extending the table
the leaves of the table, perhaps, are the heart of the table. they’re meant for extending. for adding guests. for making room. this is about extending the table.
if you’ve poked about this place we are building, this place called pull up a chair, you might have wandered over to the corner of it called the bottomless cup. i mention there a book i was dying to dash out and get, a book called “extending the table: a world community cookbook.” well, i dashed all right, and i got it. and it is every bit as delicious, as chewy, as i had hoped it would be. there’s a link on the bottomless cup, right where i mention the book, that will hook you right over to the ten thousand villages website, where you could order up a copy all your own. (or you could look for it elsewhere, it’s compiled by joetta handrich schlabach, it’s $20 and it comes from herald press.)
i am reading the book with yellow highlighter in hand. when’s the last time you read a cookbook with a highlighter?
the reason i am highlighting madly is because the book shares a deep underlying theme with pull up a chair. it is about welcoming. taking time. it is about making room at your table. making room in your day.
as my wise wonderful friend susie, the one who told me about “extending the table” in the first place, was musing, she talked about how when she was growing up, if you came to her mother’s house, you got a cup of coffee set down before you. no one even bothered to ask. you just got a coffee. it was assumed you were staying long enough to get to the bottom of the cup. now, says susie, you’re lucky if someone offers you a glass of water from the front of the fridge; no one really has time. no time to make the coffee, no time really for you to stay. a quick swallow of pre-chilled water, you’re back out the door.
not so around the world. not so in places where cold water does not come spitting out the front of the fridge.
“in turkey,” one passage of “extending the table” begins, “it is a great virtue to be known as someone who loves company and has a lot of it.”
the book goes on to tell that when a guest arrives at the door, shoes are removed, a pair of slippers are offered. the guest is ushered into the great room; the host kisses both cheeks, and sprinkles lemon cologne on their hands. coffee is offered, the host asks if they like it with or without sugar. once coffee is finished, the host prepares tea, which must be simmered 17 minutes, and always is made fresh for a guest (family might drink warmed-up tea). tea comes with sweet and salty pastries; the cup is refilled until the guest insists she or he cannot swallow another drop. when the guest insists she must leave, the host hurries to the kitchen, returning with plates of fresh fruit for everyone. when the fruit is finished, and the guest again insists she must leave, the host brings damp washcloths, and arranges shoes with toes pointed toward the door. they part with kisses, handshakes, and an exchange of invitations for future visits.
oh my. nearly makes you squirm. imagine packing that in your blackberry-buzzed day.
makes you think, though. makes me stop and think.
when was the last time you made coffee for someone who came to your door? when was the last time someone came to your door, dropping in for the sole purpose of pulling up a chair to your table?
maybe, one cup at a time, we can begin to change that…
Today’s meandering makes me feel so warm inside on this very chilly day. One cold night last week I heard a tap on my front door. I had the good fortune to open my door to a dear friend who dropped by unannounced. We shared some time over steaming mugs of coffee with creme brulee. What a treat it was! I also had the blessing of growing up with a mama who always had a baked good on the kitchen counter and a pot of coffee at the ready whenever someone happened by. She still does to this very day. Show up at her door anytime, sit yourself down at her kitchen table, count to 10 and she’ll have a hot mug of coffee set before you with something yummy to go with it. Southern hospitality runs in her family (all from Georgia) and I hope it has sufficiently rubbed off on me … and subsequently, to my own daughters.
I finally found time to read and reread your entries- the only thing I can say is that you are so so talented – you have filled my heart –always know that you are my most favorite cousin- I love and admire you and all you do- Happy Happy Holidays Love,Julie
Now, I’m all for hospitality. I used to pride myself on my hospitality, the hospitality of the household. Come in, stay for tea, stay for the week, we’ll make you a meal or three, send you home with a full tupperware. Folks could come on in even if no one of the household knew them at all, maybe our guest was a homeless person or someone met out on the stoop and invited in. Things were always interesting with this level of hospitality. It was not hard because there were five single women living in our house, at least a few of whom could always be counted on to be there and probably even already be cooking. But something funny happens when young children come to live in one’s household, and there is only just the one person, now the mommy, managing the hospitality facet of things. Hospitality, gentility, polite manners–they all fly out the window, or at least they have at this house. Imagining guests at the table to enjoy the nightly wrestling match with the three-year-old does detract a little from my desire to have anyone over, ever. But today’s entry makes me think and rethink the exhausted excuses that run like a news ticker beneath all my thoughts all the time. Try and set it all aside, I am encouraged. Move my brain from the spot where it is feeling overworked and put-upon, concocting justifications faster than the time it takes to boil water. And so I grasp boldly at this weak wisp of a thing, this tiny thought toward the old hospitality. Thus when a friend comes today to retrieve his little boy from a playdate at our house I seize upon the opportunity. Our boys want to Put On A Play, so there is a small moment’s time to try out my renewed hospitable intentions. Tea! I urge. Milk! Sugar! I’m sorry, we have no coffee table, the children would use it as a launch pad, you understand, but here, you can set your hot mug on the floor. And now, amid the cacophony that is the hallmark of The Play, of Every Play, we shout polite greetings at each other. I remember we have wonderful Greek Christmas cookies and I lunge to the kitchen to get them. After a momentary debate on whether this merits a serving plate or the plastic container they were mailed in, I forego the plate, recognizing again that the lack of a coffee table makes serving cookies on a dainty plate a little awkward. So I return to the living room and set the plastic tub of cookies on the chair. Greek cookies! I intone forcefully. Now the boys are hitting each other with sticks and The Play nears its inevitable tragic end. I am getting to the point of wishing these guests would wind things up, finish the entertainment, finish the tea, eat a cookie and get out–because we have another playdate to go to. Hurry, children, get your coats, we don’t want to be late! I chirp cheerfully, beginning to get frantic. And we dash out the door, promising another playdate sometime soon, leaving my husband to usher our guests from our home and back to theirs.Somehow this was not quite what I had envisioned, certainly not at all like Barbara’s meditation! Hospitality is hard and it has a thousand things going against it. But It is not simply the frantic pace of our lives. Not simply our grim dedication to the pursuit of our own interests instead of others’. Not simply the cultural and social centrality of what appears sometimes to be an entire generation of children who have no manners whatsoever. A huge stumbling block towards a return to a hospitable world is the loss of shared ritual. Unlike in Turkey (or Greece, where I have personally experienced hospitality of such an elevated pitch it makes you want to weep), we do not have an understood mutuality of the ritual process. Our culture no longer shares a set of standards that define either being a guest or welcoming one. So this is a loss–and something which can never be recovered. Not an insurmountable loss, though! I will continue to think in terms of extending the table and looking for opportunities to add both the leaves. I will declutter my schedule in order to have an extra moment to host an impromptu guest, even for a short moment. I will not be embarrassed by the lack of graciousness that is everywhere in evidence at our house. I will remember that the greater part of hospitality is a warm welcome and accommodation to the needs of my guests, my neighbors, and the folks on the sidewalk, and that the details are at times unclear and must be adaptable.Thanks ever so much, Barbara, for this wonderful meditation and the way it has changed my outlook and my intentions for my every day!