I’ll never forget my first truly memorable trip to Oklahoma. I was about 11 or 12 years old at the time. My mom and aunt loaded up our station wagon and took off from California with me, my two brothers and my cousin on a two week road trip to visit relatives in Oklahoma, Tennessee and Missouri.
I have only the faintest memories of a trip with my parents when I was about three so this was my first real experience with Southern hospitality. And I was absolutely enthralled with it.
Everywhere we went we were made to feel welcome. I still remember being fascinated by the fact that everyone from relatives to grocery store cashiers would say something like “Y’all come back now, ya hear?” whenever we parted. You certainly didn’t hear that in Southern California where we lived at the time.
And the food! Everyone wanted to feed us. At one point my aunt called her cousin when we got to the town where he lived. I don’t recall all the details but his wife’s parents were with them and absolutely insisted that we all come to their house for lunch. We didn’t know them at all but they couldn’t have been kinder. They fed all six of us a simple lunch and iced tea served in mason jars.
We encountered this type of hospitality everywhere we went. Sometime I’ll tell you about the few days we spent with one of my grandmother’s sisters who owned a little country store and lived in the house attached to it. But this story is about my Aunt Hazel and her special brand of hospitality.
Aunt Hazel was actually my great aunt. She was married to my grandfather’s brother, Tom, and they were two of the nicest people I’ve ever known. They lived in a two-story house in town but on 5 acres. It was a simple, comfortable, farm house style – white with red shutters. I don’t remember ever going in the front door, everyone entered through the kitchen door at the side of the house.
Downstairs there were two bedrooms, one bathroom, a living room with a dining area, small kitchen and tiny breakfast nook. Upstairs were three bedrooms and two bathrooms. It was an old-fashioned, comfortable house and I’ve never felt more at home anywhere.
I think of Aunt Hazel often, especially when I’m expecting guests. This past weekend we hosted our annual three-day music festival and had about 200 people camping in our backyard for the weekend. Everyone is supposed to bring their own food for the weekend but experience has taught me that there will be some who underestimate how hungry they will get after dancing for several hours.
Wednesday before the event I picked up what I thought were all the groceries I’d need except for chicken which I planned to get on Friday. Well, on my way to Aldi’s I decided I might need to pick up a few extras – just in case. I started thinking about Aunt Hazel and how she was always able to feed unexpected guests.
She always seemed to have a ham and homemade coleslaw in her refrigerator. There were always a few cans of baked beans in the cupboard she could heat up and a loaf of bread. And her cookie jar was always full of cookies she made from a cake mix and just a few other ingredients. Of course, there was always a pitcher of sweet tea on hand, too.
Her meals were usually simple but there was always enough. No one went hungry at her house.
So I thought about this as I pushed my cart (or buggy, as we call them here in Oklahoma) up and down the aisles at Aldi’s. Even though I just came for chicken I found myself putting a couple of small, sliced hams in the cart. And then a head of cabbage for coleslaw. A few cans of baked beans and several loaves of bread, too. I guess I was channeling Aunt Hazel.
I used to have a tendency to get a little uptight preparing for guests. I wanted everything “just so”. But the older I get and the more I remember how Aunt Hazel did things the more relaxed I get about it. She didn’t get worked up into a tizzy scouring every inch of her house before people came over. She used to say that she had “clean food and clean beds”.
She had a system for those beds, too. Guests slept in one of the three upstairs bedrooms and she had a lot of guests. She could have worked herself to death climbing those stairs and changing sheets. But she solved the problem in a rather brilliant way. She told people that if they wanted clean sheets to help themselves from the large linen closet at the top of the stairs but to leave those on the bed when they left. She just left it to her guests to deal with the sheets.
I’m rather fastidious about bed linens so I’m not sure if I’ll ever get around to using her system but I am trying to adopt her relaxed attitude toward hospitality in general. I’ve got a long way to go and I’ll likely never be as relaxed a hostess as Aunt Hazel. But it’s something I really intend to practice.
Last night I had the opportunity to witness another example of relaxed hospitality. A music event we had scheduled was cancelled due to rain. A few disappointed musicians and friends decided to have an impromptu jam session. A friend offered her home. They only moved in a few weeks ago so they aren’t totally settled in yet. However, this didn’t stop her. She quickly made a Facebook event and invited a couple dozen people. And this is the part I loved. She included this in the event info:
“Bring booze, bring food and some toilet paper cause I think we’re almost out.”
Oh, how I admire that! We had another event to attend first so we didn’t go over until after 9 p.m. We then spent the next couple of hours sitting on their enclosed porch lit solely by candlelight and listened to three of our musician friends take turns playing the guitar and singing. It was a wonderful night and one I won’t forget. All because our friend knows how to practice true hospitality. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, I brought jello shots (left over from our music festival) and a few rolls of toilet paper.
Hospitality is something I want to get better at so I collected a few resources, for myself and to share with you.
- I got the idea to write this post last week but hadn’t done so yet. I hadn’t mentioned it to anyone so imagine my surprise when I saw my daughter’s blog post Wednesday. This isn’t the first time we’ve had similar ideas for blog posts. She and our son-in-law just purchased their first house and are still getting settled in. Here is her post about hospitality:
5 Ways to Show Hospitality Without a Perfect Home by Retro Housewife Goes Green
- One thing that makes hospitality easier is knowing how to get your house “company ready” in short order. Here is a post I wrote about that:
- Many years ago when I had two very small children, another aunt of mine taught a course on hospitality at our church. That is when I learned the difference between hospitality and entertaining. This is the book she used as a resource:
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.
- I haven’t read this next one yet but I plan to soon:
- It’s good to avoid taking oneself too seriously and this next selection looks like a good reminder of that:
- Here are a couple of articles I found very inspiring.
- Finally, while looking for a quote about hospitality I ran across this little poem. I hadn’t thought of it in years but my grandmother had a little wooden plaque on her wall with this saying. I used to read it to myself over and over as a child. It’s probably been over 30 years since I’ve seen this but I still remembered every word:
So tell me, do you enjoy having guests? Do you have any favorite tips or suggestions?