Let My Laughter Resound!
“I MUST IMPRESS MY FUTURE FATHER-IN-LAW!”
One summer, probably a year before I was to be married to my wife, I visited my future father-in-law’s ranch (the place where my future wife grew up). Of course, I did not know this rancher well, but I did know that he spent his entire life involved in all the tasks of ranching – raising cattle, putting up hay, and the other daily tasks of ranching. He was not a wealthy rancher, but, nevertheless, through careful budgeting and skillful management, this ‘rugged man’ had become successful in many ways in his ‘profession’.
More than his success in ranching, was his success in becoming a great man, in terms of the development of his godly character. He had a reputation, far and wide, in that part of ranch country, for his outstanding integrity and his trustworthiness. He was a ‘man of his word’. He treated his fellow ranchers with respect and with kindness.
He had an unusual love for his Lord! One of the greatest ‘loves’ of his life, was his love of his little Free Methodist Church, located a half mile from his home, located at the end of the tree-shadowed lane that connected his house to his church.
He seldom missed a church service, although in all honesty I must declare that, because of the weariness from his work, sometimes he found himself sleeping while a good sermon was being preached. This future father-in-law was kind and he was very generous (in his giving to his church and to needy persons).
He was unusually ‘extroverted’ in his personality. He never met a stranger. He loved to talk to anyone who would give him ‘the time of day’! He was very engaging and interesting and informative, when he visited with his fellow ranchers (at his home, or at his church, or at the small town coffee shop).
He had his own strong opinions about certain matters, but, on the other hand, he avoided arguments and debates with persons whom he cherished. He was always ‘conciliatory’ in his responses to people, not ‘adversarial’! He was practically-minded and quite pragmatic in his approach to life and to life’s problems. He was man of the Word (of God), and he daily practiced prayer. He was always kind to his livestock!
There was no man whom I esteemed and admired, as much as I did this unusual man. He was not interested in high-sounding theories, but he was committed to ‘workable solutions’ (especially when he was contemplating ‘ranch issues’). He was very supportive, in many ways, of the various pastors who came to fill the pulpit of his little church – the little church which was filled to overflowing for his funeral service (which happened many years after I became a ‘member of the family’).
Some of the ‘facts’ and ‘insights’ (shared above) I became aware of, after I became married to his daughter and after I spent quality time with my father-in-law (and with my choice mother-in-law who was a very godly and wise and intelligent woman). I was the son-in-law of these choice persons, for more than 30 years, before they respectively passed away.
I must return to the time when I was yet unmarried – a few months before I was married. I had full intention to marry the daughter of this rancher. I was aware that my future father-in-law knew that I was not raised on a ranch, that, indeed, I had no experience in the ‘ways of ranching’. But, nevertheless, on one occasion, when I was visiting on his ranch, I wanted him to know that I was interested in (though not knowledgeable of) the ‘lifestyle of the rancher!’
One particular morning (during my short vacation on the ranch), I decided that I wanted to ride along with my future father-in-law, in his pickup truck, to ‘check on the cattle’. He was a kind and companionable and conversational man, and he never tried to ‘put me on the spot’ regarding my lack of ‘ranch knowledge’. He knew that I was a ‘small town boy’, and he tried to engage me in conversation that would be edifying to both of us.
As he drove over the rough pasture land, we conversed some together. There were in the pastures, what were called ‘blow outs’ – large holes that had been formed as a result of the strong winds that blew away a lot of sand, scattered randomly in the pasture. Much of the pasture land was rough, and the pickup had to maneuver this rough pasture land. Obviously, the pickup steered clear of the few blow outs in the pasture.
My future father-in-law was not a large land owner, but, through careful management and budgeting, during his lifetime, he gradually purchased more and more acreage. I think, at this time that he owned about 2,000 acres. This land was divided into several smaller portions of land, to be used for specific purposes. Obviously, the smaller, divided portions of land were fenced off, with each smaller pasture having ‘access’ by way of a gate that, of course, could be opened and closed.
The morning that I rode with my future father-in-law, I saw the pickup approaching a closed gate – a gate that needed, of course, to be opened, so that we could proceed into the next pasture. There were cattle that needed to be check on, in the pasture, in the next pasture, on the other side of the upcoming gate.
I thought to myself that I wanted to make myself ‘useful’ – ‘useful’ to my future father-in-law. I will, therefore, offer to get out of the pickup, and I will open the gate to allow the pickup to proceed into the next pasture. And, of course, my future father-in-law can relax a few minutes, while I do the work of opening and closing the gate.
I was young (verily 20 years old at the time), so I jumped out of the pickup, and I hurriedly jogged towards the closed gate. I did not know what I was getting myself into! lt was a wire gate (certainly not a modern – type gate), and the strange mechanism that was used to squeeze the post to release the circular wire around the pole – the ancient mechanism was most difficult to handle! I finally, with the exercise of all the strength I could muster, released the strong circular wire that held the gate to the supporting pole.
My future father-in-law (much older than l, and much stronger in his arms than I was) – he watched me (probably with more sympathy than with criticism), as I struggled to release the wire gate from the supporting pole. I wondered how ranchers daily accomplished the task that I verily accomplished just now (that is, opening gates to go from one pasture to another pasture)!
After I finally (with great effort) accomplished my task of opening the gate, I knew that my volunteer job was only half done. After the pickup proceeded through the now-open gate, I would have to close (shut) the gate. I knew that it would be just as hard (maybe harder) to close (shut) the gate than it was to open the gate! I knew that it would require the exertion of all the ‘arm and shoulder muscle’ that I had! One thing this ‘humiliating experience’ taught me was that I was marrying into a rancher family – a ranger family whose ‘head’ of the family was a man who (after having spent many decades with cattle on pasture lands) was very strong and rugged’!
