My guests were due 2 p.m. At 12:30 I received a message that perhaps next weekend would be better, they were busy etc. etc. Also it was a long bike ride. The message came while the salmon was marinating in the homemade prickly pear sauce, the quinoa was about to go on, the homemade shallot dressing was blending on the counter and my husband was popping the pumpkin cake (soon to have cinnamon cream cheese frosting) into the oven and the kids had been cleaning all morning . . . you know, a typical Sunday.
It was nearly an International incident, a scandalous affront to aggressive, Russian hospitality. It turns out they really just needed a ride, but are young and had trouble asking. Or maybe that’s a Minnesota thing, the reluctance to admit a personal need or to impose upon another. Anyway, they really aren’t far and it was no trouble getting them.
There’s the aggressive part. Welcome to my home, I have cooked for you, eat heartily, be comfortable, may I refresh your drink? Not so much suggestions as Ukraine invasion, Putin style. Not coming? Easy as K-G-B: I shall come and get you. That is the chink in my armor, my hostess’s Achilles heel, the “tell” that I really am not all that well-bred. There is a “Have a good time or else” veneer on my hospitality.
“. . .[T]he desire to improve and be a well-mannered person is a beautiful thing. By doing so, we are acting in love. Love is kind, patient … because we are thinking about others before ourselves. We prevent annoyances, misunderstandings, imposing and living this way makes our world a better place.”
I am enamored of Southern Hospitality, and try to improve upon my raised-in-a-barn self with hours of Internet searches on the proper southern lady’s response to every situation. My husband’s former boss was married to just such a lady, a lady who looked like Kate Middleton before Kate Middleton was cool and dressed like her, size 4, “Mercedes colors.” A doctor’s wife taught me that: “Never wear a color you wouldn’t see on a Mercedes.” The boss’s wife always said the right thing, always put everyone at ease. She made every social interaction smooth as buttered noodles on the good china. To read about another lovely southern lady, click here.
My guests were an old and dear friend’s niece and the niece’s husband, who have recently graduated from a fancy New York college, married and moved to Phoenix for work. The niece is from Northern Minnesota, raised in the environs of the family strawberry farm, fresh faced, willowy and beautiful. I, myself, went to a fancy New York college, but still, What will I say to these kids? They’re so smart. . .
I had a copy of Proust on the end table that I bought because a friend had mentioned Proust on a “Most Influential Books” Facebook post—my alternative to graduate school. The sight of it made them both very fluttery and happy; they picked it up, discussed it between themselves. I’d had it a couple of weeks. . . why hadn’t I read it?! Whippersnappers.
We have something of an altar of antique religious icons, gold candles and stricken statues, a scene of celestial pandemonium, which I worried might over-saturate our guests with graven images. My friend, the guests’ auntie from Minnesota, is a Bible Christian, working overseas translating Bibles into obscure languages. Her name is often spoken in the confessional because Father, she is so naturally good!, sans the benefit of examinations of conscience and the sacraments. I am not that good. Perhaps she’s had an easier row to hoe, my dear, the priest likes to say.
If only they knew that all day I was intercepting a garage-sale laughing Buddha that my son kept sneaking into the arms of the Blessed Mother and, worse, I think, the Flying Spaghetti Monster that my daughter hand-felted out of wool and pipe cleaners. It’s smallish and bendy so can end up on the Blessed Mother’s head, atop the crucifix, dangling on the fake monstrance. There’s something earnest Bible Christians and well-heeled Episcopalians don’t ever worry about. Luckily, my daughter did not appear at the table with a colander on her head.
Our young guests kept the chatter going just fine, even at one point having a sort of free-association private conversation between themselves at the table that brought to mind twins’ secret language. That certainly took the pressure off. My children contributed nothing to the conversation. My eighteen-year-old son hid when he could. I mentioned our Catholic priest is married in an attempt to bridge the Catholic-Protestant divide. That inspired my husband to say something about our pastor’s seeing no conflict between science and religion. My heart sank, suspecting this to be faux pas of the evening.
“It’s time to take the kids home,” I told my husband, meaning it affectionately, not condescendingly. I mean, the young lady was a toddling around the family room in a diaper when I first met her on the strawberry farm over 20 years ago. I forgot, mea culpa, to give them the armful of fresh basil from the garden and jar of homemade prickly pear jam that I had promised. I need to drop those off, lest that sin of omission be their lasting impression of their visit.
I do hope they had a good time. Not that it was optional.