Archive for September, 2009


Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

Someone said the other day, ‘You know, it seems like there’s a drug store on every corner.” Sure enough, we started counting and came up with a total of seven drug stores in that one little town. Could it be that’s because there’s a bunch of us baby boomers now at the age where we need our daily meds?

And it seems like there’s a pill for every ill. I even have a little blue pill box with all the days of the week stamped on top. Now if I could just remember what day of the week it is, I’d be OK. And do you have a pill splitter in your medicine cabinet? I won’t call any names, but the lady who’s called Mimi by our grandchildren just can’t swallow any pill larger than a pin head, hence the invention of the pill splitter.

Two office workers were talking and one was not in a particularly happy mood. With TLC just dripping from every word, the second worker asked the first one, “Did someone forget to take her happy pill today?” And another thing, I wonder why the mirror I shave in front of every morning is the door to the ‘medicine cabinet?’ Maybe it’s for good reason.

A teenager was heard to say, “Take a chill pill, Mom,” as her mother was ‘laying down the law’ about a bad report card. In my wildest dreams (or nightmares!), I can not even imagine telling my Daddy to take a chill pill. That would have made the Woodshed Hall of Fame! My brothers would have hung my school picture on the wall of the shed.

But back home, there was no medicine cabinet and very little medicine to keep in a cabinet if we had had one. There was just one remedy, no, make that two remedies, that Mother always took off the top shelf of the kitchen pantry when one of her country boys and girls was ‘too sick to go to school today.’ And when you’ve had a dose or two of castor oil, you learn it’s better to keep quiet and go to school. Do they still make that bitter-tasting stuff today? Maybe one of my pharmacist friends will bring me ‘up to snuff’ on modern-day medicine.

The other Route 4 remedy that could be a barrel of fun involved me telling Daddy that Wade and Wendell ‘coughed all night long and it sounded awful, and maybe I better go do their chores.’ That earned both those boys a trip straight to the waiting room of ‘Dr. Mother.’ For their hacking coughs and colds and runny noses, she’d break out the cure-all medicine of all time – Vicks Salve!

She’d put a handful of the stuff in a rag and tie it around their chest. She must have ordered it in five-pound jars! And Mother gave a new definition to the label instructions that said ‘apply a liberal amount.’ She’d stuff a glob of it up their noses and another glob down their throats. You could smell ‘em coming across a ten-acre field! You’d have to tie a t-bone steak around their necks to get the dogs to play with them! When Mother finished her treatments, those boys would be begging me to let them do my chores if I just wouldn’t do that again!

But as rough as life was on the farm in the fifties, we could usually find something to laugh about. And most times, it was our mis-deeds that got us into trouble in the first place! And long after lights out on most nights, we’d see how long it would take Daddy to bellow out from his bedroom, “Cut out that snickering and get to sleep, boys. And I’m not going to tell you again. It’ll be five o’clock before you can turn over twice.’ But looking back, I think maybe the laughter and the joy of the good times was medicine in itself.

Many years ago, the wisest man who ever lived said exactly that. In Route 4 translation, Solomon said that laughing is good for what ails you, and a down-in-the-mouth attitude will get you a dose of castor oil and Vicks salve. I can remember having a pity party (the guest list was very short!) after a trip to the woodshed, and hearing Daddy say, “Boy, you better stop that pouting before you trip over your lower lip.”

The wisdom of Solomon in Proverbs 17:22 still holds true today. Laughter really is the best medicine. And this is just me, but is it possible that in our world of crime, cancer, and calamity, do we forget to take our medicine? Do we let the stress and distress of our daily lives literally suck the joy right out of our bones?

God created joy for a reason and gave it to you and me as a gift. Maybe what’s ailing us today could be cured with a good dose of laughter.

I know one thing – it’ll sure taste better than castor oil!



Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

Have you had your ‘java jolt’ today? A fellow once said his brain and his lawn mower were just alike – they both need a jump start to get going! A major coffee company used to have a cute commercial on television. It showed a little boy waking up his daddy and giving him a cup filled with the boy’s toy soldiers. Being only half-conscious, the daddy asked for an explanation. The little boy sweetly replied, “Daddy, you said you needed soldiers in your cup every morning.”

What’s in your cup this morning? Do you know someone who always seems to have a mug attached to their hand? I was astounded to learn that there are 2.4 billion pounds of coffee sold every year in the United States. Somebody help me here with the higher math – is that 12-million tons? The BCS (Bureau of Coffee Statistics – I just made up that name, have another cup and smile!) reports that the ‘average’ citizen (whatever that means) of our great country drinks 3.4 cups of coffee per day.

Some like it hot. Some like it with ice crushed up in it and a load of cow’s milk dumped into it. Helen and I have a dear friend whose nickname is ‘latte.’ She’s so cute with whipped cream on her upper lip! And I’ve even heard about these ‘new-fangled’ machines that will have you a cup of joy waiting for you when you wake up!

Mother didn’t have one of those fancy brewing pots back home at Route 4. But what she did have was a big ol’ two-gallon tea pot and a black iron kettle to boil the water on her red-hot, wood-burning cook stove to pour into the tea pot. There wasn’t a morning I can ever remember that a day on the farm didn’t start with at least one cup of hot tea. And, according to Daddy, it ‘ain’t fit to drink’ if it didn’t have two spoonfuls of sugar and some  cream off the top of the milk jug. Yeah, we had daily milk delivery on the farm. Whoever was taking his turn at milking ol’ Bessie delivered it straight to Mother’s kitchen from the barn every morning! Unless Wade let Bessie put her foot in the milk bucket while he was still half asleep. That was before she woke him up with a tail-slap to his face! Talk about your morning wake-up call! You just prayed that the old girl hadn’t been in a patch of ‘cuckle-burrs!’

But back to Mother’s two-gallon tea pot. That was just for breakfast. And we always had a saucer with our cup of tea. That was so you could pour out some and blow it to cool it off before drinking it. Wasting time was not in Daddy’s dictionary. Especially if you’re sitting there half-asleep and let your tea get cold while you’re waiting on it to cool off? That’s another meaning of the scripture verse that says ‘my cup runneth over!’ But anyway, hot tea with sugar and cream wasn’t very tasty when it got cold. Of course, latte had not been invented yet!