I was young, a competitive runner, but this rancher (who probably never ran a race) was much stronger than I was (and he had lived much longer). Opening and shutting gates that separated smaller pastures – this was a simple and a routine task to him. Why did this task require all the strength that I could possibly muster?
After the pick-up was driven through the now-open gate, I knew that I had the second-half of my task immediately ahead of me. I knew I had to give my ‘soul and body and mind’ to the difficult task of stretching that circular wire over the supporting post – with the use (aid) of the squeezing mechanism. It was so difficult for me to bring the end of the wire fence close enough to the supporting post, so that I could slide the circular wire over the top of the supporting post.
I was proud and I was satisfied with myself when, through my straining and grunting, I finally got the gate closed! I was excited that I could do something (as a future son-in-law) for my future father-in-law.
After I finished my sweat-producing task (opening and shutting the wire gate that divides the pastures from each other), I inwardly congratulated myself on a ‘job well done’! I was glad that I had demonstrated to my future father-in-law that I will be an involved and interested and companionable son-in-law! Even though I knew very little about the ‘lifestyle of ranching’, I nevertheless, will be a son-in-law that will be available (when I visit the ranch) to ‘carry on practical tasks’ for him! One of life’s abiding lessons: “Good intentions do not always produce good results!”
When I finished my grueling task of finally getting the wire gate closed (shut), I looked up, and I planned, of course, to take a few steps away from the closed gate, to get back inside of the pick-up (where my father-in-law was waiting for me).
I accomplished my task alright – I got the gate closed. But I ended up on the ‘Wrong Side Of The Fence’! Talk about embarrassment! With the great exertion of muscles, I finally got the gate closed, but, in my preoccupation with my formidable task, I was not aware that I was shutting the gate in a way that would leave me on the original side of the fence. I was still on the side of the original pasture, instead of being on the side of the pasture where we were ‘headed’ to feed some cattle! Of course, to get back to the pick-up, I had to climb over that rather high fence!
My father-in-law (to-be) did not humiliate me. He made no ‘ado’ regarding this incident. He loved to ‘have a little fun’, but he ‘played down my stupid mistake’! Of course, if he ever doubted that I might someday be a good ‘ranch hand’, I think ‘all doubts’ were (that morning) removed! Ha!
During the many years that I enjoyed being his son-in-law, I loved and I admired him and his dear wife (whom I highly admired as a wise and godly woman). It is hard for me to believe, but there was a time when he had me do some haying for him. How he could place so much confidence in me, I will never know!
There was at least one time he had me drive his large tractor, and this tractor pulled two large mowers. I know that when I turned the corners in the hay field (with a double blade attached to the mower), I left quite a lot of uncut hay on the corners. My dear father-in-law (the kind man that he was) saved my ‘dignity’, and he never criticized me for my ‘far-from-perfect’ job of mowing in his beautiful hay fields.
He knew that I was not a ‘country boy’; he knew that I had no experience of working on the ‘ranch’ (in Nebraska). He was a good-humored man, and (as a dedicated Christian) he knew how to ‘take things in stride’ (to see the ‘funny side’ of life). He never once made fun of me because of my lack of knowledge or of my lack of experience on the ranch.
He was most respectful of my ‘call’ to the ministry, and he supported me (and Venita) totally and enthusiastically regarding the ‘call’! In fact, if it had not been for the generous financial gifts that he (and his wife) gave to us, we would have had a hard time ‘making it financially’ in the pastoral work.
He and his wife regularly gave us financial gifts (usually at the end of the year), and when Venita and I visited the ranch twice a year, we went back to our home with a box full of meat (choice cuts of beef)!
Once during our trip to the ranch, Venita’s dad took us to the largest (nearby) city, and (surprise of surprises) Venita’s dad presented to us a brand new car! Venita’s dad believed that we needed a better (more reliable and more presentable) car. I think this was the only new car that we ever owned! Of course, we drove that car for many years!
Venita’s folks (though they were ranchers) were definitely not wealthy, but they were generous to Venita and to me. They knew that, materially-speaking, we were living on a meager pastor’s salary, and, therefore, we needed a regular supplement to our salary!
Venita (with the example of frugality from her beloved parents) knew how to ‘stretch the dollars’ in our marriage! Part of Venita’s act of frugality was demonstrated by her canning of vegetables and through her freezing of fruit and meats. I think that in one year alone Venita put up about 400 quarts of garden stuff.
It takes a lot of skill to manipulate (drive) a large tractor, in a hay field. Venita’s dad used to ‘brag’ on Venita, because she (an experienced ranch girl) could be so ‘neat’ in the way she mowed the hay fields. She virtually left no hay on the corners! Venita’s dad was always respectful of me, but (rightly so) I never once heard my father-in-law tell me what a ‘great job’ I did while I was mowing the hay in his hay fields! Ha!
In spite of my humiliating experience (the late fiasco), at a time before I became a part of a rancher’s family, the man who was my beloved father-in-law for several decades, never belittled me, never focused on my faults, never rejected me. In fact, he and his wife (and Venita’s siblings) could not have been kinder to me and more thoughtful to me. Of course, there were times (in Venita’s family) when laughter resounded – wholesome and life-giving laughter! Laughter sometimes regarding innocent mistakes that were made, during the work-a-day life on the ranch!
I must admit that I never became adept (skilled) at opening and on shutting wire gates on the Glenn White Ranch, near Amelia, Nebraska! I will let my strong-armed father-in-law attend to that important job! I don’t need to embarrass myself again, with my futile attempts to ‘impress’ my father-in-law!
“Biblical Foundation For The Sanctity Of Human Life!”