make-believe b & b
if you put your ear to the floorboards around this old house, you might pick up a hum. a particular hum. a hum that’s more like a purr. (it would be found amidst the gnarling and churning that comes with waiting for news, editor news.)
that hum, i’ve come to determine, is the purr of an innkeeper in the making. a girl who makes believe she’s running the best sort of b & b. not one for money, but one for pure love. in recent weeks, we’ve had a long and sumptuous string of company. company of the very best kind: overnight, nestling deep into the morning. sometimes, day upon day.
overnight company affords moments that in-and-out company does not. overnight company affords these things: curling under a blanket, on the couch, as the stars turn on, burn deep into the night; ferrying trays of coffee and cream and wee little vases of wee little blossoms up to the bedroom door; settling in for long conversation that courses through the homework hour, as you practice the fine art of juggling your math tutoring skills along with your conversational curiosities. overnight company makes a wednesday night prestidigitate into the feel of the night before christmas.
overnight company is being wrapped in angora threads, throwing the blanket of friendship across both of your backs — yours and that of your overnight friend — and each of you pulling tight on your end of the threads.
overnight company allows for slow unspooling inspection of every last inch of the heart and the soul. or at least a good hearty guffaw deep in the hours of darkness. and, sometimes, a revelation or three.
because home is the wellspring of my heart, welcoming people i love into these chambers is the highest art in the art known as hospitality, a word with 14th-century roots, one that wends its way through old french and on into latin, where it’s derived from hospes, “guest,” and has come to mean “friendliness to guests,” (or if you mis-read as i first did, friendliness to ghosts. egad).
it’s the french knots and tiny twists embroidered into the course of the stay — be it a mere 18 hours, or as long as five days or even (gasp) two weeks. it’s filling the fridge and the pantry with the very deliciousness a particular friend savors, a secret you know because you’ve spent the years of your friendship paying attention. it’s stacking fluffy towels on the broad-lapped armchair, and punctuating the stack with a dark-chocolate sweet, and a french herbal soap. it’s tucking a water bottle and a vase of bright blooms at the bedside, because you’re aiming for beauty and full-throttle comfort, and stumbling in the dark for a drink in the night is hard on the toes and no fun, besides. it’s planning a dinner that’s at once unassuming and deeply satisfying, one that’s best if slow-cooked and accomplice to the trick of filling the house with wafting clouds of garden-clipped herbs and spices and fruits of the season.
it’s waiting at the train station. or driving into the city to fetch your overnight visitor. it’s clearing the deck for as much or as little conversation as the friend has hours or inclination.
it’s the blessing of hearing the footsteps from overhead as you’re down in the pre-dawn kitchen, slicing pumpkin-y bread, and popping the garnet-jeweled seeds out of the pomegranate’s oozing belly. it’s knowing the next face you see coming round the bend is one you’ll never get enough of. and there, over early morning swirl of caffeine, you begin the day, emboldened by this rare gift of starting the hours together.
over the years i’ve learned that i’m far more inclined toward one-on-one conversation. will take a tete-a-tete over a horde any old day. give me deep. never mind a room that’s buzzing with noise.
i savor a conversation that doesn’t drown out the tick or the tock of a clock in the next room over, a conversation that allows the pauses to speak as robustly, as tellingly, as the pop and the sizzle of the words. i am drawn to burrowing, deep in the heart, as well as under the deep stack of afghans tucked by the fire. and i find it best done in ones and twos.
it’s all the romance — and, really, the architecture — of friendship. of considering each and every sensory vessel a channel into the heart, into the endosperm of why we’re here in the first place: to find our shared thoughts, to hold our visions up to the light, to march in each other’s company, to hear the sound of our footsteps in tandem. to discover we’re not all alone. not always, anyway.
much of it comes, i’m certain, from my years curled up with fairy tales and picture-book pages. i was a dreamer early on, and always will be. maybe it comes from wanting so deeply to be tucked under the covers at night. or maybe it’s simply because the sound of a china teacup tinkling against a saucer or spoon, is a song that sings to my delicate heart. maybe it comes from knowing how enchanted it felt to be ushered into a wise woman’s greenhouse, one tucked at the back of a great gothic castle long long ago, and the crisp-edged memory of being served from a pitcher of fresh-squeezed orange juice and offered a plate of pepperidge farm buttery cookies, all dappled in afternoon sunlight. all whispering into my ear how very welcomed i was — how much i mattered — in that magical envelope of time and place.
