My father was a contractor. He built houses. Most of my summers were filled with manual labor on his job sites. My brother and I were my father’s backhoe. I spent many a hot summer day down in a ditch with a pick and shovel.
Our crew was a constantly changing group made up of men who had recently arrived from Mexico and white guys from the wrong side of the cultural tracks in our community, all who needed a job and a fresh start. We were a unique blend of humanity. After a long hot week, Friday was a day that carried the hope of a paycheck and a couple of days off.
Every so often my father would surprise his work crew on a Friday. He would tell the men he was making lunch. About 10:30 he would leave the job site and reappear with groceries. He rolled out a wheelbarrow and lined up bricks to elevate a BBQ grill off the bottom of the wheelbarrow. then he would dump in some briquettes and start a fire. In a few minutes, steaks, Van Camp beans and bread would be prepared. The smell of the BBQ put smiles on our weary faces. As lunch was served, dad would pull out a couple of six-packs of ice-cold Olympia beer and hand them out to the men. It looked like the scene from the Shawshank Redemption where the inmates were drinking a beer on the prison rooftop. After the men had their fill of steak dad would hand out their paychecks and call it a day and send them home.
Around those lunches, I heard the stories of the lives of these unique men. They became more than just my co-laborers. They became a human with value and a story. Everyone who worked for Charlie Elkins loved him because they knew he came from a similar rough beginning as the one they were currently navigating. When they shared his lunch they were also sharing his life.
I learned a lot about life from my father. He always saw the overlooked people, the ones in need, the marginalized. He called them out of the shadows and affirmed them by giving them a chance and a job. Maybe what we need in our nation in this moment of our history are more experiences like a wheelbarrow BBQ where people from different life experiences and ethnicities take the time to find out that we are all the same in the most important ways. And in that discovery give people something they deserve as a fellow human being, an affirmation, and recognition of their value in our life.