I bought a pair of capris the other day, with ribbons on the bottoms that are supposed to be tied in little bows. These were not in bows, however, but in knots. Late for synagogue on Shabbat morning, I left them as they were, but as I started driving, I thought it would be a good idea to untie the knots as I drove, so that I could tie the ribbons in bows when I got to the parking lot. I figured I would have plenty of time in an hour’s drive to accomplish that task, even while driving.
I know that the thought of me driving with one hand and untying a knot with the other may make some people, especially my children and husband, nervous. But I was very careful to only work on the knots when there was nothing else going on on the road, and I always had at least one hand on the wheel. Explaining this makes me feel a little like Lucy from I Love Lucy, when she tried to account for some outrageous maneuver she’d tried, but, seriously, it was not that bad.
I discovered how hard it is to untie a knot with one hand. This may be something everyone else in the world already knows, but, at 68, I don’t recall ever having tried the one-handed knot-untie trick before. I started with my left side and got that one done in about 15 minutes. Surprisingly, the right side took longer, perhaps because the knot was tighter. Eventually, I got that one done, got to synagogue, tied my bows, and was good to go.
So what? may be the response of just about everybody. Who cares about untying knots with one hand, unless you are driving on the road at the same time as some nut like me is attempting this maneuver and want to know what to avoid? Well, the deal is, there is an object lesson here.
Now this is where my children might sigh. Being together so much due to homeschooling, they learned, besides how to read and write and other academic stuff, that Mom can find a song for almost everything and an object lesson for many things. After all, what is an object lesson but a teachable moment? It’s when you can link a concept, a principle, a moral to something tangibly occurring in real life at that moment. The songs were not that; I mean, they were just things that popped in my head and came out of my mouth, very often to my children’s embarrassment and chagrin, like when I sang “I’m Telling You Now” by Freddie and the Dreamers, with arm and leg movements, in a parking lot. At least they didn’t have a boring mother. But back to the object lessons; I believe they are gifts from God, even when they are not especially deep or spiritual.
When I started thinking, as I was driving, about how hard it was to untie those knots one-handed, it gave me a picture of relationships. I’m sure most of you have heard the analogy about our lives being like a tapestry; we see the bottom with the knots and mistakes, but God sees the whole beautiful picture being made at the top. Knots in the right places are very useful, but knots can also tangle things up and keep things from moving smoothly. If knots develop in a relationship, it is so much easier to work together to untangle them. If they have become complicated and tightly knotted, it takes a lot more time and patience, but it can be done eventually with two hands, two people. Difficulties in a relationship, any relationship, are like knots that are most effectively undone as a partnership, working together.
However, one person can untie a knot. If you have enough patience and enough determination to do it, you can succeed at unraveling that which has become complicated and constricted. It just takes a lot longer and requires a lot more faith. If two people are committed to untying the knots in their relationship, it can be done. If neither cares to work at it, the knots will remain and the relationship will be in a hopeless tangle. But if one person determines to be the knot-untier, despite the difficulty of the task and the endurance needed to complete it, that relationship has a chance to run smoothly again.
Disclaimer: This object lesson does not apply to the following knot situations: stomach knots, tree knots, nautical knots, muscle knots, protuberant knots, or macrame knots. I can only stretch an object lesson so far….
Everyone’s life has a soundtrack, the music that plays in the background of the events of one’s life. When I discovered that iTunes carried so many of the songs that comprise my soundtrack, I decided to write my story in sync with that music. When I listen to these songs, they take me back to the places I inhabited and the person I was in those days, remind me of my friends and family, and mark out the rhythm of my life while I was listening to that music.
I am sixty-eight, and I’ve often thought of writing down my story for my kids. They’ve heard little snippets here and there, but I don’t want them to feel that they’ve missed out. I wish I had asked my own parents more about their lives, their motivations, their joys, their dreams, and their sorrows before they each passed on.