Then after breakfast, Mother would brew another pot, pour in the sugar, and let it cool for ice tea for dinner and supper. And a couple of jugs to take to the field. Ah, that good Southern sweet ice tea was a fit for a king while plowing the ‘lower forty.’ But the key to that delicacy, according to Mother, was the ‘steeping’ time. After pouring in the boiling-hot water, you have to set it aside and let it steep.

Right here is where Mother taught us farm younguns’ a college course in life. And she never went to high school a day in her life. She said it just takes time in hot water to bring out the real taste of the tea! If this was Sunday morning at church, I’d probably hear an Amen or two along about here. But, the secret of making tea is a lot like life. If you don’t wait for the hot water to work through the tea bag, you just get a watered-down cup of tea, not the real deal. But you know what? I’ve been guilty of this and maybe you have, too. Guilty of being a ‘tea-bag Christian.’ When the water gets hot, I want to jump out of the pot! A lot of truth in that little rhyme. Took me a long time and many trips to the woodshed to understand that character, like a good cup of tea, only comes after you’ve been steeped in the hot water for a while.

I don’t know if the Apostle Paul ever had a good cup of hot tea. But I think he did know a thing or two about being in hot water. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that ol’ Saul was such a bad dude that God knew if Saul was ever going to amount to anything for the kingdom, God would have to put him in some hot water.

So God blinded ol’ Saul for three days and knocked him off his donkey. His friends had to lead him around by his hand for a while. And when he got his sight back, Paul knew he had been to God’s Woodshed that day on the road to Damascus. He was a quick learner. And the rest is history. All he did for the kingdom was write about two-thirds of the books of the New Testament!

And Paul’s lesson on ‘hot-water happiness’ is found in Romans 5:1-5. Just as the tea is tested by the hot water, so is our faith tested by trials, temptations, and sufferings. Here’s another ‘Freeman-ism.’ I just think that God needs to know if we’ll jump out of the pot when the water gets hot! Can He count on us to stand up for Him when the times are tough? Just like a test in school, sometimes He pours a little hot water on us to see what we’ve learned.

Look at what Paul wrote in these verses. He said we, meaning he, knows how to rejoice in suffering because he’s been there, done that! And he can testify that “suffering produces perseverance, and perseverance produces character, and character produces hope.” And if we hold on to hope (our faith) during the ‘hot-water’ times of life, we won’t be disappointed. I’ll bet that if you look up Paul on the streets of gold when you get there, he’ll tell you that, even though the water was hot, he’s not disappointed with his cup of tea!

When, not if, we find ourself in the hot water of life’s tea pot, it’s our character, not our comfort, that God is concerned with.

And a little cream and sugar will make it taste better. Latte, anyone?



Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

Choices, choices, choices – has there ever been a time when we’ve had so many choices on every decision we make? How ‘bout an example, you say? Thanks for asking. I was trying to order a sub sandwich the other day. I believe the youngster behind the counter had been trained to engage customers in the game of 21 questions. There were so many choices, it was hard to make a choice.

First of all, you go in the store and have to look at the menu painted on the wall. Don’t make the mistake of leaving your bifocals in the car. Then you have to try to choose a sandwich from names like ‘Ten-foot Long Hero,’ or ‘Pump Your Stomach Happiness,’ or ‘Guaranteed Gastric Distress.’ And while you’re hanging on the fence of indecision, you’re wondering if they’re covered under your health insurance. And all the while, there are forty-eight people in line behind you who’ve already decided that it’s worth an overnight hospital stay to try one of these monsters! And by the look in their eyes you can tell they’re thinking about starting a riot if you don’t hurry up and decide what you want!

So you blurt something out. And then the fun begins. What kind of bread, Sir? White, wheat, rye, pumpernickel, sourdough, or French? OK, close your eyes and pick one. Then it’s meat decision time – beef, chicken, pork, meatballs, salami, pastrami. Would you like cheese – American, Swiss, or Provolone? Now, the line is happy because you’re moving. Then the clerk begins to sing-song a list of everything you could possibly think of to put on a sandwich. Lettuce, tomato, peppers, onions, pickles, oregano, salt, pepper, mayo, or mustard?

You make it through that minefield and move to the register with a sigh of relief to pay for your grief and distress. But wait, more choices. You want chips? What would you like to drink? What size – small, medium, large, or dump-truck? And how ‘bout a cookie, Sir? Finally, something comes out of the clerk’s mouth that doesn’t require me to make a choice – “thank you and come back to see us.” I want to say, ‘Honey, you’ll have grandchildren before that happens.’ But I don’t say it. That guy right behind me in line has cleared his throat eighteen times already! It would quickly turn into a hall-of-fame woodshed moment if I don’t take my bag and head for the door.

I could just imagine my Daddy in that situation. “Young man, just put me a slab of baloney and some mustard between two pieces of bread, and be sure to peel the edge off the baloney.” When we had baloney back home at Route 4, it came in a roll with a red plastic wrap that had to be peeled off before eating. Now it’s all sliced and cellophane wrapped!

But back then, we didn’t have to make decisions like that at supper time. Maybe you didn’t care for the ‘pot-liquor‘ coming out of the turnip greens poured over your cornbread. And you’re thinking, after supper, when they’re dozing by the fireplace, I’ll sneak back into kitchen and squirrel me a cold biscuit. As if he knows what I’m thinking, Daddy’s voice echoes off the twelve foot ceilings of the farmhouse. ‘Boy, you eat what’s put before you or go hungry.’ That’s a no-brainer – no choice to make here. Besides, even though it was supper time, the woodshed was still open for business!

I like reading about Joshua in the Old Testament. He had been in leadership training with Moses. And Moses lived to be 120 years old, so Joshua didn’t have to make many decisions. But one day, Moses died and God said, in the immortal words of Rev. David Gallamore, “Joshua, put on your big-boy britches and lead your people into the Promised Land.”

Now the Israelites were like me in line at the sub shop. They couldn’t make a decision. So, Joshua got ‘em all together for a ‘Showdown at Shechem.’ I like Shechem. Sounds like shucking. Takes me back to Route 4 and the corn crib on a rainy day. But back to Josh. He told the Israelites, “Here’s the word of God.’ That would get my attention in a hurry! And God says you’re here eatin’ my grapes and olives and you didn’t have to plant or plow one single row. You even have people (like that guy behind me in line at the sub shop) that wanted to fight you. All those Amorites and Hittites and Hivites and Jebusites, and maybe some termites, too, wanted to have you for supper, but I put ‘em on the run with a swarm of hornets. You didn’t even have to lift a finger.

