Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

The sign in the store said ‘The Perfect Stocking Stuffer.’ As I walked past the end of the line, I heard one lady say to no one in particular that she sure hoped it would be worth having her husband out there circling the mall for thirty minutes looking for a parking space.  But the clerk was on top of her game. She had been trained well.

Why, every woman she knew would be absolutely thrilled to find a rhinestone-covered, black-velvet-lined, two-drawer miniature jewelry box in her stocking on Christmas day. Especially when you opened the lid and heard Elvis wailing away with “I’ll Have a Blue Christmas Without You.”

Before my brain would form the words Bah, Humbug, I was on a sleigh-ride back down that dirt road to Route 4. Where the stockings were ‘hung by the chimney with great care,’ according to Clement Moore’s oft-repeated poem.

Back home on the farm, our stockings were not the pretty, fancy kind you see today with your name written in glitter on the top. We didn’t need our names on our stockings. We had already worn them while we plowed the field and hoed the garden and cut the firewood for the roaring fire in the fireplace.

Every one of us had our socks hung on a ten-penny nail beside the chimney. And they were always lined up in order. Oldest to youngest. Everybody knew where your stocking was located. For instance, I always knew that mine was number four. So all I had to do on Christmas morning was make a bee-line straight for number four while everybody else was rubbing the sleepy sand out of their eyes.

But just to be on the safe side, I came up with a way to be sure nobody got my stocking. You never know what kind of shenanigans five brothers can pull on you. So I secretly turned my sock inside out and wrote my initials on the toe. And then turned it back right and hung it back on the nail in its rightful place.

This little plan was necessitated by one particular ‘blue Christmas.’ Mother had been telling all of us for a couple of months that if we ‘behaved ourselves,’ we might find something special in our stockings (socks) on Christmas morning. Behaving ourselves meant only one woodshed trip per day per child.

Well, I had made no secret of the fact that I really wanted one of those pencils that you twisted the end and lead came out. With a full, brand new eraser that nobody had chewed on. Don’t laugh. Back then, we didn’t know a mechanical pencil from a bale of hay. I just knew that I was tired of having to pull out my Barlow pocketknife to sharpen my pencil.

See, one of our favorite things to do on the farm was whittlin’. With a good sharp pocketknife you could have spears and bows and arrows and slingshots, too. Does anybody whittle anymore? Anyway, by the time that I had a good point on my pencil, it was only 2 or 3 inches long. And another continuing education lesson at the woodshed entitled ‘waste not, want not.’ Every chapter and every verse!

So, as you can imagine, my excitement level was at an all-time high that Christmas morn as I ran straight to Stocking Number Four. When ‘what to my wondering eyes did appear?’ Another long yellow number 2 pencil! When all of a sudden, somebody beside me squealed, “Look what I got, everybody!” And there it was. A sparkling blue beautiful mechanical pencil with a box of lead, to boot! To this day, I’ve never found out who switched the stockings. But I’ve narrowed it down to either the number three or number five child in the Martin clan.

But folks, I have to tell you. I got the perfect stocking stuffer yesterday. It was two words.  I like words a lot, but these two will always be special. After Sunday School, my friend Mike Woodall wished me a ‘Merry Christmas.’ Now, I know what you’re thinking. Everybody everywhere is wishing each other a Merry Christmas these days. But Mike’s words stuffed my stocking like a Thanksgiving turkey!

Since his stroke, Mike has had some difficulty with his words. But this time it was different. I could tell he had been practicing these two words like a piano student gettin’ ready for a recital. And ‘Coach’ Nell beamed with pride as Mike, with a grin as wide as the Mississippi River, told everyone who took the time to listen ”Merry Christmas.” With his eyes twinkling with joy, and with a clear and distinct pronunciation of every syllable, Mike preached a sermon in those two words that Billy Graham would have been proud of.

And, like the ‘great company of heavenly host’ (Luke 2: 13-14) praised God for the Gift that He put in Mary’s ‘stocking’ on that midnight clear, I believe that band of angels dedicated one to God yesterday in Mike Woodall’s name.

MERRY CHRISTMAS to you, too, Mike. I love you, brother.