Meliton

Monday, March 28, 2016

            Some months ago I was in Yuma, Arizona because I had been asked to officiate at a wedding celebration.  The couple had a marriage “in the eyes of the law” but they wanted it to be a marriage “in the eyes of God.” 

            I was more than pleased to be asked.  Dave, the husband, had grown up in our church but has been away for 8 years, serving in the Marine Corps.  In that span I had seen him only a few times so I was surprised and blessed when he asked me to “officiate” at the blessing of their marriage. 

            They currently live in Pensacola, Florida, where he is stationed.  The ceremony took place in Yuma because he met his bride there and it was where her family lived.

            Two observations about Yuma.  First, it’s hot.  I was told it had recently been 118° and humid.  Fortunately last week the temperature “only” reached a dry 100°.  Second, Yuma is very Hispanic.  Research and observation told me that half of Yuma’s population is Hispanic. The bride’s family is Mexican and some of them spoke very little English.  Consequently, and understandably, she asked that parts of the ceremony be in Spanish.  I was happy to do that, but I needed some help from folks in our church.

            One member, Rudolfo, helped me by translating portions of the ritual.  Another member, Candace, helped me with some of the pronunciation and phrasing.  I had not spoken any meaningful amount of Spanish in decades and had no experience with the formal vocabulary of a wedding ceremony so her coaching was invaluable.   

            The ceremony was held at a golf club, outside, in the shade of a tree.  Only the immediate family sat in chairs, the guests stood.   When the processional began, the guests, without prompting, formed themselves into an aisle way.  A nice touch.  There was no music, so when the bride, escorted by her father, came to the “aisle” we applauded, creating our own “wedding march.”  Another nice touch.  The ceremony was charming, simple and beautiful.

            Perhaps my most vivid memory of the weekend (other than the “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride” puddle jumper flight from Phoenix to Yuma) was my impression of Veronica’s father, Melitón.

            We sat next to each other at the rehearsal dinner.  I confess I felt awkward since he spoke hardly any English and I spoke very little Spanish.  After a few minutes I concluded it would be discourteous, if not insulting, for me to sit there in silence.  So I ventured out with “Donde vive?” - Where do you live?   Aquí, en Yuma - Here, in Yuma.  Circa?  Close by?.  And so we began our halting, “Como se dice?/How do you say?”, conversation.

            I asked about his work and he said he worked on a large vegetable-growing farm.   I asked if it was hot work.  And he said it was very hot and mentioned the recent 118° days.  “So did you work only in the mornings and evenings”?  With a gently dismissive “You don’t know what you’re talking about” wave of his hand he said “We work all day long, no matter the heat.”

            He said he worked with a regular crew of about 8 and had worked on the same farm and for the same owner for 18 years. He spoke highly of his patrón (boss/owner).  Interestingly, Melitón did not say good wages or good benefits made his boss a good patrón, instead he pointed to the fact that his patrón worked right alongside the crew.  With gestures and animation Melitón said “If I have a shovel in my hands, he has a shovel in his hands.”  

            He talked about his family and how he would not let his children take jobs while they were in school because he wanted them to focus on their studies so that they could have “A better life than mine”.  He was very proud of his children.

             Melitón was clearly a hard working man.  He was sturdily built.  His hands were rough and stained.  His face looked not just Hispanic dark but working-in-the-sun dark.  But my strongest impression of Melitón was one of dignity.  It was a dignity conveyed by his nearly at-attention posture, his firm handshake, and his self confident look-you-in-the-eye manner.  “Farm worker” does not begin to describe Melitón.

            I don’t have some grand lesson in mind here except to say this- Next time you drive by a crew working in a farm field, be suspicious of any judgments you might make about them.