That’s when Joshua had his big-boy britches buckled up tight. He told his folks that they could thank the Lord,  who had done so much for them, by worshipping Him, trusting Him, and respecting Him, or ‘head on back to Egypt.’

I was on the receiving end of one of those talks one time at the woodshed at Route 4. Ever had one of those times when you say something, then think ‘why did I say that?’ After a hard day of cutting stovewood, drawing water, plowing about 88 acres of corn – just a normal day’s work on the farm – the devil enticed me to open my mouth. I let some words fly that I immediately wished I could reach out and grab and put back in my mouth. Too late. Daddy heard me say, “I just can’t wait till I’m old enough to leave here and get me a paying job.” 

When he started to speak and called me ‘Son’ instead of ‘Boy,’ I knew whatever he was going to say would be important. Son, he said, you’ve got two choices, and they’re real simple. Stay or go. Do what? Then he ‘splained’ it. You can stay if you want or you can go if you want. It’s your choice. But if you stay, you’ll work. If you go, you’ll work.

I think what he meant was this. Sure, we have to work hard here. But you have a roof (admittedly a leaky one) over your head. We have cornbread and milk (I still enjoy a bowl of hot cornbread covered with buttermilk!) most nights for supper. And occasionally some homemade ice cream. Or a cold watermelon on a summer day. And you know those fried apple pies that you love so much, your Mother might even make some for you, but you still have to pick the apples.

As a young whippersnapper in the fifties, I had never heard of freedom of choice. But that’s what he was saying, I think. We don’t have everything, but we do have some things to be thankful for. And you have a choice. And, this is just me, but I think it still applies today in some of the toughest times this country has ever known. We still are a blessed people. And we have choices. We can be bitter or better – only one little letter difference.

We can be a builder or a bulldozer, a peacemaker or a troublemaker. In other words, we can choose to live a life of faith or fear.

Joshua put it bluntly to the Israelites. And here’s the Route 4 translation of Joshua’s Greek. You can do what you want to. You have freedom of choice. You can stay or you can go. But as for me and my house, we’re gonna stay with the One who provides the fried apple pies and homemade ice cream.

So, take your pick, folks. Make a choice. There’s a line behind you. You can be a ‘sermon-in-shoes,’ or you can be a ‘wreck-in-waiting.’

You want some fries with that?



Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

What did you think about when you woke up this morning? Bad day at work yesterday. So much to do today. Poor health. High prices. Economy sinking like the titanic. Aches and pains of old age. Crime and evil in the world. Job loss. Is your attitude like my old report card – all D’s, as in death, debt, doubt, disease, and depression? Well, stop it right now! Do you like to be around people like that? That’s exactly how the devil wants you to think. He can’t stand being around smiling, rejoicing, joy-filled people, thankful people. You have a clog in the trap under your sink. So open up a can of ‘mental Drain-O’ and flush all that garbage down the drain.

Before you get out of bed, list ten things you’re thankful for today, one for each of your toes. That’s right, your toes! Go ahead. Do it right now. I’ll wait. This little piggie went to town, this little piggie stayed home – I never could remember what the other three little piggies did! But before you put on your shoes and socks, or hose, play my little ‘Thankful Toes’ game  and see if people don’t start noticing something different about you. Did you get a hair cut? Have you lost a few pounds? Can’t put my finger on it, but there’s something different about you. Ever play I Spy? Play Thankful Toes for a week and somebody will walk up to you and say “I spy somebody happy!”

With ‘Thankful Toes’, I went walking back down that dirt road to Route 4 the other day. I didn’t wait for morning. I started playing Thankful Toes at the end of the day. That’s what happens when you become a pro at Thankful Toes. Drying my feet after a wonderful hot shower, I thought “Thank You, Lord, for hot water heaters.”

 See, it had been a hot, dusty day of heavy-duty manual labor. I’m talking about sawing trees in both directions. When you cut ‘em down, you gotta cut ’em up, too! Anyway, there was also brush to drag and stack, rocks to haul, roots to cut, dirt to haul – and this was all going on in our back yard in 2009, not on the farm in 1959! When I left Route 4, I told Daddy not to hold my job for me. I just never imagined I’d be doing the same kind of work in my back yard fifty years later! Bet he’s had a laugh or two abut that!

But back to Thankful Toes. I was covered from head to toe, pardon the pun, with good ol’ South Carolina red dirt and dust. In my eyes and ears and nose and mouth and hair, too! I’m telling you the gospel – my own saintly Mother would have had a hard time recognizing her middle child. That’s how dirty and sweaty I was. Helen even told me she thought I was too dirty to come in the house – just drop those filthy rags on the back porch!

That would have been OK back at Route 4 where the nearest neighbor was about three miles away, sweetheart, but here they would have had a new topic of conversation on their evening walks. Wonder why people never went for walks back home on the farm? Could it be because we’ve lost the art of ‘front-porch sittin’? Many a problem has been solved with R & R (restin’ and relaxin’) on the front porch in the cool of the day. But, hold on minute, I’m running down a side road again. Back to the hot water heater.

I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed a shower as much as I did that one Saturday night. And I didn’t even have to draw the water and solar heat it in the sun behind the house all day for this Saturday night bath! So you can just imagine how thankful I was for that hot water heater. Farm boys never had to crawl up under the house and fix the hot water heater. We crawled up under the house a lot, for sure. But never to fix the hot water heater. The only hot water heater we had was the fire we built around the old black cast-iron wash pot on wash day. Saw one the other day in somebody’s front yard. It had pretty flowers growing in it. I smiled from ear to ear!

But just like it did for me, that hot water heater, plus some heavy-duty Tide, also did wonders for my clothes that you-know-who wanted me leave outside. When she said that, I thought, ‘Sure thing, sweet wife of mine, just bring me some fresh, clean clothes and I’ll put ’em on right here on top of these filthy rags!” I thought it, but I didn’t say it. That would have moved the woodshed from Route 4 to our back yard!