Prologue: Human Warmth
The wooden sign over the glass window of the storefront said, “Human Warmth,” which seemed to be a good omen. It was a few steps down from the sidewalk, across a small paved rectangular space. The front door opened into a room whose only furniture I remember was a padded wicker rocking chair, another good omen – a place to rock and nurse the baby who was coming soon. A counter partition in the back on the right divided the front room from a much smaller one, and then a curtained doorway on the left led into the minimalist living quarters: a bedroom with a low platform bed, divided from the small kitchen by a claw foot tub. and a bathroom whose toilet was flushed by pulling an overhead chain. The back door from the kitchen led out into what passes for a yard in a city apartment, a tiny space of flagstones and weeds.
The place had been advertised as a sublet, and the man who was subletting – whose name I think was Allen – was kind and friendly; the price was affordable, and we could move in soon. We did, several days later, and found that in the interim Allen’s kindness had extended to a bowery bum, whom he had taken in, bathed, and fed. Although the man was gone, the unmistakable reek of urine, concentrated in the very pillows of the rocking chair I had already claimed for myself, apprised us of where the man had been sitting before his bath. This should have given us pause, but we were in our twenties and full of idealism and energy. My husband Carlos, know to most of his friends as “Charlie,” got a job in a macrobiotic restaurant around the corner. At home, we baked bread. Carlos had scrounged up an old Fred Braun sign and had made it into one of our own, simply stating: BREAD.
We lived in New York City, in the East Village. The people in our neighborhood, and those passing through who came in to buy our bread, didn’t mind the drying diapers strung on a clothesline behind the partition. They didn’t know that we had to keep the oven pilot light on all the time to keep the roaches out of the oven. (Side benefit: We could make perfect yogurt on the back of that stove.) They didn’t know about the mouse our cat had chased around the tub while I was taking a bath, which she eventually deposited in one of the drawers of clothes kept under our bed. They only knew that we baked bread, bread that was good, inexpensive, and often still warm from the oven. The Hell’s Angels living down the street particularly liked the cinnamon raisin. We enjoyed chatting with the people who stopped in for bread, and we appreciated the ease of having everything we needed within a few blocks’ walk; we had no car. We did not intend, however, to live there for very long nor to bring up our precious baby boy in the noisy, dirty, crime-ridden city. We dreamed of moving to the country and starting fresh in a clean and peaceful environment. We searched ads for cheap homesteading properties in Alaska and worked on paring down our possessions to fit into one large trunk.
We had to move sooner than we’d expected, though, and not to the country. Two authority figures confronted us within a short time of each other. One was an inspector from the health department who told us we were selling bread illegally, with no license. He definitely minded the diapers, the roaches, and the mice, so our home business came to an end. The second visitor was the actual landlord, who’d known nothing about the sublet, which was in any case forbidden by the lease, because he’d not received any rent from Allen for several months – all the time we’d been living there. Apparently Allen’s notion of “human warmth” did not preclude his breaking a rental contract, lying to us, and taking our $300 a month.
We moved on, and so will my story eventually, but before it does, I will go back, back to the beginning, where I was shaped into the person who walked into that storefront in the first place.
I am a first-generation American. My father’s family came here from Russia when he was two years old, in 1904 or 1905. I never knew his parents – they died long before I was born – and didn’t know his older sister and brother well enough to ask about their lives before they emigrated. My father did not want to talk about his life before, what little he might have remembered of it; he was an American citizen, and that was what mattered to him.
My mother’s family came from Austria; she was born in 1907 and was about thirteen when they came here, so that would’ve been around 1920. I know a little more about my mother’s family history. Her father was Rumanian, her mother Polish, and apparently they were distant cousins. Her father had been in the Austrian army during the first World War. At some point they had lived in a small town in Austria, which they escaped when the Cossacks burned it down. In Vienna they had owned a hardware store.
