Tuesday, August 4, 2009

What I've Learned About Hospitality from Others

Hospitality is so much more than providing a sofa to your cousin passing through town for the weekend. Providing hospitality can create memories that last a lifetime. I have been blessed to experience the hospitality of many through the years and I hope I’ve learned from these experiences.

When I was a college student at BGSU (many, many years ago), I was invited home over Easter weekend with a friend who lived in Sandusky, Ohio. I’ve lost touch with Mary Stepanic and haven’t spoken with her in many years, but I will never forget how her mother made me feel so special that weekend.

A loving and attentive mother, Mrs. Stepanic had prepared Easter baskets for her two college-age kids, home for Easter break. And she made one for me as well. I felt so special and included that day. It was a thoughtful, simple act of kindness and it was one I have never forgotten. My basket had Easter candy and eggs and a perfume stick that I used for a very long time. Every time I used it I remembered the thoughtfulness behind the gift.

We usually think of hospitality involving home cooking. My Aunt Juanita and Aunt Sue, although good cooks, extended hospitality in a different way. When I was growing up, my aunts who were raised in Virginia, had migrated north to the Windy City along with scores of others in the 1960’s looking for stable work outside the coal fields. They found it in an automotive plant and worked there for decades. They welcomed family from the south to visit them and when we did, oh what a visit it was! They took us shopping to all kinds of great stores we didn’t have in rural Virginia and they treated us to great meals at many restaurants.

Although you’ll often hear that as a houseguest, taking your hosts out for a meal is a way to show gratitude for their hospitality, in my family, we did it backwards. Taking guests or “company” out to eat was a way to entertain them and make them feel welcome. Well, my aunts certainly made everyone welcome! We had everything from White Castle’s to Mexican cuisine, as I recall (mind you, this was 35 years ago...). And shopping, oh my! Those aunts can still shop even the most enthusiastic shoppers under the table! And they would take us anywhere we wanted to go. What great memories of those visits.

A few years ago my husband, Ken, was asked to speak at a national Toyota conference in C’oeur d’ Lane, Idaho. I was his guest for the trip. They wined and dined us and treated us like royalty. We were taken shopping, treated to a dinner cruise and given massages. Boy, does Toyota know how to treat their guests! What was most memorable for me, though, was that when we arrived back in our hotel room every evening, in addition to finding our bed turned down with lovely little mints on our pillows, we also had a present waiting for us! We were given a variety of gifts, including a small, original watercolor painting. What a wonderful surprise and thoughtful gesture!

We have since entertained and using the example set by Toyota, given our guests little presents each night. It was a fun way to make our guests feel special. It reminded us how special we felt at our getaway a few years ago.

Gifts need not be expensive, just thoughtful. When you’re out shopping throughout the year, buy little items and store them in a gift closet or drawer. Then, when you have occasions to use them, you’ll be prepared and for very little money, can make a wonderful memory for a visiting guest.

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