But her thinking was right in line with the lesson taught by Paul (Colossians 3:8-10, 12-14). Since Jesus has picked us up out of the dirt and filth of sin and washed us off with His blood, we don’t ever have to wear those old clothes again! Get rid of ‘em, Paul said. The old rags of anger, rage, malice, slander, dirty jokes, vulgar language, cuss words, and lies. Excuse me, Paul, I threw in a few there myself. Since He has washed and scrubbed us and put new clothes like His (verse 10) on us, wouldn’t we be a silly-nillie to go back and get those old rags and put ‘em back on again!

God chose us to be models for His ‘line of clothes,’ not satan’s sick shirts! How do His line of fashions look? Thank you for asking. Check out verse 12. Paul said we are to put on these new clothes – compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, and forgiveness. And to be sure, we don’t have ‘baggy britches,’ Paul instructs us to hold up our new suit of clothes with the ‘belt of love.’

But what’s a good day to start wearing a new suit of clothes like Paul’s? Yesterday is gone. Someday might be too late. Today is the only day that counts!

And you can start by playing Thankful Toes every morning!



Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

Are you a morning person or a night owl? What kind of mood are you in when you wake up? Do you need that jolt of caffeine to jump-start your engine? It’s been said by some ladies that their husbands know not to speak to them until at least eight o’clock in the morning. Out of hearing range from his wife, one husband said, “She brushes her teeth with gunpowder every morning!” On the other side of the coin, my friend, Pete Cumbee has a sign in the window of his service station. Actually I think Nancy put it there. It asks the question, “Did you wake up grouchy this morning?”  To which Nancy always replies, “No, I let him sleep.”

Do you greet each new day enthusiastically with “Good Morning, Lord!” Or do you look in the mirror and say, “Good Lord, it’s morning.”  Some people say they like mornings best because everything looks better in the first light of day. Night is over. No more darkness for awhile. The still and quiet of the pre-dawn hours is a special time. Ever known someone who hits the floor in high gear first thing every morning? But for some, morning is just a time that’s necessary to make it to the afternoon and night. We’re all different, for sure. And Amen for the difference, right?

Why is it that a guy will dread getting up to go to work in the morning, but yet, just the mention of ‘going huntin’ and he’s raring to go at three or four am. And it doesn’t matter if it’s ten degrees outside! Pack a thermos, grab a biscuit, go sit in a tree, and wait for the first light of day. But you mention Sunday School at ten o’clock and he’ll say something like, “Why do they have to start so early?”

And different days of the week sometimes carry special meanings. Do you know, maybe live with someone, whose has a Monday morning disposition? Or a Friday night attitude? Or a Sunday morning smile? Speaking of Sunday mornings, those were holidays back home at Route 4. We loved Sunday mornings because that meant twenty four hours without plowin,’ plantin,’ pickin,’ shuckin,’ hauling rocks or building fences.

And Daddy would usually wait until maybe six am before appearing in the middle of the room, standing under that 40-watt light bulb and announcing to the world, and a bunch of rip-van-winkles, “Time to get up, Boys. Get ready for church. Don’t be late for Sunday School,  and don’t make me have to come in here again.”

But, of course, there was the usual griping and belly-aching heard around the room from the sound sleepers. At least among those who heard the wake-up call. I won’t call any names, but their initials are Wade and Oliver, who never knew what day of the week it was until about the third or fourth wake-up call. Mother used to say it would take a stick of dynamite to wake up those two. Well, I remember one Sunday morning when we thought a truckload of explosives had plowed into the side of the farmhouse!

Sunday morning on the farm was the only morning of the week that Mother didn’t cook two pans full of cat-head biscuits with all the trimmings. In Daddy’s logic, “you boys don’t need all that food just sitting around all day and not working.” So Mother usually just made some oatmeal. Not the instant stuff. But the good, old, stick-to-your-ribs kind of Oatmeal with some sugar and cow’s butter. No toast, either. Loaf bread had not yet been invented. Or if it had, it hadn’t made it out to Route 4. Loaf was what we did trying to get out of work.

But on this one Sunday morning in particular, our senses were roused by that delicious aroma of Mother’s sweet oatmeal and the jigglin’ sound of the pressure release valve on her pressure cooker. Mother’s old wood cookstove was red hot, and the old Sunday dinner rooster must have been a little tough that day. By the way, did you know roosters are smart creatures? At least, the ones we had on the farm were. In fact, our Route 4 roosters could tell time! I know what you’re thinking. The string has finally broken on that old country boy’s marble bag. But along about dark-thirty on Saturday nights, those old crowers would start hiding in the trees and get as quiet as a church mouse!

See, they knew that if it was Saturday night, Sunday morning couldn’t be far behind. And as we started shining the flashlight up those trees to find them, I could always imagine them drawing straws to see which one would wind up on our kitchen table for Sunday dinner! 

But back to the red-hot cookstove. Mother must have left the kitchen for a few minutes to get some of us late risers a little further along in the getting-ready-for-church process. Now the room where the boys slept was directly up against the wall of the kitchen right behind the cookstove. That’s important in the diagram of the old farmhouse. Nothing but a few planks separating the bed I slept on from the stove. And on cold winter mornings, it felt so good to ‘scrooch up’ close to that wall and grab an extra forty winks.

But while Mother was washing the sleepy sand out of our eyes, nobody was awake enough to think, “Hey, I don’t hear the pressure cooker jigglin’ anymore.”  And sometime after it quit jiggling,’ we became fully aware of the operational method of a pressure cooker. It’s the slow build up of the pressure, under heat, with a little occasional release from the whistling valve that tenderizes the old bird, or whatever’s inside the pot. But when the pressure has nowhere to go, guess what happens!   

When that thing blew that Sunday morning, right up against that wall that I was ‘scrooched up to,’ it changed our sleeping habits forever! I’ve always been a light sleeper, but even the most ‘dead-to-the-world’ sleeping brothers never needed a second wake-up call again! Just the sound of the jiggle from the pressure cooker was all anybody needed to be wide awake. Pearl Harbor happened on an early Sunday morning, too, while folks were still sleepy. I wasn’t there, but from what I’ve heard and read, it very easily could have been Hiroshima or Nagasaki  in our kitchen that Sunday morning!