When they arrived at Ellis Island, my uncles had had their heads shaved, and some of the family members had had their names changed. The admitting authorities had apparently found some of the Yiddish names unpronounceable, so they renamed my mother “Rose” and her sister “Jeanette.” My mother, at 13, was placed in a kindergarten class because she could not speak English and made her way up to sixth grade by the end of the year. Though she graduated from college and earned her teaching degree, she was not allowed to teach kindergarten until the very faint trace of her “foreign” accent that remained was erased through speech lessons.
When I was growing up, the United States was often referred to in our social studies classes as a “melting pot,” a nation of immigrants from all over the world who had come here to build new lives in an atmosphere of freedom, who generally retained and shared their cultural heritage in terms of food, worship, celebrations, but who also participated in the larger American culture as American citizens. Growing up in New York City, I experienced this first-hand. My parents had started out on Manhattan’s Lower East Side but had eventually ended up in Brooklyn. When my ex-husband and I first moved to the Lower East Side, my parents couldn’t believe it…..they had struggled to make enough money to move on and here we were, choosing to live there. We liked it. There was still a blend of cultures, so different foods, clothes, music were all available. Similarly, later in the East Village, we were part of an eclectic community. When we moved to the Midwest, I couldn’t believe how bland everything seemed. I missed the ethnic and cultural diversity we had become accustomed to.
In the past few years the question of immigration has become such a hot button for so many people. In thinking it out for myself, I had to rely once again on that concept of the “melting pot.” What does that mean, exactly, and how does that apply to the United States, in the past, present, and future? The closest analogy I could find was the process of making beef stew. Of course, in a stew, most of the things don’t exactly melt, but bear with me and see if the analogy makes sense to you.
To make beef stew, you must first have a pot, a fairly sturdy pot that can withstand sitting on the stove for quite a while without burning the stuff inside. There has to be a structure, a framework, within which to cook different things to make the stew. Similarly, in our country, we have a structure: the Constitution of the United States, the guiding principles of the people who drew up that Constitution, and the government that derived from it. We are still a relatively young country and our whole existence has been a story of immigrants and a desire for freedom. (I am not going to get into the wrongs we’ve done here, because those are part of another story). Without the specific American culture, however, there would have been nothing cohesive to bring all those immigrants from different places and different times into a unified whole. There had to a be a strong pot that could itself withstand the heat of change, while allowing the ingredients inside it to change enough to contribute to the recipe.
So, we’ve got a pot on a stove, and into it we put different ingredients: carrots, potatoes, celery, beef, onions, garlic, and whatever else is available…..plus oil and salt and spices and water. That’s the nice thing about a stew; you can put lots of different things into it, they each add their own specific taste and texture, but when you’re done, you have a finished dish, not exactly all “melted,” but all parts of a unified whole.
Similarly, each group of immigrants to the US brought their own cultures, their own specific tastes and textures, but as they assimilated into American society, they became part of the stew, not losing their cultures but adding them to the overall American culture so that it was enriched and flavored. There were common values that held us all together and the result was a country unlike any other.
Unfortunately, what has happened in my lifetime – I am 68, so I’ve lived through a lot of changes – is that we’ve allowed the pot itself to be damaged; we’ve allowed – nay, even encouraged – the corrosion of the structure of our country, the Constitutional pot, so that there is no longer a solid framework in which people can assimilate, and assimilation is crucial for the survival of a nation. Remember, assimilation in the US has not in the past meant giving up one’s culture; it has always meant declaring America to have the first claim on one’s political allegiance and it also meant that most American citizens held to the same values, the Judeo-Christian values of the founders of our country.
Furthermore, every good cook knows that there are some ingredients that just don’t go together. There are vegetables and spices that are fine in themselves but that will just not go with the stew you have made. There are also poisonous plants that you would never want to introduce into your stew…..they would make it toxic for anyone who ate it, eliminating the benefits of all the good stuff you had already put in there.
