Friday, August 14, 2009

The Hospitality I Saw Growing Up....

My parents were experts at making others feel comfortable in our home as I was growing up. Although not spotless, our house was reasonably clean and what I now think of as casually cluttered. My mother was always more concerned about what she was going to make us for supper and who might be joining us than the mundane household chores. I have to admit, though, the messiness was sometimes a source of embarrassment for me as a teenager, and I was often motivated to pick up before having friends over (obviously, my mother was smarter than I realized!).

The clutter, though, never seemed to bother anyone else. In fact, few others even seemed to notice. Even though I had no brothers or sisters, we frequently had friends over to visit - sometimes several times a week. We often had people stop by unexpectedly (a common practice in the South) and just as frequently, had friends and family in for dinner. My mother was a wonderful cook and was known far and wide for her desserts as well as her meals. I honestly believe many of my dad’s friends and business associates just happened to stop by early evening sometimes, hoping to enjoy some of my mother’s amazing home cooking.

Whoever was around at mealtime was assumed to be eating with us (my husband and I are also like this - I guess some values are with us for life). When someone had dinner with us and commented on some food my mom had prepared, she always remembered. She also remembered when someone mentioned a favorite food, and when they came back, sometimes she would make their favorite dessert (even if she had never tried it before) to surprise them. Ironically, the "experts" tell you never to try a new recipe on guests! Yet, she made many people feel so special because she cared enough to take that risk. She made each person feel so special and so important.

I should mention, too, that my mom was known for her homemade fudge. I had a cousin, Susie, who went to a different school and who loved to have my mom make fudge for her for bake sales at school. She would come with the ingredients and my mom would make her some of the amazing fudge she was known for. I can still see the platters of fudge on the counter! I guess that's why I still love it so much today. Now, there are lots of great fudge recipes, some very easy and one that my mom called, 'the cook kind'. That was the fudge recipe on the back of the Hershey's cocoa box that had to be cooked to the 'soft boil stage'. That was the best fudge!

My dad was so proud of my mom's cooking, too! As long as I could remember, she was always a stay-at-home mom, her priority feeding us. Regarding meals at our house, my dad would jokingly say to guests, "I buy it (the food), but I just can't get Irene (my mom) to fix it!" Obviously, he was kidding because he could not have been more proud of how she cared for him and all the others who graced our home.

Once, early in their married life, my dad would tell co-workers that he was going to Irene's Place to eat, inferring it was a restaurant (he didn't tell them that Irene was my mom!) One guy said, "You're always talking about this place and how great the food is there, but I've never heard of it." My dad promised to take him sometime. When he brought that first person to Irene's Place, the guy was taken aback that it was my dad's home! My parents are both gone now, but they used to tell that story and laugh heartily!

So, there we were in our casually cluttered home with family and friends stopping by at random, joining us for meals or “at least a piece of pie.” My dad was also very welcoming and loved having people in the house. When they invited someone to stay for supper, and the person acted as if he couldn't say, Daddy would say, “You might as well stay. We’re gonna charge you for it, anyway!” Oh, how I miss my mom and dad!

Yes, the more the merrier was the mantra at our house and ours was a welcoming home where my parents made others feel wanted, like they belonged. Beyond that, folks were made to feel like they were special in our house. My husband and I try to extend that same hospitality to our friends and family. As you now know, it is most often our son’s friends. We have a group of them who often stay overnight and we love it. They are great kids and we try to let them know they are always welcome.

We often make big country breakfasts with biscuits and gravy and the works. During these mornings, I always remember my mom, standing at the stove, make the perfect gravy. Sometimes, we make pancakes or French toast and bacon instead. And sometimes it’s a groggy morning for everyone and we just have cereal. But we always try to have something each kid likes. For example, one of “our boys” loves bacon, so when we make it, we make plenty of it. One loves chocolate milk, so we try really hard to always have chocolate milk in the house. And of course, each one has a favorite snack or cereal. My husband, who does most of our grocery shopping, is wonderful to keep each one’s favorite things in the house. He’s as generous with his wallet as he is with his time with the kids.

And we always try to have enough for at least one more person at the dinner table. I’ve told our kids they are always welcome here. If they come at dinnertime, there is generally enough extra for one or more (we have only one biological child, a son who’s soon to leave for college, but we “claim” a number of these kids as our own). But, if there isn’t, not to worry because we keep a stash of quick things in the freezer for dinner. They know they can always have something to eat, no matter when they stop by.

So, extending our home to our kids is not doing anything fancy; rather it’s just treating them like the family we feel they are. Welcoming them with a smile and a snack or a meal, telling them to make themselves at home, and telling them to be careful when they have to leave is all a part of letting these kids know they are precious to us. In many ways, we are just carrying on the example my parents set so many years ago....


Anonymous said...

Hi Vanessa! I love your blog! Your stories bring tears to my eyes! I am excited about my daughter and I attending a class or two with you! Keep up the awesome work!

Lynda Holmes

Vanessa said...

Lynda, thank you so much for your kind comments! You made my Saturday! :) I hope you and your daughter will be able to make it to a class sometime. That would be wonderful! :) Thank you for taking the time to leave a comment!