When Daddy had counted heads, and all of them wide-eyed by now, we walked into the kitchen and our jaws just dropped wide open. There was not a single inch of the walls, floor, and ceiling of that farmhouse kitchen that wasn’t covered with a mixture of oatmeal and chicken! I guess that’s where the term brunch came from! And it’s the only time I think I ever heard Daddy say, “Boys, I believe we might be late for Sunday School today.”

But we still went to church – a little hungry, but wide-awake, we still made it. Worship the Lord with gladness (Psalm 100:2) took on a whole new meaning that Sunday morning. Forevermore, a bunch of farm boys could identify with the psalmist David when he said, “I rejoiced with those who said to me, Let’s go to the house of the Lord,” (Psalm 122:1).

I know, chicken and oatmeal might not be your favorite breakfast, but like Daddy said, that pressure’s gotta go somewhere! So, the next time you’re feeling the pressure of the world building up against you on all sides, make sure the valve is still ‘jigglin’! Get up early, take a break, breathe deeply, don’t be a work-a-holic, and by all means, don’t be late for Sunday School (Exodus 20:8).

Too much heat, without release, will make a mess out of the oatmeal and chicken!



Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

I saw an advertisement the other day for the Biltmore House in Asheville, NC. It’s called a national historic landmark, the biggest house in America. Would you like to guess what happened when I saw pictures of this house?  Yep, you’re right as rain! I took the trip. But not to the mountains of North Carolina to see this mansion with 250 rooms and almost four acres of floor space. My trip was once again down that dirt road to the old farmhouse at Route 4.

I mean, seriously folks, what could George Vanderbilt have possibly been thinking? A house with 34 bedrooms and 43 bathrooms? And 65 fireplaces? Who sawed up all that firewood and took out all those ashes and spread ‘em in the garden on a windy day? And all this for just three people? He only had one child. What did they do – use a different bathroom every day for a month at a time? Did they need a road map to go to bed at night? Did George ever build a slab tree house for little Cornelia? Did she ever camp out in the back yard? Did she ever have to hang her clothes on a clothesline? And when she was ‘ugly,’ that’s Route 4 for misbehaving,’ and was told to go to her room, did her Mother and Daddy have to call out the rescue squad to find her?

Let’s run down a side road for just a minute. I promise we won’t get far off the main road. Sometimes now I hear parents pretend to punish a child for “acting up” by saying, ‘Go to your room, young lady!’ Now, I ask you, what is a kid to fear in being sent to his or her room where it’s always kept at a comfortable 72 degrees with central air and heat? And where they can watch MTV, play the latest nightmare-producing video game, or call up their friends on their cell phones and tell ‘em how mean Mommie and Daddy are. Maybe if there was a woodshed out in the backyard, the little darlings wouldn’t need mind doctors when they grow up.

Back to the main road. Our old farmhouse had 2 bedrooms – one for parents, one for kids. And no bathrooms! For twelve people! Get this picture. Say you’re a teenage guy, handsome and debonair with your crew cut hair all waxed and standing up straight. And you bring your current favorite girl home to meet Mother and Daddy. And by the way, when you picked her up, you better not sit out front and honk the horn, either! Parents need to check out the country boys their daughters are going with. But you’ve picked her up in your ’48 Chevy Fleetline that looks like a giant turtle with those flipper hubcaps and fender skirts! Ain’t it funny (excuse the English) how something as important 40 or 50 years ago as hubcaps and fender skirts means absolutely nothing now!

And now you’re back at Route 4 to ‘meet the folks.’ So, you persuade one of your brothers to slide down and make room on the bench at the supper table for another person. I could always just threaten Wade with telling Mother on him for eatin’ that powdered milk out of the box! Or I could make Oliver think I was going to tell Daddy about him smokin’ cigarettes again out in the pasture behind the barn. All I had to do was say something like, “Ollie, you been sending up any smoke signals lately?” He could picture in his mind the trip to the woodshed the last time Daddy caught him smoking and almost burned down the barn. And it wasn’t just the side of the barn that got hot that time!   

But then, about half-way through supper, she leans over and whispers sweetly in your ear the words that a lost-in-the-fifties farm boy dreads to hear – ‘where’s your bathroom?’ How do you keep your voice calm when you say, “It’s out the back door, down past the pear tree, behind the smokehouse?”      

Being told to ‘go to your room’ was not something we ever heard growing up at Route 4. But I’ll you what will put the fear of God in a country boy’s heart. Seeing Daddy whip off that big, long, black leather belt quicker than you can say ‘catch a jackrabbit.’ I always wondered how many times he practiced that move when we weren’t at the woodshed. I’ve tried it a couple of times and jerked three belt loops off my pants.

Yep, a lot of difference between the Vanderbilt’s mansion and our 4-room farmhouse at Route 4. But, you know what? I feel sorry for little Cornelia. Not only did she miss the woodshed and all the experiences (fun?) we had that produced the well-worn path to the shed, but she had to be a lonely little girl roaming around that 250-room mansion by herself. Somebody much smarter than me (there must have been a Route 4 in their childhood) once said that “it’s not the house in life that’s important – it’s the life in the house.”  Truer words never spoken!

And speaking of true words, Jesus was easing his friends’ troubled minds (John 14:1-4) about His leaving them by describing the Mansion in Glory that He was going away to get ready for their Reunion. He told them about the many rooms in His Father’s house. I can’t prove this, but I just believe that our Father’s House will make the Vanderbilt’s mansion look like our farmhouse, and since Jesus is getting it ready for us, I don’t want to miss it. And something else I believe – when we get there, I don’t think we’ll give a second thought to the size of the house! There will be so much joy and laughter and good times on that reunion day in our new bodies (could I get an Amen!), maybe that’s why it’s called ‘Glory!’

And since He’s gone away to prepare a place for us, could it be a woodshed lesson to learn that He’s also preparing us for that place while He’s gone? So that when He comes back (as He promised) to take us to the place to be with Him where He is, He won’t ever have to say, ‘Boy, go to your room right this minute!’ He’ll say, ‘Boys, let me show you to your room.’

And that, my friends, will be Heaven!



Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

One day not long ago, my good friend and neighbor, John Greer, came ridin’ down the driveway on his bicycle hauling a big plastic grocery bag full of almost every kind of summer’s finest produce you can imagine. Speaking of grocery bags, during all my bag-boy training at The Great Atlantic &  Pacific Tea Company, they never taught us to ask the question, “paper or plastic?” There was no choice. Just a sturdy brown paper bag with A & P printed on the sides.

