My grandma gets A+’s in hospitality. Ten desserts at every meal, vacuumed guest rooms, and fresh coffee coming out the wazoo every morning. Yes, Grandma was born to hostess. I like watching her hustle around her Oklahoma kitchen with determination to refill everyone’s iced tea, bring you one more piece of cake, take your plate. There’s always funny responses to her hospitality that range between blissful acceptance and hostile retort:
“Mom, please sit down and eat. Your chili is going to get cold.”
“It’s okay, Grandma, I can get it myself. Really, Grandma.”
“Mmm, thank you! Can I have a fork, too? And some coffee?”
“No, Grandma, sit down. Sit down! I am going to tie you to your chair.”
To which Grandma just keeps moving with a little smile on her face, like it’s the Olympics of hospitality and she will eventually be the victor if it kills her. She will make sure you ate enough, tried everything you wanted to, were comfortable, and leave the table waddling.
Hospitality is a learned art. Sometimes I think it can have a formal, stiff connotation, as if to be truly good at hospitality you have to be trained and follow a certain script. Please make yourself at home. Can I get you anything? Just sit back and relax. Like hospitality can only mean ironed tablecloths and candles.
Hospitality can be really awkward. But done well, it can just make your day. Part of the definition of hospitality includes “the reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers, with liberality and goodwill” (Oxford English Dictionary). I like that part “guests, visitors, or strangers” because it implies that hospitality can be planned or it can be spontaneous. You can host people you planned to pamper, or you may be thrown into the role of hostess quite suddenly.
When I think of good planned hospitality, I think of a dinner at a church friend’s house I shared with my family and a few other guests over spring break. Small townhouse, but big hearts and an even bigger lasagna. The couple admitted they love to have people over, and they were good at it. I helped the hostess dish up banana pudding for dessert and enjoyed watching her pad around the kitchen in slippers, setting the coffeemaker and making everyone feel comfortable. She made conversation and filled our plates, but it was all done in a very natural, humble manner.
When I think of good spontaneous hospitality, I think of the sophomore girls at Wheaton College who let me sleep in their dorm room this week for two nights with literally an hour or less’s notice. They got a call saying, “Hey, some students are here for the theology conference. Can they stay with you?” Thus they picked up two of us and drove us back to their dorm (it was raining) where they helped us bring in our load and made us feel welcome. Doubtless we were cramping their style a bit, but they seemed so happy to share their little bathroom and dorm space with us.
I want to be a good hostess, like my grandma and my church friend and my new friends at Wheaton. I don’t want people to feel awkward or like they can’t enjoy themselves. I want to exude “liberality and goodwill” when I open my home, to whoever comes in, whether it’s planned or spur of the moment.
I’m excited to keep observing and learning the art of hospitality and finally practice it someday – once I have a home, that is. For now, there will be no home-baked dinners coming out of my breadbox dorm room. I’ll leave that to my grandma.