There are some people who just do not belong in our pot. They do not hold to the values that we as Americans have traditionally espoused. They just don’t fit, and neither they, nor we, would be comfortable with attempting to mix these values together. Sadly, there are also those who come here intent on only damaging and ultimately destroying the pot itself, those who embed themselves in American society only in order to bring it down. These misfits and destroyers are not always immigrants but are often those who have been born here but who don’t appreciate what we have; they want America to change to fit their political or religious ideologies.
It is so easy to make blanket statements about immigration, but that gets us nowhere. As a country that has always sought to help the downtrodden and the exiles, we need to find a way to do this without endangering our own American culture. There are people who have come illegally to this country who have assimilated as much as they could, who have jobs, kids in school; these people should be given a means to become legal citizens and not have to live in fear of being discovered and deported. There are others who are here and who express hatred for Americans and everything we stand for; these people need to be somewhere else. I don’t claim to know how to do any of this. It just seems to me to be common sense that if you hate America and seek to undermine her, you should be encouraged to leave. If you love America and seek to make a life here, to be part of a country of immigrants, a melting pot, then a means should be made for you to legally stay.
Becoming an American citizen was not easy for my parents, but citizenship was something they treasured and honored all their lives. They added their own flavor to the melting pot that is America, and their children and grandchildren have continued to be active citizens in what is still the most unique country in the world. Let’s not lose sight of who we are.
Even though Thanksgiving is a holiday established from a tradition dating back to colonial America, and July 4th is the day we celebrate the declaration of our independence from Great Britain, I think I could make a case for Halloween being the most-celebrated holiday in the US. Certainly it is looked forward to with much excitement and costume-planning by adults and children; even pets get dressed up. Stores make a mint selling large amounts of candy as well as costumes. People decorate their lawns and homes with elaborate, usually creepy, decorations; haunted houses and trails abound; costume parties are a given.
I don’t remember Halloween being all that special to me as a Jewish child growing up in Brooklyn, nor how young I was when I was allowed to dress up and trick or treat in my neighborhood. I remember as an adolescent doing “Trick or Treat for UNICEF.” The holidays that were most important to me were the Jewish ones, celebrating the miraculous intervention of God in the lives of my ancestors, reminding me that God was still a very present Being in my life, and just being really fun family times.
When two of my children were young, we allowed them to dress up and trick or treat in our neighborhood in Dayton, OH. The costumes were usually made by the kids themselves and not very elaborate. In those days, kids could still get homemade cookies or treats from the neighbors without fear of malicious damage, and we limited our kids on where they could go and how much candy they could eat.
When I became a Christian and started to look at the origins of Halloween, my views on celebrating this holiday changed. A friend of mine, who’d been involved in the occult before she became a Christian, was aware of the background of Halloween as a day celebrated by satanists, witches, and other occult groups, a holiday celebrating death and the macabre. When my husband and I decided not to celebrate Halloween, we were in a very distinct minority. Initially, to avoid the constant ringing of the doorbell, we’d leave the house early in the evening on the designated “Beggar’s Night” and return when it was over. After a while, people realized we were not participating and just stopped coming by, so we just hung out at home as on any other night of the school year.
We have plenty of friends and family members who do celebrate Halloween – some of our own now-grown kids do – but we have never tried to preach to them or belittle them for their choice to do so. When a child I know shows me a costume, I admire it, but I still don’t take part in Halloween parties, Harvest parties, or any other celebration of this day. I usually don’t express my opinion on this unless asked, but a recent article posted on FaceBook by a friend seemed to demand a response. The Christian author offered three choices for Christians on Halloween: to avoid the holiday, to celebrate the holiday, and to redeem the holiday. Somehow, those Christians who choose to avoid celebrating Halloween are often chastised – I’ve heard sermons preached about it – as if, by not engaging the culture in this area, we are not truly being ambassadors for Christ, not really being “in the world yet not of it.” Kind of reminds me of when we home schooled our children, or had our home births; people would make offensively defensive remarks to us, as if by our own personal choices, we were condemning theirs, though that was never the case. We would share our reasons, engage in discussion, and move on.
