Woodshed Wisdom
By Freeman Martin

Is there a better tasting summer-time treat than a ‘mater sandwich? Now, I’m not talking ‘bout something made with those scrawny little things that are picked when they’re half-green in California or somewhere and injected with something that turns ‘em red while they’re being shipped to the local grocery store.

No siree, I’m talking ‘bout the fresh, locally grown, vine-ripe kind that have never seen the inside of a refrigerated truck. You take one of those garden jewels about the size of a softball, slice off a slab about an inch thick, and slide it between two pieces of loaf bread that’s slathered with mayonnaise and a generous portion of black pepper.

That’s what I’m talkin’ about – a real ‘mater sandwich! It’s probably in second place on the Woodshed’s Top Ten Summer Delights. Second only to a churn of homemade peach ice cream, made with fresh, local peaches, of course.

Right about here would be a good place, I guess, to run down this side road and confess something to you. Back home at Route 4, Seneca, SC, loaf bread had not been invented yet. So, in order to enjoy those fresh, home grown ‘maters, you’d find us headed to the ‘mater patch with a cold biscuit and a box of Morton salt.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Any time of the day or night, breakfast, dinner, or supper, I’ll be the first one at the table if we’re having hot cathead biscuits drowned in white gravy with chunks of homemade sausage, with about 3 or 4 slices of sweet, home-grown cantaloupe on the side. Excuse me while I drool all over my keyboard!

But here’s my confession. In my advanced years, I’ve come to appreciate and delight in the difference between a real ‘mater sandwich, as described above, and that old cold biscuit and box of Morton’s in the mater patch. So, make a note of this. Write it on the wall. Save it in your hard drive or something.

Biscuits were invented to enjoy hot out of the oven with cow’s butter dripping out the sides and a slab of hoop cheese melting on the inside. Or maybe some homemade blackberry jam or muscadine jelly. But a real ‘mater sandwich? That’s the best thing since sliced bread!

But back to the main road. I was reminded the other day how blessed this country boy and mill-hill girl have been this summer with an abundance of home grown ‘maters. Thanks to our neighbor Odell, and our friends Jerry and Sandra, we’ve enjoyed more real ‘mater sandwiches than I can recall in recent memory.

And I just have to tell you, my blessing reminder came in a very unusual way. First, I have to make another confession. I don’t particularly care for interstate highways. They’re numbing and monotonous and they put you to sleep if you’re by yourself and don’t have anyone to play Count-the-Cows with. The four-lane interstate reminds me a lot of castor oil from back home. It’ll get you where you need to go, but you might not enjoy the trip.

So it was only natural that my recent blessing reminder of real ‘mater sandwiches came from something that I saw while enjoying the countryside on a two-lane Georgia blacktop where there were no 18-wheelers to blow me off the road.

I saw cows and horses grazing in pastures where the grass was high enough to tickle their bellies. I saw a windmill turning in the breeze. I saw a bird ‘condo’ made out of gourds. I saw a ten-acre field of freshly baled hay in rolls as big as a Volkswagen Beetle. Back home our hay came out of the baler in rectangle-shaped bales that made our arms and backs sore as we loaded them on the pulpwood truck and then tossed them from the truck into the barn loft. And I said a silent prayer of thanksgiving that Daddy never knew about these huge rolls of hay.

But then, what to my eyes did appear? No, not eight tiny reindeer. It was a bonafide, honest-to-goodness ‘mater patch! I had to pull off on the shoulder of the road to take it all in. And the more I looked, the more convinced I became that something was terribly wrong. Yes, there were some vine-ripe red ‘maters on the vines. But they were so little, it would take 2 or 3 of them to make a real mater sandwich.

The mater patch itself seemed to be abandoned. Weeds and crab grass growing all over the place. And the pitiful little red maters were lying in the dirt. Then it hit me like a cold wet wash cloth in the face! Somebody had forgotten to stake the maters.

Let me stop right here and explain a mater patch ritual. After you set the mater plants out in the freshly plowed dirt, and they get to a certain height, you wake up one morning about 5:30 hearing Daddy say, “OK, boys, time to stake the maters.”

He had been to the sawmill and brought home a pulpwood truck load of slabs. After we used the ol’ crosscut to saw them up into 3-foot lengths, he’d use his razor sharp ax and put a point on those sticks that was so sharp, you could almost write your name in the dirt with it. “Ain’t nothing you can’t do with a hard day’s work and a good sharp ax,” he always said. Not a bad philosophy, I think, even in today’s wacky world.

Anyway, off to the mater patch we’d go. With a wheelbarrow full of stakes and a ball of hay baling twine. Using the back side of the ax, he’d show us how to gently drive the stake into the ground near the mater plant, but not too close to harm the roots of the tender young plant.

Then he’d take out his brown-handled Case pocket knife, as sharp as his ax, and cut off just enough twine to tie around the mater plant and the stake. Don’t tie it too tight or you’ll squeeze the life right out of the young plant. Just barely tight enough to give it support and keep it from falling into the dirt as it grows up.

As I looked at that weed-covered Georgia mater patch that day, it dawned on me. Somebody had forgotten to stake the maters! They had fallen into the dirt and were beginning to rot. And somewhere in this ramblin’, I think there’s a life lesson. If you want ‘delicious, vine-ripe’ relationships, you just gotta stake ‘em up till they’re strong enough to stand on their own.

But then I remembered that t-shaped ‘stake’ that Jesus used to reach down and pick us up from the dirt where we had fallen, clean us up, and make real ‘maters out of us. He does all the work. He provides all the support we need to grow up and make a difference in the lives of other people. He’s already paid the price. And He wants to give it to each of us free of charge.

When He called His twelve disciples together for instructions before sending them out, (Matthew 10:1-8), Jesus told them to go to the down and out (the lost sheep of Israel) and preach the Good News (sometimes we preach a sermon just by the way we treat others).

As we go down our daily road of life, I think He would have us to pick up, clean up, support, and heal those “maters that haven’t been staked.” And as He told His disciples in v. 8, “freely you have received, freely give.”

My friends Odell and Jerry and Sandra did all the work in their gardens. They planted the maters, watered and fertilized them and staked them up for support. And then brought them to our house for us to enjoy. Along with some squash and cucumbers and bell peppers, too, I might add. And, just like the gift of salvation, it was all absolutely free of charge!

It only takes one slice of a real mater to make a good sandwich! The world is full of people that we see every day in need of a real mater sandwich. Once we’ve tasted how good God is (1 Peter 2:3), there’s only one question left to answer.

What kind of taste do people have in their mouth when they’ve been to our ‘mater patch?