-in-its-day, two-bulb fixture, all-in-one medicine cabinets with a sliding plastic shade in front of the bulbs. The once-sparkling white shade was now yellowed in its old age. And even with two one-hundred watt bulbs, the bathroom took on a spooky glow. With only one bulb, however, you needed a seeing-eye dog.

So, stop by the store and pick up some light bulbs. No problem, right? Run in, pick up a standard box of 4 and out the door. Wrong!  I never knew there could be so many different kinds of light bulbs.

I’m standing there in front of the bulb display at the home improvement store. There must have been about an acre of ‘em! Round bulbs, long bulbs, short bulbs, fluorescent bulbs, some that looked like candles, others that looked like flames. And the colors – blue, white, yellow, clear – you name it. And then do I want 40 or 60 watts? And how ‘bout that new, energy-saving, ten-year, pig-tail shaped, curly light bulb? Will it really last ten years?

And before I could say ‘one hundred watts of daylight brilliance,’ I found myself at the kitchen table back home at Route 4. Above the table there was always that long string with the washer on the end. And it was connected to that single, 40-watt light bulb up there in that fourteen-foot ceiling. No multiple-bulb chandelier. No on-off switch by the door that glowed in the dark. No dimmer switch. Just a string and a washer. And you always knew where it was. You could grab that washer and a piece of hot, buttered cornbread in the same motion of the hand!

Funny thing, though, I don’t recall ever yanking on that string, be it morning or night, when it didn’t cast its 40-watt glow over the kitchen table. Even though a lightning bug had more candle-power, I guess I just assumed that we had a light bulb that lasted forever. I never thought about having to do my homework like Abe Lincoln. I had heard about him studying by the light of that lantern. But, man, we had it made. We had that string and washer, and all we had to do was yank on it. And I can hear Daddy right now, “Be careful, boy, don’t break that string,” or “Hurry up and finish your supper, clean up the dishes, wipe off the table, and get your homework.”

See, it was always a given back home at Route 4 – homework was always done at the kitchen table. After all, where else would we do it? The hayloft in the barn? The smokehouse or the outhouse? None of them had a 40-watt light bulb with a string and washer. And besides that, in the ‘country bath room’ with the crescent moon on the door, you just didn’t spend a lot of time! If you catch my drift!    

But back to the kitchen table. As the MK of the family (middle kid), it was always my job to wipe off the table. Even before I could reach all the way across that eight-foot, solid oak, family-gathering place. But growing up on the farm, you learn to improvise. I could stand up on one bench with the dish rag in my hand, and with a single motion, run all the way down that bench, jump down, run over to the other bench, jump up and run down it, and have that table clean enough to eat off of before the dishwater got cold. Dishwashers? Yeah, Mother had nine of ‘em built in, no electricity required.

Pardon me for running down that side road. Back to the home improvement store and decisions that I had to make. How many, what kind, what shape, what color, what power light bulbs do I get? And then it dawned on me. The light bulb went off in my head, pardon the pun. As Daddy would say, “Boy, use your head for something besides a hat rack.”

On my way down to Aisle 48 or whatever in the home improvement store, I remembered seeing a lighting fixture display somewhere around Aisle 34. And all the fixtures had light bulbs in them and it was lit up like an airport runway! When I got back to Aisle 34, the thought struck me. This is a lot more fun here where everything is so bright. I can read the fine print without my bifocals. That old bulb display on Aisle 48 was so dark and dreary anyway! Then, the neatest thing happened on Aisle 34. I saw a little red button with a sign that said ‘Press here if you need help.’ Hallelujah! I pressed where it said ‘here!’

And no sooner than I took my finger off that red button, a phantom voice immediately rang out through the store, “Any associate, help needed in the lighting fixtures.” And just to be sure the voice was heard, the message was repeated, “Any associate, help needed in the lighting fixtures.” I looked around to see who was watching me. Didn’t see a soul. But somebody must have been watching. Because The Phantom of This Opera shouted again, “All associates, help needed in the lighting fixtures!”

That time they came running! And they found me with a little sideways grin on my face. I knew right away they didn’t grow up at Route 4. I started to say, ’You wouldn’t last till dinner time working on the farm if you didn’t come the first time you were called!’ However, my better judgment prevailed. Good judgment is the result of way too many bad judgments. And it would have been another bad judgment to have hurt the guy’s feelings if I intended to ask for his help.

Long story short. I shared my problem. Rusty old medicine cabinet. One bulb burned out. Yellowed old plastic shade. Dark bathroom. Wife with crooked lipstick.

I was immediately glad that I had not insulted this associate. He’s a good guy, I thought, as I heard him say to himself, ‘Thank You, Lord.’ And when I got to the checkout, I discovered why he was giving thanks. God had sent someone to him who would make his sales quota for the day!

But it was worth it. Old rusty medicine cabinets gone. Two new bathroom light fixtures with enough daylight to keep baby chicks warm. And a happy wife with straight lipstick. How much more blessed can a country boy expect to be!

And it was all because that associate showed me a fixture with the light turned on. And now when I look in our new mirror with the brightness of four new bulbs shining down on it, I have to think – ‘Lord, is there somebody that I need to shine your Light on today?’ You know, friends, the world is full of people whose light bulb has gone out. Look to your right, then look to your left. Chances are pretty good that one of those two people needs a new light fixture with brand new bulbs in their life.

Psalm 119:105 comes to mind right here. “Thy word is a lamp to my feet and a lamp for my path.” Or, as a country poet once wrote, “If you hold the lantern for me, the better you’ll be able to see.” And Jesus gave these instructions to His ‘associates,’ YOU are the light of the world (Matthew 5:14-16), so let your light shine.

Have you been to the ‘Home Improvement Store’ lately?