It’s been so long since I’ve done the research that I don’t remember the details of all the reasons not to observe the holiday of Halloween. The article I mentioned gave some of the background – the Druids, the pagan worship, the involvement of the Catholic Church – and I won’t go into much of it. You can always check it out on your own. I just have several points I’d like to make. Whether you agree with me or not, that is fine. Just expressing my opinion (which is getting increasingly hard to do in this country)…
First, no matter how you try to dress up the holiday – pun intended – with Disney character costumes, Biblical people costumes, Reformation leader costumes, or just very cute, original, and well-made costumes, you cannot really get away from the fact that the basic thing about Halloween is its scare factor. Halloween is all about being scared….because it is all about ghosts, witches, demons, and, to quote Yoda, “the Dark side.” Whatever lightness and fun you may feel at a harvest party or when taking your kids trick or treating in your neighborhood is not the same lightness and fun that is exhibited in decorations, movies, and the general Halloween atmosphere: it is SCARY. Personally, I don’t see the value in deliberately choosing to be scared, whether or not you think the scary things are real, but demons and witches ARE real, and they are not people-friendly; they serve a master whose goal is to corrupt and destroy people. Thankfully, we serve a Master who is greater than theirs, and I don’t feel that I honor Him by celebrating His enemy’s holiday.
Second, I disagree with the opinion that you have to participate in the holiday in order to engage people in a dialogue about Christ. I know people who choose to do this, and that may work for them, but it hasn’t for me. I need to stand up for what I believe to be true and to be willing to politely and kindly explain my views to anyone who asks me. “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,” ( I Peter 3:15 ) To draw a parallel between the pagan animal sacrifices to their gods, and the rituals instigated to deter demons on All Hallows’ Eve, and the Jewish animal sacrifices ordained by and offered to Elohim is clearly to miss the point….. I would not participate in other pagan rituals, nor will I in this one, no matter how it has been sanitized. There is no equivalence between worshipping gods and worshipping God.
Years ago, when our kids were young and we were living in Dayton, OH, we knew another family who chose not to celebrate Halloween. One year, though, they decided that they would have a Halloween party for the neighborhood kids, hoping to reach some of them for Christ. No one came. Finally, they called us and asked us if they could just come over and hang out with us. While we were together….noshing, chatting, playing games….they mentioned a neighbor who was really struggling, becoming conscious of her sinfulness but unable to move from bondage to freedom. We ended up spending time in fervent prayer for her, and that night, she received the Lord as her Savior. That was probably my most memorable Halloween, because, instead of trying to be part of something we could not condone, we engaged in spiritual battle against the forces of darkness and won a victory. That was redemption – not of the holiday – but despite the holiday.
I’m not a picky eater anymore, but I still love the twice-yearly Passover Seder more than any other meal. The Seder is an experience, not just a meal, celebrated for two consecutive nights in March or April by Jews all over the world. It is both a remembrance of what God did for us as a people years ago when He freed us from slavery in Egypt and a celebration of what He continues to do for us up to the present. My memories of childhood Seders are so rich and so entwined with who I am that it will be hard to consolidate them into one post.
My mother came from Austria and my father from Russia, both as children with their families. Some of their siblings did well and others not so well; those who were successful lived in nice homes in Long Island. We were on the lower economic end of their families during most of my childhood, and I grew up in a succession of apartments in Brooklyn. Going to my aunt’s house for the Seder was also a treat because I got to spend time with my cousins whom I saw only at holidays and special occasions.
When I walked in the door, the smell of frying latkes enveloped me. Crisp, greasy, hot – we would nosh on them, plain or with applesauce, while waiting for the Seder to start. When everything was ready, we all sat at tables arranged in a T, with a short horizontal part at one end and a very long vertical piece going down. The men sat up at the front, next the older boys, then the older girls, then the children and the women. The table was always decorated with fresh yellow daffodils, and their sweet smell brought Spring into the room. Small cut-glass bowls of salt water were placed along the table, along with plates of celery and carrot sticks. Everyone had a goblet of water and a cup for the dark, sweet Manischewitz wine we had to drink at four different points during the recounting of the Passover story. At the head of the table was the Seder plate, with various elements significant in telling the story, and at an empty seat was the large wine cup of Elijah.