or maybe it’s simply that i feel bound, sometimes, by the walls of my heart, and i turn to whole-body expression to tell the ones that i love just how deeply i love them: i cook for them, clean for them, tuck treats onto pillows or trays and carry it all to their door. i can’t always find all the words, so i wrap them in the swirl of all that i love.
it’s a bold hope that they won’t leave this old house without this knowing tucked in their heart: they are loved without bounds, forever and ever. amen.
how did you learn the art of hospitality? who were your shining lights and teachers? and what are the little remembrances — the french knots and tiniest stitches of hospitality — that melted your heart and made you know you were so very welcome in the life of someone you love?
What a wonderful innkeeper you are! Growing up, hospitality was taught by knowing that the ‘good’ sheets and newest towels were ‘saved’ for guests. The pretty soap in the shape of roses was ‘saved’ for them also. It was grandma baking in the kitchen and dad making sure the outside of the house looked nice. It was waking up as an 8yr old to 20 college kids sleeping all over my house. Now I am blessed having a house that everyone drops into also, be it the backdoor neighbor next door or the college boys coming with friends for visits.
i love the art of dropping in. another sumptuous brand of company. and i crack up at the notion of saving. i too find myself “saving” the good stuff. i have to remind myself to USE it, before the darn expiration dates roll around. or, in the case of all my lovely “saved” soaps, the hungry mice beat me to it, and gobbled it all up. so much for saving it for company. which, i suppose, i did. long-tailed company, indeed….
I don’t have much room to entertain in my itty-bitty apartment, but I love opening my “home” to my friends for dinner, book club, or an overnight stay. As an introvert, I cherish my personal space, so it feels like I am sharing something essential about myself by welcoming friends into my abode — talking with them, cooking for them, letting them peruse the books on my bookshelf. Although I’m sure there are many more apartments and adventures in my near future, I look forward to the day when I have a whole house to decorate and call my own so that I can share it with the people I love.
hmm, there must be something about introverts and treasuring our space. i suddenly picture a snail inside her house, that would be me. carrying it around on my back. and perhaps why it means so much to open my rooms to the people i treasure.
one of my dearest longtime friends recently spent the night in the “b&b”, aka college kid’s no-longer-used room. and she said she felt like she knew so much more about him after spending a few nights in his room. that’s what happens when bookshelves and bulletin boards and posters plastered on doors make themselves available for viewing…..as she said, she’d never crossed his threshold before…..and so it is as we invite our friends to discover what lurks in our nooks and crannies…
Ah, French knots did you say? In high school, I did a “summer home stay” with a family in France, and they taught me, besides how to make mayonnaise and the joy of creme fraiche, that the best way to make a visitor feel at home is to treat them like they live in your home. They became my “fraude famille” (and “fraude” is so much nicer in French than “fraud” is in English). So I continue the tradition: if you come to visit, I’ll “let” you set the table, make your bed, sweep the floor, set up the folding chairs for the big dinner. You wash, I’ll dry–I know where to put the glasses away so they fit. B&B? In this B&B, you might have to make your own cranberry muffins. But my DH will make the coffee.
dear notherbarb, i love that notion. i love the “fraude,” but i love more the making the person feel part of the fabric. i learned from my husband’s family the art of giving everyone plenty of breathing room in a visit: my house is your house; curl up in a nook if you please; close the bedroom door and savor quiet time at the end of a long day; tiptoe down for midnight snacks and no one will raise an eyebrow. i love your extension of that, and truly making someone feel home.
You would be friendly to ghosts! 🙂 As you are friendly to everyone. I love learning hospitality from you. Last week we were in Nashville visiting our eldest, and his wife had set a mason jar of fresh flowers on the night table next to the sweet little lamp. It said “you are welcome” in such a lovely way. And before leaving for work, she scrambled up breakfast and left it warm on the stove for when we came down. Since they are married not quite a year, we are still learning about our daughter-in-law, and this trip we learned she has a wonderful eye for decorating and a thoughtful heart. We don’t often stay with friends and family, so it was a particular treat to have a safe haven on the road. Your guests are so VERY blessed, they must truly feel they have landed a few days in heaven. xo