Is it just me, or does it ever bother you that the ‘handles’ on these new-fangled plastic grocery bags will snap or stretch under a gallon of milk nine times out of ten. I tried to carry a couple of bags in each hand from the car into the house the other day, and they got so twisted around my fingers I thought Helen would have to cut them off (the bags!) with scissors once I was in the kitchen. And while I’m way down this side road, what ever happened to the ‘cold stuff’ bags that we learned at bag-boy school to put the ice cream in so we wouldn’t have milk shakes before we get home to the fridge? Come to think of it, whatever happened to bag boys? 

Oh, my goodness, I can’t even see the main road from here! But that plastic bag that John was carrying on his bike (it had fenders and a chain guard!) was so heavy it was about to split wide open like a ‘may-pop.’ You didn’t grow up at Route 4 without eatin’ some ripe may-pops or step on ‘em when they’re green and watch ‘em pop like a farm boy’s balloon! After Ollie and me started using my egg money to help pay for an old ’49 Ford, Daddy said the tires were ‘may-pops,’ cause they may pop at any time.  Put the gate up on that side road, we’ll come back there later.

Back to John’s garden for now with the bag full of ‘maters and cukes,’ as Daddy called that long green vegetable that gives me indigestion.  And green bell peppers and long yellow peppers that John swore would not burn your tongue. And fat yellow squash perfect for slicing and rolling in corn meal before dropping in the hot oil of our black skillet. And, yes, there were some pods of okra, too, that I hid in the bottom drawer in the fridge in the hope that they wouldn’t ever see the light of day.

Put all that together with some fat butterbeans and long ears of sweet corn, Mother’s fried chicken recipe that would make the Colonel lick his fingers, saw-mill gravy and cat-head biscuits, and you’ve got Sunday dinner that’ll bring the preacher home with you after church!

And down deep in John’s wonderful summertime ‘care-package’ was a wheelbarrow full of memories of those Camelot days back home in the garden at Route 4. Going to the garden and coming back to the house with arms full of that food of life. And when you can taste that hot buttered corn on the cob and fresh pole beans with a quarter-slice of ripe cantaloupe on the side, you forget about how this bountiful harvest landed on your front porch. The mind just erases all those long, hot days of plowin’ and plantin’ the garden, now that you’re enjoying the pickin’ in the garden!

You just forget about Daddy’s ‘irrigation system,’ the days and days of totin’ buckets and buckets of water from Johnson’s Branch or Coneross Creek to water those tender young bean sprouts and corn stalks. Our pore, little skinny arms would get so tired, I thought my knuckles would surely drag the ground in the garden if I had to make one more trip to the branch. That’s when Daddy would say, “Boy, you better pick up that bucket and get going before I tan your hide!” In case you don’t know, that’s Route 4 language for ‘Please join me at the woodshed.’

 But, it seems now the popular garden is a couple of ‘mater plants in the back yard within reach of the hose pipe. What good would a hose pipe have done us at Route 4 with no spigot to hook it up to anyway? I’m reminded of the River of Life that the angel showed John flowing right down the middle of the street on Hallelujah Square. This water was so clear and pure that it nourished the tree of life on each side of the river. In fact, my Route 4 mind has a hard time understanding how there could be twelve crops – fresh ‘mater sandwiches’ every month all year long! But it’s in the Bible and I believe it!

Is there a moral hidden in here anywhere? Thank you. Glad you asked. I believe life today is a lot like that bunch of Martin boys in the garden back home – we love to pick but we hate to plow! Everybody loves to harvest but too few want to plow the garden and plant the seeds. That sweet ‘tater casserole with lots of raisins inside and pecans on top does not just plop out of the oven all by itself! Somebody’s got to plant and dig the taters.

I think the Apostle Paul could have been a great farmer if God had not decided to knock him off is donkey that day on the Damascus dirt road and put him to preaching. And I base that opinion on his description of God’s Garden in Galatians 5:22-23. You’d think Paul was describing sweet, red-ripe watermelons when he talks about what we’re supposed to bag up and give our neighbors – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. What a wonderful world, or even neighborhood, we’d have if we shared a bag full of those ‘fruits of the Spirit’ that Jesus has planted, fertilized, and watered into our souls.

And I like what Paul said in the second part of verse 23. Have you ever witnessed or heard about some farm boys “borrowing” some watermelons at night from the neighbor’s garden? Paul said there’s no law against sharing the fruit of God’s Garden. Put up a sign. Come and get it. Have all you want. Just share some with your neighbor.

I can hear the Return Baptist choir singing that great old Austin Miles hymn right now. “I come to the garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses, and the voice I hear falling on my ear, the Son of God discloses. And He walks with me and He talks with me, and He tells me I am His own, and the joy we share as we tarry there, NONE OTHER HAS EVERY KNOWN!” (my italics). I just know I’ll be hummin’ that verse all day long!   

So which will it be – paper or plastic?



Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

It was another one of those ‘transporting moments,’ fifty-cent words for taking me straight back to Route 4. I took the butter from the fridge to make myself a grilled cheese sandwich. Most times my mother-in-law’s favorite (and only!) daughter fixes me that golden brown delight, but she wasn’t home and I was hungry. I mean, how hard can it be? Two slices of bread, some butter, and the small black skillet. By the way, I prefer the time-tested and proven old skillet to those Teflon-coated wonders of today. But you have to be careful with the skillet. If you daydream for a few seconds, you’ll be scraping off the burned sides of that grilled cheese with the butter knife (waste not, want not!), as I quickly learned.

Now, get the picture. The sandwich is in the pan, medium heat, properly buttered on each side. And then it happened. Quicker than a tom cat running up a tree, my mind raced back down that dirt road to Route 4. First of all, it was the sliced bread, or loaf bread as it’s known today. The only bread we ever knew as farm boys was mixed up in Mother’s wooden mixing bowl. Not until a few years ago did I know that rabbits made bread! “Honey, please pick up a loaf of Bunny bread on your way home!”

But, anyway, flour and buttermilk leads to golden-brown cat heads. Same process with corn meal in a big black skillet. Corn bread or biscuits. Only two kinds of bread way back then.