Seder means “order,” and there is a definite structure to the progression of the Seder, a lot to go through before you get to the actual meal. My father and uncles were experts at verbal Hebrew speed-reading, so things usually progressed fairly quickly. The actual Seder meal came about two-thirds of the way through the Seder, so there was a good reason why the men chanted at such lightning speed. At different points there would be general participation, like when we all dipped 10 drops of wine from our fingers to represent the 10 plagues God visited on the Egyptians, or tasted the horseradish root, the parsley, the charoses (a delicious mixture of apples, walnuts, and wine), and the matzo. The salt water on the table was for dipping: parsley, boiled potatoes, and boiled eggs. I traded my yolks with my cousin for her egg whites. There was lots of music – traditional songs, blessings, and the Four Questions chanted by the youngest child and answered by all the men.
Finally, it was time for the feast, and a feast it certainly was. First there was gefilte fish with horseradish – I passed on that. Then bowls of clear chicken soup with one or two matzo balls; my father fondly called them “sinkers.” Meats – roasted chicken, beef brisket – and vegetables – carrot tzimmes and potato kugel – appeared next. We ate until we were stuffed, and then went off to play until the adults finished their eating and conversation and it was time to resume the Seder service. When we had finished the stories, the songs, and the last cups of wine, we had desserts, all made without traditional leavening. There were sponge cakes light and fluffy because made with so many eggs, nuts, coconut macaroons, chocolates, pies. After the desserts, when our eyes were heavy-lidded and our bodies lethargic, the last excitement of the evening roused us to pay close attention.
Part of the Seder involves hiding half of a matzo, called the Afikomen, in a napkin. The Afikomen must be eaten at the very end of the Seder, the last morsel in our mouths. The procedure was that one of the men would have the napkin on his knee, one or more of the kids would steal it and hide it, and then a committee of children would bring it forth and bargain with the men for a price to give it back. Depending upon the condition of the Afikomen – it must be as close to a whole piece as possible – and the bargaining skills of the committee, we could end that evening with quite a bit of cash in our pockets. After we prayed and ate the Afikomen, we always sang Hatikvah and God Bless America.
Our family has always been close-knit and the cousins kept up the Seder tradition each year for a long time after my aunts were unable to do it any longer. We have had a few Seders at our home, done larger group Seders in our churches, and have been guests at others’ Seders. All of them have been immensely enjoyable, yet none of them has quite captured for me the overall experience of the Seders of my childhood, when I was full of delight and anticipation, filled with good things to eat, and enveloped in an atmosphere of family, faith, and tradition.
I enjoyed reading the post “The Hardest of Christian Dispensations” on the blog Tantoverde, which discussed judging others. Although I could have shared my own experiences of being judged and found wanting, I commented instead on one of the things we did in our family to encourage our children to love and respect people; we practiced the Christian virtue of hospitality. I believe that hospitality is a gift that can be nurtured. In my childhood and earlier adulthood, I did not have this gift. I witnessed it in action with my first mother-in-law, Mamita Edith, who would welcome any one we showed up with at her house, with no prior notice, and feed us all. Her motto was: “Donde comen tres, comen cuatro,” literally, “Where three can eat, four can eat.” Pots of rice and beans were extended to make food for all.
While I admired this philosophy, I did not, in the early years of my second marriage, have the aplomb to carry it out myself. I remember the first time we invited a pastor and his wife to dinner. I was so nervous that, when I leaned in to take the chicken out of the oven, I singed the hair off my forearm; the smell of scorched hair added nothing good to our meal.
