I grew up in the South where you’re always welcome in just about anybody’s house. When you arrive, for whatever reason you’ve come, they invite you in, ask how your Mama’s doing and offer you supper…or at least pie. Anything less than iced tea would surely be scandalous.
You might leave with any number of random items; home canned pickles, new socks, a coat or toilet paper. Whatever you need. My Granny always visited people who had a spring on their property and she always “happened to have” a pretty glass jar or two with her to fill up with that nice, fresh spring water.
People back home know how to take care of each other. They take the biblical admonition of being their brother’s keeper seriously. Gardens are for sharing, lawn equipment is for borrowing and if you’re sick, casseroles will find their way to you. Adults take ownership of all the children and you can be sure if you got in a fight on the school bus, someone was going to rat you out so you might as well fess up as soon as you get home.
We live in Texas now where a lot of folks are still this way. There are a fair amount of transplants from California, though, (wink,wink to my California Kid of a husband and family) and a lot of humans seem to have missed class on the day hospitality was taught. Don’t get me wrong, I generally have faith in humanity and I love my California native extended family. People are mostly good and kind and want to help. But let’s face it, hospitality is a dying art. Visiting, taking care of one another and raising kids together as a collective village is a thing of the past. At least in first world ‘merica.
These days, you have to text a person days in advance if you’re considering making a visit. Then you text that morning to remind them and give them an explanation of the nature of your visit. Then, when you arrive in the driveway, you must text again to alert them that you are approaching so as not to be shot or have the police called for an unauthorized visit.
I’m a member of a church who has a tendency to physically search you out if you try to disappear. I’ve been privy to knocking on doors unannounced and watching families scatter and army crawl on the floor to escape the chance of being eyeballed in their natural habitat. It’s like we panic at an unplanned visitor wondering, “What do they want? Why are they here? I’m missing American Idol. Turn off the lights and hunker down, people!”. Folks are very skeptical that someone might just want to say hi and see if there’s anything they need. Why on earth would someone do that these days? Just Snapchat me for Heaven’s sake.
I’m going to admit right now that I’m totally guilty of this mentality. I’m a hermit-troll-introvert who doesn’t really like to wear pants, so unplanned visits and small talk are usually nearly excruciating for me. I mean, if I have to put on pants, it better be important. We also live in the middle of nowhere in the middle of 30-some odd acres with a security gate, so unannounced visits could produce weapon pointing and/or mildly offensive language.
About a year ago, right after I’d birthed my lovely set of twin boys, my Mom started making comments about moving. My first thought was, “You can kill me and bury me in the back yard before I’ll move because I’m a hoarder and have lived in this house for 10 years and there’s no way I’m getting my post-partum self up to move anywhere but to the refrigerator for more pie.”
She kept at it though, and came up with a cockamamie plan that she and my Dad, my brothers and their families and my family should buy a family farm and live there and farm stuff. Together. Like the 1800s or something. A village. Raise our kids and some cattle. Together. Blast our nuclear family right out of the water and all live within shouting distance. Or cussing distance, I’d mumbled under my breath. My private, independent, must-have-an-appointment-to-visit family was going to all move close enough to smell each other’s beans in the crock pot. (or maybe something else in the “pot”)
The more we talked about it, the more right it felt. I was sure we were seriously falling off the deep end and were going to drown each other, but we took the plunge and bought a multi-generational family farm and moved in. I’m not gonna lie. It’s had its moments where I was like, “What the hell have we done? Who smoked all the ganja and made this plan?” (Mom) We’ve had our ups and downs but we’re seven months in and it’s working. I typically enjoy it more than I hate it.
My kids can roam down to Grammy’s for hot chocolate when it suits them and we all share the chores and expenses of raising animals and running our farm. We look forward to Grampy stopping by most days and saying hi and picking up milk or meat that are in their fridges or freezers that we keep in our utility room. My parents can save my bacon when I need to go somewhere spur of the moment and need help with babysitting or I need to borrow a cup of flour or the cable guy is coming and I’m not home yet.
The door of hospitality that I learned to open as a child has reluctantly begun to swing both ways again. What really got me thinking about this whole “hospitality and taking care of your neighbors” thing, was becoming obsessed with the Amish. I randomly picked up a book on Amish parenting while browsing at the library recently and it got me going.
One thing that really stuck with me is that Amish women apparently never apologize for their house being a mess and they will invite anyone in at any time with no regrets. I was in awe at their hospitable nature and ability to let people in and not be embarrassed by the endearing chaos that lives in the homes of large families. The author said it was because they reject pride. Pride? What does pride have to do with being hospitable? Turns out for me, everything.
I have thought about it so much and have since let people show up “unannounced” and spur of the moment like never before. I’ve invited people over and purposely not cleaned like a crack fiend and then forced myself to not make mention or apologize for the state of my home. It’s honestly been liberating and a lesson in humility and working to over-come my raging worldly pride.
I realized during my little Amish-fest that one of my major hang ups, besides not wanting to wear pants, was the question of what might a visitor think of me and my home? Would they judge me like I judge them? I think one of the worst human fears is that we ourselves will be judged exactly the way we do our own judging.
What if they see that I’m not perfect and have hand prints all over my fridge that may or may not contain fecal matter? What if they see that I haven’t washed the cloth diapers in two days and smell something funky? What if they see me looking ravishing in my two day old, un-showered messy bun and yoga pants? What if they see my dirty heathen babies and schoolbooks littering the table and floors?
What if I let my pride and expectations and judgment of others go and just invite people in? What if I just welcome people and offer them lemonade? What if I stop being a dang Martha and sit and enjoy friends and find out what they need and what they have to say? What if I rally around my family and form a village to help each other and raise our families and food? What if I serve others without restrictions and limitations and appointments and texts? What if I open my door, unembarrassed whenever the opportunity arises and send people home with homemade food and stuff they need?
I’m horribly flawed and fallible. I’m selfish and obsessive and sometimes meaner than a snake. I’m opinionated and private. I’m tired from the all-night milk bar I run for two 14 month olds and managing a busy household full of kids. It’s hard to think about others and just let people in. Really hard.
I’m trying to remember that it’s my job to watch over my family and be my brother’s keeper. It’s a commandment to love my neighbor as much as I love myself. I’ll keep pushing myself out of my comfort zone and attempting to become comfortable in pants so people can show up to my house and have pie on the porch.