Our recent spring-like weather has most of us who garden looking through our seeds and perusing the plant catalogs once again ---- just to make sure we have all that we need. Last week, the turkeys stopped coming down so often and I think the deer didn’t come at all. Of course, another snow-fall, and they will all be back. We probably are not quite done with wintry weather, but soon, soon! Someone (not sure who) said, “The first day of spring and the first spring day are quite different events.”
As spring days near, anyone living in a rural area knows the pungent odor emanating from farms and fields. Tractor and spreader begin a smelly process that recycles waste into something good ---- fertile soil. I was thinking that we probably should do the same with mistakes we’ve made in life. Instead of storing them in our own little Pit of Errors, we can recycle those things into learning experiences that make us wiser and more compassionate persons.
We are now three weeks into the season of Lent --- the traditional 40 days before Easter---and we have three weeks to go. It began on March 2 with Ash Wednesday and will end on Easter Sunday which, this year, is on April 17. The week prior to Ash Wednesday is, traditionally, Mardi Gras week. Parties precede the sacrifices of Lent and celebrations begin again upon Easter’s arrival. I like tradition and also celebrations.
A lot of years ago, I read a book --- Open Heart/Open Home by Karen Burton Mains.* It spoke of the responsibility of hospitality, and I liked what it said. Of course, hospitality doesn’t always mean celebrations or parties. It is more a way of thinking and being willing to open ourselves to provide acceptance, comfort or shelter. One can be hospitable at church, at Lion’s Club, or on a plane. Both Kerm and I grew up in homes where the doors were open to anyone who knocked. I had four siblings who were older, married and had children, so stopping by was just part of our life-pattern. That doesn’t happen as often now, so we try to arrange occasions for seeing family and friends.
It isn’t about formal “entertaining” with elegance. It isn’t a way of showing off ----which is a good thing because while we have a comfortable home, it is no grand mansion with crystal chandeliers and spacious rooms. It is simply a way to bring interesting, wonderful people together, to share ideas and experiences and to find enjoyment in each other. Hospitality adds flavor to life!
One of my favorite memories is of a New Year’s Eve party back when our children were toddlers. Those invited were unmarried singles from church. We lived in an old farm house with an attached summer kitchen ---which was unheated---- but it had an immense fire place one could walk into. It was a mild night that year for December 31st, and we built a fire in that fire place as well as lighting up the rest of the house. This group, some of whom had been around the world, seemed to be having a marvelous time making balloon animals in the living room, playing charades upstairs and down, and simply talking around the fire place. One attendee told us that he had been in Paris the year before, and this party was more fun. Ah ---- a Pearle Mesta moment!!
Of course, our children had birthday parties as they were growing up. We used nature films from the PA Conservation Service, and age-appropriate games or crafty things to make so that bedlam didn’t occur. Actually, the kids and their friends were well enough behaved that bedlam wouldn’t have happened anyway ---- probably.
One of the finest acts of hospitality in my life came from strangers, when we were stranded in a snowbank on Christmas night; stranded with two boys and our English spaniel. The people who lived on the other side of the snow bank came out and invited us in. They didn’t know us and we didn’t know them. They gave us blankets, provided games for our boys and allowed our dog to point their cockatoo all evening. They gave us breakfast the following morning and took us to a local garage where we could get our car towed and repaired. Our sole contribution was a Swedish tea ring and a few cookies. I still think of them and their willing hospitality, with extreme gratitude.
Probably our most recent and fun gatherings were Twelfth-Night celebrations. Because there is so much going on during the weeks prior to and the week after Christmas, we decided to push our time with friends further, to end the 12 days of Christmas. That first year, when we began making a list of people --- the number was more than our not-so-large house could comfortably hold. We thought ---Aha! We’ll do an open-house where people can come and go, and invited 40-50 people. The problem was that people did come ---- but they didn’t go. So, we had a “musical chairs” situation where people stood until someone got up and they could grab a chair. No one seemed to mind this, though, and the Saturday nearest 12th night was on calendars for the next year and the next.
