Sam Venable 

Department of Irony

This Split-Decision Was More Than 60 Years in the MakingForgive me, for I have sinned. I have gone against my raising. I have broken a vow untainted across the span of 60-plus years. I was tempted by cheap desires and weakly succumbed.

I used a log splitter. Even worse, I compounded this trespass by enjoying every moment of the experience and shall continue to indulge at every opportunity.

To understand the gravity of my transgression, it’s necessary to rip calendar pages by the double handful.

I was raised among trees and have gathered firewood since elementary school. Always chain-sawed and split it myownself—with wedge, sledge, axe and/or maul, as ordained by protocol and my father’s example.

Perhaps this long association with wood subconsciously influenced my initial path in college. For two years, I studied forestry at the University of Tennessee, topped by a summer job in Idaho with the U.S. Forest Service.

Then I hit an academic wall and was on the brink of scholastic probation. At the flippant suggestion of a fraternity brother, I stuck one toe in the inkwell and my future unfolded. His verbatim advice, I swear on a stack of Bibles, was this: “Venable, you’re so full of (bovine scatology), you’d make a great journalist.” I took one course and fell head-over-notepad in love.

Goodbye, living trees. Hello, paper made from dead trees.

Yet through it all, the firewood passion continued—with the aforementioned tools, of course. My typical three-year supply became a humorous matter of principle, to the point that the Tennessee Farm Bureau once purchased a photo of the trove to illustrate a magazine story.

I still live among trees and have ample access to raw material. Thus, it’s easy to select the best. Red oak is my favorite, chestnut oak a close second, with white oak and the occasional hickory thrown in for variety. All lend themselves to easy splitting, the most relaxing cold-weather exercise ever invented.

Whack-crack! Whack-crack! Anyone who ever squared off with a maul on good wood knows what I’m talking about.

But time takes its toll. An old nerve-muscle issue in my right arm and shoulder has advanced from aggravation to limitation. After last winter’s harvest, I knew my maul-swinging career was over.

 Enter my neighbor with a 27-ton, gasoline-powered splitter co-owned with several buddies. The machine had been offered repeatedly, but I steadfastly and haughtily refused.

This time I relented….and HOLY $#@&! Baby, where have you been all my life?

My conversion was as immediate and dramatic as Saul’s on the road to Damascus. What had I been thinking all those years?!

All of which has led to humble apologies to the many firewood associates I’ve jeered for decades. This is not cheating. It is pull-the-lever nirvana. And I’m more stubborn than a team of Missouri mules.

Sam Venable is an author, comedic entertainer, and humor columnist for the Knoxville (TN) News Sentinel. His latest book is
“The Joke’s on YOU! (All I Did Was Clean Out My Files).” He may be reached at