Musings on Melvin

I have Melvin on my mind and have had for several days, so let me share with you some of his story. He and his family attended the church I pastored in Indianapolis and they always sat on the second row from the front.  Melvin, his wife, his mother, and their daughters–a special needs adult, and another daughter who was caregiver to her sister. 

I’ll give them a name, for the sake of this post, and call them the Talbots.  They lived in a modest home on Indy’s east side.  By the time I became acquainted with them, Melvin was retired from a job with the city and was probably in his 70’s. His daughters lived in a small framed house right beside where Melvin and his wife, along with Melvin’s aged mother lived. They were closely knit together, depending upon each other for care and loving nurture. Their means were meager. They were the simplest of people and almost seemed “out of place” trying to keep pace with a fast-moving world around them, but they were positive in their outlook, always welcoming to this pastor when a visit was made, and as regular as they could be in attendance to church. Their abode was humble, minus most of the modern gadgets that adorned typical living rooms of that day, and their furniture was more than well worn, what there was of it. I do not know if they had a television as I never saw nor heard one.

The mentally challenged adult daughter could not speak intelligibly, but she could make sounds when she got excited about something, and either at church or at the Talbot home, when she saw this pastor she would somehow manage to exclaim loudly “SLUTZ!”  She had mastered that sound. Always with a wide, if contorted, smile and happy face.  We were friends though our connection was non-verbal and communication was through the eyes and countenance.  Her family always saw to it that she was cared for and there was never a lack of love in the Talbot household.

So, why has Melvin been on my mind of late?  Well, as pastors who may be reading this post will attest, some memories you have of those to whom you have been privileged to minister through the years are etched indelibly upon your mind. Memories of Melvin in my mind are such. He had a face that exuded kindness, but that had demonstrably worn life’s cares deeply. His frame was average and topped with a full head of hair that had never had too much attention in grooming. Melvin was clean but would appear fairly disheveled in dress. His brow boasted deep furrows and his hands were rough and spoke of physical labor that had molded his fingers and hands into instruments of toil through the years.  His speech was broken and were one to estimate what level of education Melvin might have had it would probably not exceed the eighth grade if that. His eyes were kind and his mannerisms methodical and somewhat mechanical.

Melvin has been on my mind of late because of the picture that I have treasured, call it a memory, of him on a weeknight years ago, sitting across from me in my office at church, sharing in his broken English a testimony that he wanted me to hear.  Melvin had been in the Army and had served in World War II and had fought in battles in the cause of freedom for not only America but for Europe and the world. On that particular office visit, he took me back in his military memory to an exceeding fierce fight somewhere in Europe when, taking enemy fire into his fox-hole, Melvin said that he thought his life was about to be over.  In his own words, with difficulty framing each syllable, he said, “I bowed my head and said to God ‘If you get me out of this alive, I promise you I will say the Lord’s prayer every day and will be in church with my family.’” Those were probably not his exact words but the essence of what I remember of them.  He was very moved in his spirit when he related that fox-hole experience to me and it was apparent that it had been a life-changer for Melvin and he wanted his pastor to share that with him and to know of his commitment and sincerity.  I have never forgotten it, nor have I forgotten Melvin and his humble, sweet family.  They were what one might consider the “weak” of this world, but in their simplicity, they were unique and testaments to the truth that God will take care of His own.

Melvin’s mother was aged, probably in her 90’s. She never spoke much, but her searching eyes and countenance, through deep, time plowed wrinkles, communicated volumes.  She was always in her place with the family at church for worship.

On Mother’s Day, the last few years that Talbots were able to attend together, Lonial Wire, long-time song leader of our church, and I would do a special tribute featuring Mrs. Talbot.  We would have her come to the platform where a rocking chair had been placed for her to sit in.  Lonial would then sing, “Tell Mother I’ll be there, in answer to her prayer….” It was an old song, and sung by Lonial with his empathetic tender, tenor voice, with the aged mother sitting in her rocking chair.  A good many mothers in the congregation were seen wiping tears that streamed down their cheeks. Between the song’s stanzas, I would quote a reading that epitomized the old, godly woman, a reading which began “There she is, the dear old mother….” It was a Mother’s Day tribute to not only Melvin’s mother but to all of the dear mothers who had invested the labors and love of their lives in the service of their families.

So, Melvin, his life, his simple faith, his sweet family, his commitment to his vow, will, I hope, always be on my mind from time to time as I remember the privilege, the honor, the joy of being pastor to this special family.  I was blessed to attend the finest of schools in my ministerial studies and ministry preparation, but in the school of everyday ministering, God used the Melvins along the journey to teach me truths and applications of truths that could never have been learned in the classroom or clinic.  I will be ever grateful.

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