Welcome to the Belleville News-Democrat
My father-in-law, Lawrence Wortman, of Wellsville, Mo., died in February at age 89.
He was a special man, a farmer and a pillar of his community. He could fix anything and loved his farm, which is a few miles east of Wellsville, where I grew up.
Like every farmer, he dreamed of passing his farm along to a son, but he had only one daughter — and she married me, a town kid who immediately moved her an hour away to the big city of Columbia Mo.
But he never showed any disappointment to me and was a pretty good father-in-law. His patience paid off when my son developed a love for the farm similar to his. Now Matthew runs the place.
But Lawrence gave me the best lesson in being an in-law before I even officially got into the family.
I had been dating his daughter for a while when I came out one evening to pick her up. I parked next to his car and went in the house. We came out and started to leave. As I backed out, I turned way too quickly and my car bumper raked two large gouges in the side of his car from the back door to the rear bumper.
It was a classic moment of the absent mindedness which has plagued me throughout my life but which has at least provided me with many columns about my mishaps.
At the time, however, I was in shock and I saw nothing good about the situation.
We went back inside where my mother-in-law was watching television. She was just happy that no one was injured in this 2 mph accident.
Lawrence wasn’t there. He was working late, taking advantage of the nice weather to bale hay while there was light. When he came in, sweaty, tired and hungry, I explained what I had done.
He never said a word.
I said I would pay for the damage and he went to have his late supper.
A few weeks went by and I never heard anything about what was going to be done or what I owed for my stupidity. So I asked my girlfriend, now my wife, what was going on.
She said she had asked her father where she should take the car to get it repaired and he emphatically told her to forget it.
“That boy is working trying to get through college and he doesn’t need to be spending his money on that,” he told her, or something like that.
So the family drove a severely dented car for a while until they traded it for a bright yellow Volkswagen bug that my wife took to nursing school.
Later, Lawrence would tell me a lot of helpful things and he spent years teaching my son what there was to know about farming.
But I never forgot that first lesson about forgiving someone who was going to be family. I only hope I can live up to that example.