Somehow, though, as our four younger children were growing up, our family started reaching out to other people with food. First it was bread. I had learned to bake bread with my ex-husband, when we had a bread baking business first on the Lower East Side and then in Woodstock, NY. I scaled down some of the recipes so that I made six loaves at a time instead of twelve, and my children eagerly got involved in the baking process. One loaf disappeared as soon as it had cooled enough to eat, and we kept another one or two, but the rest we gave away. We evaluated the loaves together, giving away the best looking ones and choosing on whom we would bestow them. Sometimes we would take bread with us when visiting a friend, or pick someone from the list of our bread fans; occasionally we realized that a person totally unexpected needed a loaf of freshly homemade bread. I remember only three times in about 30 years when the offer of fresh bread was refused.
Our son Matt was attending community college when he heard of a church just beginning, comprised mostly of young singles and led by a young pastor whose messages were good. We went as a family to check it out – my husband and I the only people of our age there, and our three young girls some of the few children. We ended up becoming part of that church community and found that we could invite young people from church over to our home for dinner on a moment’s notice and they would gladly come, eat a lot, and take home leftovers. It warmed my Jewish mother’s heart and was so casual that it never made me nervous.
At some point we decided as a family to institute a monthly Saturday evening open house. We made a big batch of bread and a big pot of soup, usually black bean, minestrone, or chili, and sometimes had dessert or salad. Then we put the word out, and people started coming, perhaps bringing more food, perhaps not, but all welcome. The most fun part was that often people would show up whom at least some of didn’t know….some of these people became very much a part of our family. My son Matt and daughter Cathy were both in college at the time. When they came home for a weekend visit while we were having an open house, they remarked with some irritation that they’d been greeted at the door by people they didn’t know, welcomed into their own home which was crammed full of people, and asked how they knew our family! Matt also said that he was getting really tired of that ever-present minestrone soup….
We have had many other opportunities to open our home to welcome guests wherever we live. Each opportunity enriched our lives and taught our children to minister to other people, to share what we had, and to learn from and respect our differences. One Thanksgiving we invited some Chinese international students and friends who had triplets, among others. The Chinese students had not known it was a meal and had eaten before they came. Our friends were worried about their kids eating too much, so they’d fed them first. We’d never had so many leftovers from a Thanksgiving meal before, but the meal became not the focus of the visit but the excuse to bring us all together to enjoy each others’ company
When we moved to the South, we thought we would find that Southern hospitality would take the form of ours, and that we would be invited to eat and to fellowship frequently. That was not the case, and we realized that, if we wanted to experience the kind of hospitality and fellowship we’d left behind, we would have to initiate it. We started inviting people to drop in and got a pleased yet surprised response. The idea of the open house seemed strange to people, yet they enjoyed it once they participated. Picture this: tables laden with fresh loaves of bread and butter; a huge pot of soup on the stove; desserts, salads, and snacks set wherever there was room; water, juice, coffee and tea up high where the little ones couldn’t reach. Rooms full of people, sitting, standing, conversing, eating, in a shifting kaleidoscope of relationships. Children everywhere, playing with each other, with adults, being held, being fed. Age no barrier to interactions, as children might get involved in a conversation with adults, and adults would get into playing games with the kids. People of all ages, colors, backgrounds, beliefs coming together in a shared experience of food for the body, the soul, the mind, and the heart. That is the community that hospitality fosters, where cold judgment stays outside and warm fellowship reigns.
We found the packet of letters after my mother died. During my childhood, the differences between them stood out, there were arguments, and I wondered about divorce. Then I read their letters to each other. The letters revealed their desire to marry and the love growing between the quiet, educated, curly redhead who wouldn’t risk her father’s disapproval and the darkly handsome, mustachioed rebel who had gambled away the money saved for college. My parents, and I never knew that about them until they were both gone.
They had come full circle, though. During the ten years before my father’s cancer slowed him down, they traveled together in the summers, leaving us behind. The romance was rekindled, and the letters are a legacy to their love.