You meet a lot of people – and all different kinds – when you do what we do for a living. Roman was a guy we met over 7 years ago when he joined our vineyard crew. And of all the people we have met, Roman was without a doubt the gentlest soul among them. It has been a year since Roman died following a bee sting to the face in the vineyard while working in the Cabernet Franc – from which we make our beautiful wine, Gaia. He didn’t die of the bee sting. That is just what sent him home from the vineyard that July afternoon. He was allergic and his face got really swollen…but he continued to work. Jules saw him and immediately told him to get out of the heat and get some rest. He did so – reluctantly. Roman, like so many of his fellow workers, had a remarkable work ethic. They take uncommon pride in the job they do, no matter what job it is, and no matter how menial you and I might consider it to be. He wasn’t very tall and was slightly built. He always wore long, baggy sleeves and long, baggy pants, no matter how hot it got. And his favorite baseball hat had a bottle cap opener built into the bill.
But as with so many workers, of every color of collar, working was his life. That, and drinking after he was done working. He had been hospitalized with some frequency over the years with liver related problems. We all tried our best to help him, and, absent that, to give him jobs that would not be so taxing on his body. Neither effort met with much success – working hard is what gave him his self-worth and a drink afterwards was his reward for having put in a hard day.
That evening, when Jules sent him home, he put ice on his face and began to drink. That night, his liver finally gave out. It must have been an extremely painful way to die. With the help of his brother, we sent Roman’s body back home to be buried in the town where he was born…to be with his family.
He was only 46. He looked an awful lot older than that.
I saw Roman just about every day for the 7 or so years he was with us. He was always smiling. I think I said all of about 10 or 12 words to him that entire time. It was combinations of the same 10 or 12 words over and over and over, every time I saw him though out the day…something like:
“Buenos Dias, Roman!”
“Si, mucha lluvia”
“Un poquito frio?”
“Si, muy bonita”
“Si, si mucho”
Over and over and over. Until about a year ago…
Jules and I still think about him a lot, especially, of course, when we are working in the vineyard. He was a good fella and the hardest worker I think I shall ever meet. And to Roman, there could be no greater compliment.
“Muchas gracias por todos el buen trabajo, mi hermano….”