Remember when I said that one of my resolutions was to live a life of hospitality, welcoming in people into the imperfect and to not apologize for messes. Ok, all fine and good right?… so then this happened. I test I’m sure, to see if I was 100% serious….
I was walking to answer the door. It’ll be a neighbor kid coming to play with mine.
I laid my hand on the knob and pulled to look straight in the eyes of a nicely dressed, elderly man friend of ours.
So pause in time right there. Hold that. Let’s back up 60 years prior to Germany. In Germany, a man named Joseph (Joe) and Alfred (my future father in law) left Germany as young men to start a new life in a land of new promises. California, USA. Here they started a business together, German Car Service. Their entire lives they spent together running that shop. The families also connected, the familiarity of Germany here in the US. Celebrating at each others homes, German club, all that.
Then in 1991, Joe and his wife Melanie, retired and moved to a quiet neighborhood in the rolling hills. In 2004, a very pregnant version of myself, and my husband and toddler, moved into a house which we still live in, just around the corner from Joe and Melanie. We would stop by on our bikes if the garage was open. They would walk their dog and drop off oranges from their tree. Melanie always had candy in her pantry for my kids which convinced them to drop in more frequently.
Then at the end of October, just last month, we went over to their house to hold Melanie’s hand and say good-bye. She passed away 2 days later.
Just last week I was walking by his house and his garage was open. He always wore his blue one piece coveralls when he worked around the house. Like the ones they wore in their shop. His garage, pristine. I asked if he would come for dinner that night. He said his son was coming, so I suggested Monday (thinking the one right after Thanksgiving). He agreed. Fabulous. Feeling quite loving that I extended the invitation, I told my husband the plans. He asked, “Are you sure you clarified which Monday?”
It was now the Monday before Thanksgiving, just a few days after my kindly invitation. It was a vacation day for my kids. No school. This always throws me off big time. I didn’t even check my phone calendar that day. Nope, I decided to repaint my kitchen table, 4 chairs and 2 accent tables right in my kitchen. Then I had a friend over to help pass the time (and she has 4 little kids). So I pulled down all the toys which were littered all over, furniture drying on newspaper everywhere and dirty dishes from the night before.
Somehow, when my kids are off school and my normal routine is disrupted, I’m a mess of forgetting what I’m supposed to do. Forget that I have a calendar on my cell phone with reminders. Didn’t even pick up my cell phone that afternoon. AND, I didn’t realize it was MONDAY. Completely inexcusable air headed move. I blame the painting obsession and my children.
So here is where we pick up where we left off earlier. Me at the door, about to open it thinking it was a neighbor kid. Not wanting my paintbrush on the counter to dry out, I opened the door quickly.
THERE STOOD JOE. This wonderful man, dressed in a sweater with a bag of kit-kat chocolate for my kids. I felt the air leave my lungs and my life flash before me.
“Hi Joe (hugs and kisses on the cheek)….Oh, your here..for dinner! He smiled and came in. (I’M SUCH AN IDIOT-HOW DID I MAKE THIS MISTAKE, WRONG MONDAY! Ugh!!! )
I said I had forgotten and asked him to stay and eat with us even still, and ALSO come back next Monday when I will have a nice dinner like I planned. He said sure, he has about an hour. (AN HOUR!??!!! )
I didn’t really think about what my house looked like, or that there were toys all over and no end tables, and no kitchen table and NO DINNER MADE until he came in.
Chris happened to be home early from work (thank you Jesus) so they popped open some German beer and sat on my chairs with the newspaper underneath. I’m barely breathing standing there in between my fridge and stove top. (WHAT AM I GOING TO MAKE???? AN HOUR?? EGGS AND BACON? MAC AND CHEESE?) I’m flirting with panic as I scour my fridge. Everything was frozen except for a container of leftovers from the night before, chicken and potatoes. I dumped that in a pot and threw in some frozen green beans, mushrooms, onions and many pours of red wine. Then I opened up a chow main frozen dinner and cooked the colorful vegetables (while I threw away the little sauce packet and the curls of noodles). My 13 year old came in and I told him I would feed him more later and don’t ask for seconds or make any comments. He smiled at my situation. Thanks son.
While this was cooking I snuck in the dining room and cleared half the table (it was set already for a big Thanksgiving crowd). I shoved the extra glasses, plates and silverware under the far end of the table. Then I came back in the kitchen and gave my husband that “look” of “go do this now and don’t ask any questions” and mouthed the words (go in the dining room). They left for the nicer room, away from my newspaper floor. I plated up the warmed up leftovers and served. every. last. morsel. on our five plates. I shut the door to the chaos and you’ll never guess what happened.
We held hands and prayed for our meal and thanked God for Joe. We ate warm, yummy food. Nobody asked for seconds. We laughed about old stories. He smiled at my kids reenactments of what happened at hockey that past weekend, and listened to my other son tell him about what makes a good golf club. As we sat there, my heart still nearly stopped from the stress, I began to see the meaning of hospitality coming real before me. This man didn’t care about all that.
He ate until he said he had no room left, and reached over and put his hand over mine and kissed my cheek. “Thank you for the wonderful meal Valerie. It was delicious.” He probably never noticed half of the stuff I was stressed about. What he cared about was being with us. Laughing and sharing some hard moments with losing his wife. Telling us funny stories about his dog. Sometimes we just listened to him talk about what he needed to say to another human to validate some of the pain of losing his wife.
We gave hugs and planned the next dinner. The Monday after Thanksgiving. He said he is going to bring photos we can go through together. “I have lots of your dad” he told my husband. I told Joe I wouldn’t be painting :).
I think. No I know, God was seeing if I would learn this lesson. No, I don’t have to make my house a bomb zone and give up menu planning for all future events. I don’t think that would be appreciated too much. But I do have to be open to sacrifice my idea of perfection and just love people when the opportunity is there. It’s not about me, it’s about them. So happy un-pinteresty hosting everyone. So this holiday season, if it comes to this, spread the love, not the impressing.