Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

Is it just me and my advancing years, or have you also noticed how some words seem to mean something entirely different today? I find that more and more every day, I have to keep my Webster’s New World Vest Pocket Dictionary close to the vest. And even if you don’t wear a vest anymore, it’s a good idea to keep Webster’s New World close by, like in the pocket of your britches.   

Take the word ‘switch,’ for instance. According to Webster, a switch is ‘a control device for an electrical circuit.’ And that seems to be the most common definition of a switch these days. Something on the wall to turn the lights on or off when we leave the room. Our friendly electricians, James and his son Brian, were showing us the other day why we needed new switches in our house. The wiring in the old ones could become loose over the years and cause a short circuit. But, again according to Webster, that’s only the Number Two definition of a switch.

It’s his Number One definition that we were thoroughly acquainted with growing up at Route 4. And, as we learned from discussing ‘life’s dictionary’ with our adjacent-pew friends Brian and Joyce at church, this kind of switch wasn’t necessarily limited to farm use. Webster defines it as a thin stick for whipping. For example, if you ever heard your Mother say, “Go get me a switch,” you know that she was NOT talking about “a control device for an electrical circuit! More often than not, her switch was a control device for a loose tongue!

Like the time she heard me use what she called ‘awful language.’ One of our Plowboy Band of Brothers, I think it was probably Wade or Ollie, had called me ‘crybaby’ in reference to another trip to the woodshed for a totally different reason. But when Mother heard the words SHUT UP!  explode out of my mouth like a Fourth of July firecracker, she created a few fireworks of her own. “Go get me a switch and don’t take all day,” she said, knowing that I would try to delay the train-wreck that I could see coming.

After I had taken enough time that I thought she would have forgotten about it, I came back to the house with a nice little twig about six inches long and the size of her sewing thread. Wrong move. It took me three or four trips to finally choose the ‘control device’ she thought would do the job. I found out that Mother believed the Bible. Word for word. Cover to cover. Especially Proverbs 23:13, “Don’t withhold discipline from a child; if you punish him with the rod, he will not die.” I’ve often wondered why that scripture refers to the male child.  Of course, our baby sisters, Estelle and Anne never did anything to need a ‘woodshed switch!’

I also learned how focused Mother could be. I think they call it multi-tasking these days. By the time she had raised nine kids, she was a pro at multi-tasking.

She’d go about doing everything else around the house, just waiting for me to choose my instrument of instruction. But prolonging the inevitable only made it worse. “You better get me a real switch before your Daddy gets to the house.” I might not have been the sharpest knife in the silverware drawer, but I knew that meant his leather belt instead of her switch! And that would only give the brothers more ammunition! And then it would start all over again.

Hebrews 12:5-6 also talks about boys getting the switch. “My son, don’t make light of the Lord’s discipline….because He disciplines those He loves, and punishes everyone he accepts as a son.” But, as Daddy used to say, “Son, this is for your own good.” To which I mistakenly replied one time, and one time ONLY, “Why, do I have to be so good?”

But hindsight tells us that it really was for our own good, even though the switch was not a pleasant experience at the time (Hebrews 12:11). How many times have you heard Mother say, ‘this is going to hurt me worse than you,’ and you thought, ‘yeah, sure!’ But I like the second part of verse 11 about the results of being trained by the switch – ‘a harvest of righteousness and peace.’

I can identify with harvest time – corn-on-the-cob, butter beans, fresh maters, sweet cantaloupe, and cold watermelon for desert. That’s harvest time. But the harvest only comes after the seeds have been planted. And while the plants are young and tender, the weeds have to be hoed out of the garden.

Webster also has another definition of switch when used as a noun. Number 3 is a movable section of railroad track. But his Number 4 use of the word switch is a verb – an action word meaning to change. Mother and Daddy believed that their bunch of country bumpkins wouldn’t make it in the real world without some ‘switchings at the shed,’ and we indeed deserved them every time.

It’s also true that none of us will make it to the Great Banquet Table for the Feast that the Father has prepared for all us if we aren’t changed. And if that takes a few switchings, so be it!

Just be sure the switch is big enough to “do some good!”