I was on the elliptical bike at Ai Ai and Tim’s (bc I am a good girl) and I caught a glimpse of the pool through the wooden slats of the blinds in front of me. A lump rose to my throat at the sight of the brightly colored inner tubes and extra fun noodles they had thrown into the water for the benefit of the bunch of guests (including kids) scheduled to arrive in the afternoon for a Memorial Day cookout and pool party. I wondered why the fun noodles made me want to cry – I felt silly. But then I realized that it was what the pool toys represented – warm hospitality floating in cooling water – that made me proud to be a part of this family even though I felt a pang of regret that I can’t practice it individually at present.
Timmy purchased some new flowers etc. that morning and planted them around the pool to freshen the ambiance. Boo Boo was busy cooking things and put watermelon and guacamole (we all learned to make guac from Mommy and we all love it) under some pretty nets on the patio so hungry swimmers could have a snack. When the guests arrived there were seven extra children to splash in the pool and be fed. It was great fun.
The food Tim grilled and Ai Ai served was grouped in aesthetically pleasing tableaux. And as I soaked it all in I realized that yes, of course some folks are simply born with the ability to create an inviting atmosphere, but the idea of hospitality itself is often a learned behavior. My sister and I learned it from Mommy, and I’m sure Ruthie must have learned it from her mom. A few months ago we showed up at E&R’s on a night when they had guests over for dinner. I looked with wide-eyed wonder at the beautiful white platters piled high with good things to eat. It was a relatively simple meal, served in a non-fussy, non-intimidating way, but everything looked pretty and everything was piping hot. I have no idea how Ruthie got everything to be hot at the same time. I never mastered that skill.
When I started eating fish again I only ate it if my brother cooked it. He buys amazingly fresh fillets from his local fishmonger and grills them to perfection. The night they had guests over he grilled scallops with bacon. Welcome to Ernie’s world. It’s a fun place. So yeah – all my siblings understand this concept. I was a very happy guest at both of my in-laws’ homes when we were growing up so I know that their POVs on hospitality was shaped by what they saw their parents doing. I would also like to state for the record that during one of those visits I beat both Timmy and his younger brother at Knockout Kings on the Playstation multiple times.
To be clear, if you lack the innate ability to put things together in a pretty way please do not let this discourage you from opening your home. When visual elegance is beyond reach I always go for the groaning sideboard effect. There is something to be said for abundance. But if you can only offer something you’re afraid might look meagre what’s really important (regardless of food and ambience) is that you serve whatever you have on hand with a smile and a welcoming spirit that lets your guests know that you invited them bc you truly want to see them, you’ve made an effort to make them feel special, and are interested in what’s going on in their lives. My siblings and I were blessed to grow up with that behavior modeled for us but it’s completely possible to become hospitable even if the concept is new to you – just make your guests comfy by doing what would make you comfortable. Hospitality is something you practice at – and it’s a skill one can develop. I’m trying really hard to regain my skills and hopefully develop them more with time. We’ll see how that pans out. But it is definitely a skill worth cultivating bc it’s one of the hallmarks of how we care for one another.