Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

The difference between men and boys is the price of their toys. I’ve heard that all my life. I’m sure that some learned and intelligent person must have said it a long time ago. But if it’s true, then I guess we’ll be farm boys all our life.

Until the Red Ryder Daisy Air Rifle came into my life, there were a couple of other farm-boy toys that held equal claim to being number one. Of course, the bb gun brought with it countless hours of practicing to become the next Rifleman. I guess I had Chuck Connors shaking in his cowboy boots!

But up until that time, we had a slingshot and a little red wagon. Two toys that were supposed to be shared equally and enjoyed by all. But, you know, sometimes life just ain’t the way it’s supposed to be, if you’ll excuse my French!

The slingshot was great for target practice. Woodpeckers, rabbits, squirrels, tin cans. You name it. But before you get upset, I don’t think that I ever hit a single living and breathin’ object when it was my turn to play with the slingshot. Unless you count my brothers. But hold that thought for a minute or two.

The little red wagon was more rust than red. As Daddy preached to us a million times, ‘see there what happens when you leave your stuff out in the rain.’ You could barely make out a trace of where the word ‘Flyer’ was painted on its side. Suffice it to say that our little red wagon had seen its better day. I think maybe it had made the cross-country trek during the California Gold Rush in 1848. At least it looked like it could have been that old.

It didn’t even have a tongue. For anyone not blessed by growin’ up on a farm, the tongue would be called a handle by city folks. And the wheels were as wobbly as a 90-year-old man’s knees. But when we could find all four of them and get them to stay on at the same time, everybody wanted to ride around the barnyard, but nobody wanted to push. Ooops! Life just jumped up in my head again.  

Anyway, without a tongue to pull it, we had to improvise and innovate. And here was our plan. We decided to ‘borrow’ one of Daddy’s plow lines from the barn, cut it in two, double it up, tie it to the front of the wagon, and take turns pulling each other around the barnyard. It was a great plan. In theory only!

Oh, it worked well for awhile, maybe thirty minutes or so. George, or Ollie or I would take Wade or Eddie or Wendell, sometimes two at a time, for a nice little wobbly-wheel spin around the barnyard, through the hall of the barn, out into the pasture and back. The younger sisters were much too delicate, so it was just us boys!

As cries of ‘faster, faster, faster,’ rang out across the barnyard, it came my turn to ride. So the original plan was modified. We decided to pull the wagon up next to the house. Then George and Ollie would be double-pullers and run as fast as they could, with me in the wagon, down toward the barn.

Did I mention that a tongue is used to steer a wagon? In the absence of a steering mechanism, the rope becomes almost useless once you’re rolling. Well, we made it past the well-house without a problem. Now, just throw this image up on your mental movie projector. We’re going so fast, the rope is slack. And getting’ all tangled up around the axles where the wobbly wheels are dangerously close to slidin’ off the end.

When I peeked out between the fingers of both hands coverin’ my eyes, my stomach jumped up in my throat! There was nobody pullin’ the wagon!

Those two older brothers of mine had decided to stand back and watch. And laugh. And they swore on the Bible to Mother and Daddy that they had forgotten about the huge tree root that caused the total-loss wreck of the little red wagon.

All four wheels went in different directions. I went in still another – straight up in the air! I still have the picture in my memory today of why they call that little wagon a ‘flyer.’ With Daddy’s plow line wrapped all over it, Lil’ Red hit that big root, went airborne, crashed into the side of that two-hundred-year-old oak tree, and crumpled into a ball of metal about the size of a cantaloupe!

When I hit the ground, the very breath was knocked out of my lungs. I could only whimper like a sick kitten.  Both of my knees and elbows were bleedin’ like a stuck hog. And I thought my neck must surely be broken. As well as both arms and legs! If only video cameras had been invented fifty years earlier!

When the hollerin’ and screamin’ had died down to moanin’ and groanin’, Mother took me to the house to get me bandaged and cleaned up. I think she probably poured the whole bottle of methiolate over my broken, rag-doll body. At the same time, Daddy grabbed what was left of the plow line and, with a brother in each hand, headed for the woodshed.

Of course, I had to ‘milk it’ for all it was worth. Much too sore and bruised to tote any water or stove wood for about a week. So guess who had to double up on chores!

Now, remember that thought about the slingshot that I asked you to hold? Well, about the time my sores were healin’ and the memory of the wagon wreck was beginning to fade, guess what I found in the ditch down by the road? About fifty feet from the site of the wreck, there it was. The slingshot that had been in my back pocket on the fateful ride. And completely forgotten about till now!

Immediately another plan began to take shape in my mind. I hid the slingshot under some hay in the corner of the barn loft. Bidin’ my time.

And when Mother and Daddy went to town the next Saturday morning, my time arrived! Did I mention that it was a great year for the chinaberry tree in our front yard? I grabbed one of the empty fertilizer sacks with the strap on it that we used to pick cotton and filled it full of chinaberries. Throwing it across my shoulder, it was draggin’ the ground as I headed to the barn loft to retrieve my slingshot.

Let me say right here. That day cannot compare in historical significance to the day that Little David, the shepherd boy, grabbed his slingshot and five smooth rocks and stepped up against Goliath. But I want you to know. The skinny little kid from Route 4 had himself a ball. And even though David used only one of his rocks, I went through a fifty-pound fertilizer sack full of chinaberries before Mother and Daddy got home from town!

Some other learned person, or maybe the same one, said that life is what happens while you’re busy makin’ plans. Now, ain’t that just the gospel truth! From the time we’re knee-high to a grasshopper, we start makin’ plans. We’ve walked down the dirt road at Route 4 many, many times makin’ plans. ‘Man, I just can’t wait till I get out of school. Get me a job, probably makin’ about ten thousand dollars a year. And find my Jane so I can be Tarzan, and we’ll live happily ever after in our jungle.’ Sound familiar?

Well, we all know that out there in the real jungle, the wheels come off our wagons, don’t they? Plans get made. Plans get changed. New plans get made. New plans get changed. And on and on it goes. Life really is what happens while we’re busy makin’ plans.

But, to bring this saga to an end, could I please say that it’s good to have a little joy in our back pockets as we ride our wagons through the jungle out there? There’ll be times when the wheels will come off, and it seems like the monsters in the jungle will eat us alive. And we might have to make new plans.

But God’s plan is the one that counts. He has a plan for every life. And His plans don’t fail. Just like He had a plan for David’s life, and it didn’t include David gettin’ stepped on by a scary giant. So He put a laser in that little rock in David’s slingshot. And when the Philistines saw that their hero was dead, they turned and ran (1 Samuel 17:51(b). The important thing is to know and follow God’s plan.

And keep the slingshot handy.