At seven years old, hospitality was a small glass of sprite with three ice cubes and two oatmeal scotchies on a china plate. Nose barely reaching the pink-tiled counter top, I smiled up at my proper English Grandmother and waited. Steam billowing from her matching tea cup, together we covered the seven steps from the kitchen to the dining room. I nibbled my cookie and tried to remember to keep one hand in my lap pressed on my napkin as she asked me questions about Second Grade. “Yes Ma’am.” “No Ma’am.” I was polite and used my fanciest table manners in an attempt to distract her from the child using her prettiest china.
Long before I knew the word hospitality, Hers spoke volumes to me. My Nannie, as we affectionately called her, was first generation “use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without” and yet— she was always delighted to use it all for us, her special ones. Still, she came from a long line of savers. Rinsed out ziplock bags turned upside down on the dish rack, water beads dancing down the drain. Wonderbread bags repurposed to hold anything but bread and a basket just for twist-ties. She had an underlying frugality but we saw only gracious abundance.
That fifty- year old plate and two cookies planted a small seed in my heart and it sat quietly until long after I grew taller than the countertop. Eighteen years later, I sauntered through a department store. Stars in my eyes, diamond on my left hand, and a registry scanner in my right. I stood and stared, having absolutely no clue which plates were “till death do us part” plates. Then I spotted that same pink transfer-ware, Old British Castles. I marched over with scanner in hand and devotedly scanned each and every piece, right down to the deviled egg plate. I knew I desperately wanted to pass on the joy of the pink plates just like hers and for better or worse, I knew I wanted one thing that my Nannie had— wide open arms to even the smallest guest.
It wasn’t that her best china was replaceable, because for her, it really was not. But my grandmother knew that those moments pouring into us were much more valuable than treasured breakables. She simply loved her people more than she loved her things. Always. Her hands were perpetually open to us all. Even near the end, we were always smiled at and never a nuisance.
I’m not sure what caused her to love that way. It could have been living most of her life without her parents. It may have been the beauty that was born when her stoic kindness met my baseball-loving, Alabama- sailor Grandpa. Perhaps when she was a child, she wasn’t smiled at much. I have no way of knowing. I do know that it all made a difference for me. Like the Phone book she set in my chair to bring me closer to the table, her pleasure for all of us kids showed us we were her gift to love.
I know that when I serve cinnamon toast to my own little look-a-likes I want them to feel adored. To know that they matter more than a plate that may get chipped from years of life around the table. I know that when I hear the clink of a cookie jar lid, it causes me to smile— remembering someone who softened butter and mixed oats and added butterscotch chips… just for us. Always for us.
I also know that whether we find ourselves surrounded by luxuries or able to hold them in one hand— neither should determine our spirit of sharing, our spirit of giving. What we have has very little bearing on what we have to give.
What we truly have to give multiplies each time we give it away. And of all the things we pass down the center of our table, may we pass a spirit of welcome and being truly wanted, even to the tiniest guest.