Two couples come to mind when I think about hospitality.
The first couple I think of is my grandparents. Whenever anyone would walk into their country farmhouse, my overall-clad grandpa would disappear into the basement. He would emerge several minutes later with an ice cream bucket filled with a variety of soda, and he would then make the rounds – stop in front of each person, give the bucket a little shake, and encourage them to grab a fizzy refreshment – typically Pepsi and some lesser known brands like Squirt, 50/50, and Dad’s Root Beer. It was, quite literally, a bucket of hospitality.
Friends and family would stop in unannounced and be warmly welcomed to have a seat at the kitchen table, where my grandma might be peeling apples or my grandpa could be found reading the newspaper. They might set aside their work to chat, or they might continue in their tasks. Either way, their focus was on their guests and the conversation.
They knew the art of simple hospitality, and practiced it well with their family and friends.
Another couple often comes to mind when I think about hospitality. My friend’s parents, Frank and Joy, opened their home without reservation to us during our high school years. Their lovely ranch home boasted a finished basement with a fridge full of soda and a bevy of snacks – the perfect teen hangout. Even more, they accepted us for who we were – giggly, rowdy teens who were awkwardly figuring out life. They would chat with us, laugh with us, and give us our space.
They, too, knew the art of simple hospitality, and practiced it well with the teenagers who sprawled out across their home in the ‘90s.
Honestly, I struggle with hospitality. For most of the last 20 years, my husband and I have lived in a rural, small town community where people mostly keep to themselves. To be fair, we are both introverts and didn’t exactly exert effort to meet people in the community, either. I grew up there, so we knew people well enough to wave at each other, and called it good.
This past fall, we moved to the city.
One of the main reasons we moved was so that we could do exactly what we hadn’t done for 20 years – practice hospitality. Invite people into our home. Entertain a basement full of giggly teens on a regular basis.
It’s been a steep learning curve, though.
Having people over is a bit like social media for me. When I invite people into our home, I want them to see Social Media Katie – the one who has showered and has make-up on, has a delicious aroma wafting from the oven, and has clean counter tops. I am afraid for them to see Actual Katie – the one who is in her pajamas at 9 am, eating breakfast on the couch while typing away at the computer. I want to serve them coffee in Starbucks mugs that we have collected in our various travels, and scratch-baked goods that were effortlessly whipped up without smudging my make up.
That’s not real hospitality, though. In fact, the ugly truth for me is that I am being proud and pretentious. I don’t want to invite people into my mess. I want them to think that I have it all together, and that I graduated valedictorian from June Cleaver’s School of Homemaking.
True hospitality is, at its roots, opening one’s life to others – being available. Being vulnerable and allowing them to see imperfection, living in a house that wasn’t carefully curated on Pinterest. After all, the purpose of hospitality is not to impress others, but to grow relationships and build community.
I am a work in progress in this area. My first step? Keeping a well-stocked supply of soda on hand. It makes me a little giddy each time I go into our basement and see our soda – normal flavors, weird flavors, and a few fancy ones, too. Each time I fill the cupboard, I think of my grandparents and their authentic, humble hospitality as well as my friend’s parents and how much I loved hanging out at their house. I want family and friends to feel welcome, regardless of the state of my house or my make up.
And I think I might need to track down an ice cream bucket for offering up soda, too…but I think I’ll skip the overalls.