Secondly, it was the butter that led to the charcoal taste of my grilled cheese. Well, actually it wasn’t the butter. It was my thinking about the butter. This little round tub of something yellow that spreads on your loaf bread without tearing the bread to smithereens! Spread-able butter. What a marvel of modern times! What will they come up with next – mayonnaise in a plastic squeeze bottle? Back to the sandwich and the butter that just glides across your bread. It’s a far cry from the days of our cow’s butter back home. Churned, I might add, by our skinny little arms. But, see, being easily spread-able was not a desired feature of butter on the farm. Only how big of a slab could we stuff into a hot biscuit or a pone of cornbread!

To tell you the truth, just the mention of the word ‘spreadin,’ as we called it, makes me remember a very unpleasant chore on the farm. About once a year, usually on a rainy day, Daddy would say, “OK, boys, time to clean out the chicken house.” So, we’d grab the wheelbarrow and the big scoop shovel and start shovelin’. Fill up the wheelbarrow, take it to the garden, and start spreadin’. How it got to be the middle kid’s job is still a wonder to me. George and Oliver, being the older brothers, could somehow bribe me to do the spreadin’. Maybe, it was an enticing offer of their fried apple pie (it surely couldn’t have been their boiled okra!). Just thought I throw that in right there. Wade, Eddie, and Wendell were too young to handle a scoop shovel and a pitch fork. So, it was you-know-who doing the spreadin’.

Now, if you’re upwind from something that rotten, it’s not too bad. But if the wind shifts and there’s a light rain falling, the smell of that stuff just sticks to you like that spread-able margarine on my grilled cheese sandwich! Trust me, it would take a stiff-bristle brush with red devil’s lye and octagon soap to get rid of that smell. The smell – oh, no! Daydreaming about the smell of spreadin’ that stuff has led to another smell – my sandwich is burnt to a crisp.

While I was scraping, I got to wondering about what we’re spreadin’ in the world today. We’re all spreadin’ something every day everywhere we go. Is it fowl-smelling stable stuff that you can’t wash off in a Saturday night bath? Or is it a pleasing fragrance that fills the room when you walk in? Is it lies, slander, dirty jokes, vulgar language, and a sour attitude? Or is it smiles, kind words, helping hands, and a forgiving spirit? Are you spreadin’ the gossip or the Gospel?

In claiming the name of Jesus, we’ve all been given the job of spreading the Good News, the honeysuckle-blossom sweet fragrance of the Great Commission. In Matthew 28:16-20, our Lord is giving some ‘last-minute’ instructions to His Eleven. And you know what, even seeing Jesus in person, there were some who didn’t believe (v.17). Reminds me somewhat of what Daddy used to tell us, “Boys, don’t believe nothing you hear and only half of what you see.” And when it comes to human beings in this ol’ world, he probably hit the nail on the head.  But those Eleven guys were seeing Jesus in person and still had doubts about who He was.

But did that bother Jesus? Not in the least. He just told them, and us, to go and start spreadin’ the Good News! Sounds like the name of a good song, doesn’t it? And He re-assured them with the comforting words that He would always be with them, and us, wherever we go. We have a choice of what we spread and how we spread it. Since He’s always with us, do we really want to spread anything that might get on Him?

So what are you spreadin’ today? Be careful – you might burn your sandwich!



Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

The sign by the side of the road read “Welcome to Our Newest Gated Community.” When my eyes transferred the sign’s message to my head, I heard the conductor call out ‘All Aboard – First Stop, Route 4.’ That’s when I turned around to look at the gate to that new collection of fine homes. It was very fancy-looking. Made out of black wrought-iron and decorated with eagles or lions or something like that. I guess the idea was to make you think all the new mansions inside this new community were secure behind the gate. And nobody would enter this new community who wasn’t supposed to be there.

Well, when my mental time-travel train made it’s one and only stop back home at Route 4, all I heard was one of my brothers hollering to Daddy, “Somebody left the gate open and the cows are out.” I knew immediately who that someone was.

Mother’s middle child was supposed to make sure that the latch on the pasture gate was fastened. No big deal. One latch. One boy. From previous trips to the woodshed, I had learned that this was not going to turn out good for me. See, cows are not very selective. It doesn’t matter to them if they eat the green grass of the pasture or the green stalks of corn and other vegetables in the garden.

Guess which one they chose when I left the gate open. Give you three guesses and the first two don’t count. You’re right. They headed straight for the garden. Had themselves a feast on young corn stalks and butter bean plants before we were able to round them up and herd them back behind the gate where they belonged. By the way, here’s another lesson from the ‘shed’ that I’ll throw in free of charge. If you follow the herd, you just might step in something that soap and water won’t take off for several days! Anyway, the lesson at the ‘shed’ went way past the end of school that day! No recess! No sausage biscuits! Do you ever find it funny how the human brain ‘connects the dots?’

The sight of that new gate with its automatic opener and closer took me straight back to the little wooden latch on the pasture gate at the farm, and the thought of it being left open made my heart jump up in my throat even now after all these years. Whoever invented the automatic open-and-close gate could have saved me lots of ‘standing suppers’ (too sore to sit!) if they had come up with that idea about fifty years earlier. If I see your gate standing open today, my goose bumps will have goose bumps of their own.

That gate to the new subdivision was fancy-looking, no doubt about it. But it can’t hold a candle to the gates that we learned about in Sunday School at the little white-boarded Return Baptist Church back home at Route 4. There were twelve of those gates and each one was a gigantic pearl. Even for a ten-year old country boy’s wild imagination, it was hard to imagine a pearl that big. Never had seen a real pearl at all. Much less one that big. We probably had seen one in the slick pages of the Sears and Roebuck. And we had hauled some pretty big rocks out of the corn patch. Even had to hitch up the mule and wagon to get some of them moved. But a single pearl as big as a gate? Hard to believe, I know. But it’s in the Bible, and at Return Baptist, we believe everything in the Bible, from the front cover to the maps!

But anyway, John wrote it down (Revelation 21:21) when he was stranded on an island. Just like us country boys stranded in the fifties on a farm without running hot and cold water. I know how he felt! And talk about a beautiful new subdivision! This new city that John saw was 1400 miles long, 1400 miles wide, and 1400 miles high. Never has been and never will be a new subdivision like that one here on this earth. And the wall around this new Heavenly Subdivision was made out of jasper (not a barbed-wire fence)!  And in this wall were those twelve gates made out of a single pearl the size of a tractor-trailer.