We never served gourmet or fussy foods; we made a couple kinds of soup, snacks and cookies and a big bowl of frosty, fruit lemonade. And people often brought goodies to share. Every chair, stool and even the stair steps were filled and the conversation flowed. It was a time for just total enjoyment when being hospitable was really easy. About three years ago, we had a “last 12th Night Party” simply because I no longer have the energy to prepare ---- but I miss them and I know others do also. I try to remember the advice: “Don’t cry because it is gone. Be glad that it happened!” It is time for other kinds of hospitality more fitting for our capabilities.
We’ve also had revolving beds --- or, perhaps more accurately, revolving sheets. Since we’ve lived at some distance from our extended families, an extra bed or two for when they come by has been wise but the traffic grew beyond that. Once we hosted a young man (Jorge) from Mexico --- part of the Up With People** musical group. Occasionally we’ve welcomed someone who needed shelter for a few days. Nieces and nephews have come. Our sons have always felt welcome to bring people home with them for dinner, an evening of games or overnight. There was an unexpected twist though; a couple of their friends came for the weekend, and stayed for 5 or 6 years ---a bit unusual, but the circumstances that allowed us to borrow these “extra” sons during their college years, were a blessing. We enjoyed them, and our boys benefitted by acquiring two more brothers. I’m still not sure, though, how we managed with six people and only one bathroom.
Overnight traffic has now slowed even though we have more space now and two bathrooms. But back in February, in the space of a week, we made up beds for our granddaughters, followed by a son for a couple of nights and then the other son and his wife for a night while they were moving from one house to another. It’s great fun, but I do think that we need to increase our sheet stash for our often unplanned, B&B!
Hospitality is a very personal thing and depends on individual circumstances. When we moved here, we found hospitality when a woman (Janet) at church welcomed us personally, when a local musician (David) invited me to sing in a group and another person (Ellie) made me feel comfortable in a rehearsal. During this COVID era, we’ve had fine porch visits and times in the gazebo and around a campfire. Making people welcome wherever we happen to be is hospitality.
Our homes can be the refuge that we all need, but they can also be --- to quote one of our family members about a family home ---- “a place that embraces you when you walk in.” We’ve all heard: “No man is an island; no man stands alone. Each man’s joy is joy to me; each man’s grief is my own…”***This truism is a good reason to extend ourselves to whatever need comes our way. We grow in our humanity as we share our lives with others.
Right now, “People of the Book” (Christians, Jews and Muslims) should be involved in inner searching and celebration. Ramadan begins April 2. Passover begins at sundown on April 15th. And Christians are in the midst of Lent, awaiting Easter. We are reminded that even during this unwelcome, tragic war, because of these special, faith-related, traditional times, we should be a standard of peace for all of humanity. Our prayers need to rise like incense for a permanent cease-fire and freedom.
Meanwhile, it is spring by the calendar. And no matter what your tenets of faith, it is definitely a time to be grateful for life itself. Take time to look around as things green, and inhale the fresh air. You can feel the turning of the season. And this is true even if the spring aromas aren’t always that of hyacinths and lilies. If we care well for what we have, if we make all parts of our lives more fertile, if we open our hearts to the people around us, ---- “all will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of things will be well.”****
Carol may be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Karen Burton Mains –An American writer; the wife of a pastor who writes from her own experiences.
**Up With People –American non-profit organization that uses a 5-month series of workshops, concerts and other learning experiences including travel.
***Quotation from a song which was excerpted from a poem, For Whom The Bell Tolls, by John Donne, who was an English poet. 1572-1631.
****I’m sure you’ve noticed how much I like this thought from Julian of Norwich. I use it often. You may recall that she was an English anchoress who wrote, prayed and led a group of nuns. 1342-1416.