But here’s the part I like best. This is dessert – Mother’s fried apple pies. Look up verse 25 of Revelation chapter 21. Not a single one of those 12 gates will be equipped with one of those fancy automatic open and closing, laser-operated, thing-ama-gigs!  Because not a single one of those gates will ever be closed!  That’s worth a shout or at least an Amen!

We won’t ever have to worry about leaving the gate open, and getting taken to the woodshed by our Heavenly Father. In fact, this is just me talking now, but I believe the ‘shed’ will be closed when we get to the new city. Why do I believe that? Glad you asked. Because the Bible says there will be no more pain and no more tears in Heaven! The lessons will all have been taught when we graduate from here. The gates will always be open! Because no bad things or bad people will be living in this new city.

And you know what else? There won’t be any need for street lights behind those open gates. Why? Thank you again for asking. Because there will be no night up there! Have you ever seen your big brother with a flashlight shining under his chin when it was pitch dark outside?

No ‘scaredy cat’ games in Heaven! Hallelujah! Strike up the Heavenly Choir!



Woodshed Wisdom

By Freeman Martin

It’s been said that clothes make the man. I wonder who said that – probably some Madison Avenue clothing manufacturer. To promote that idea, and sell more clothes, it was probably the same people who said that you have to look good in order to feel good. There are two words in Route 4 language that describe that kind of thinking – hogwash and baloney!

And that’s not to throw off on a good baloney sandwich. Why, I’ve even heard that now a popular restaurant is serving fried baloney biscuits. Maybe it’s a tasty delight. I don’t know – haven’t tried one. Back home on the farm we would never put baloney in biscuits. I just think that a hot, golden-brown cat-head creation deserves some cow’s butter, or homemade preserves or jam, or some honey with the comb still in it, or maybe even a slab of hoop cheese.

If it’s wrapped in wax paper (for those who think press ‘n seal has been here forever) and carried to school in a Dixie Crystals sugar bag, a biscuit should have a hunk of sausage in it. And it’s even tastier if you watched Mother sprinkle in some red pepper while you were turning the handle on the sausage grinder. Or if the ‘maters are ripe, it’s ‘biscuit & box’ time in the garden – as in a biscuit and a box of Morton salt.  

Well, my goodness, this is not about biscuits and baloney. I’m heading down a side road again. As my brother Wade hollered when the mule ran away, “Whoa, Mule!”  Baloney said about something you didn’t believe was pronounced “buh-loney’ with the emphasis on the ‘buh.’ That’s the baloney that goes with hogwash to describe the idea at the top of this page about clothes.

And that’s the word, among others, that Daddy used when I came home to the farm from my first day of high school in town. The short conversation went something like this, “Daddy, all the kids at school in town wear what they call blue jeans and pull-over shirts and tassel loafers. And all I have are these overalls with patches on the knees, a flannel shirt and brogans that George and Oliver wore before they grew out of them.” I’ve often thought how funny it was that they were called blue jeans. I saw some white jeans and some black jeans, too, in my closet the other day. And I haven’t worn either of them in a coon’s age!

But Daddy’s end of the conversation was either one of the two above-mentioned words, hogwash or buh-loney! Sometimes, on rare occasions, he’d use both words.  And, after over-hearing this short, one-sided fashion discussion, our sweet Mother would take her middle child to the side and whisper in his ear “Son, it’s what’s in here (pointing to her heart) and what’s up there (pointing to my head) that makes you what you are.”

And the next day, I might have an extra sausage biscuit in my lunch bag. I still wanted a pair of those tassel loafers, but her heart-and-head talk, not to mention that extra sausage biscuit, always made me feel better. Mother never finished high school, but she taught some college-level courses about life to a bunch of rough-around-the-edges farm boys (and even a couple of dainty little sisters who lived the good life on the farm!). I’ve heard highly-paid speakers who couldn’t come close to her woodshed wisdom that ‘we don’t need more to be thankful – we just need to be more thankful!’ 

What is it about clothes that so fascinates some people? Cutting grass and other yard work will leave you sweatin’ and smellin’. But, after a good shower with hot soapy water, you’re the same person as you were before the hot shower. But you wouldn’t dare even think about going to wally-world in ‘those’ clothes, would you?

While I was laboring in the hot sun yesterday, my bride was ‘going through’ her clothes (and shoes, too, I might add). I am as proud of her as I was that day when my 4-H Club pig had 13 little piggies or piglets or whatever! See, you have to understand the closets in our house. There are four of them, I think, and three-and-a-half of them are filled with fashions that I definitely would NOT wear to wally-world! Dresses and blouses, slacks and more blouses, tops and bottoms of every color of the rainbow and some that aren’t in the rainbow. But, she’s ‘going through’ them. If that means that someday I might have a whole closet to myself, I’m all for it. I’ll even volunteer to help – after football season is over!

Jesus had a lot to say about clothes, too. In my red-letter edition of His words (Matthew 6:28-34), He asked a question from those in the crowd listening to His Sermon on the Mount that I think He might even still be asking us today. “Why do you worry about clothes?” And as He talked about the most beautiful field of flowers the world has even seen, He called them ‘the clothes in which God dresses the grass of the field.” 

Just imagine a field of buttercups, pansies, roses, mums, orchids and all other majestic hues and colors God has woven into the floral fabric of His creation. Even the ‘splendor-iffic’ wardrobe of the dressed-to-the-nines clothes of King Solomon can’t compare, said our Lord. And, if He can come up with this kind of covering for the grass of the field, and it’s here today and gone tomorrow, why do we worry so much about what we’ll wear today or what we’ll have for breakfast? He knows and He’s more than able to provide clothes and food and everything thing else we need.

What it all boils down to is faith. The kind of faith that allows us to spend our short time here on earth not worrying about what were going to wear, and other equally silly things, but ‘blooming like a precious flower in the field where God has planted us.’ The kind of faith that leaves footprints for others to follow.

What does that mean? Glad you asked. Verse 33 is the answer straight from Jesus. Do the things, live the life, take the actions that make a difference in His kingdom here on earth, and try our best to imitate the life that Jesus led.

If we do that, we’ll have all the tassel loafers and Madras shirts we could ever hope to wear!