One word that describes hospitality in my family of origin is “meatball.” After Sunday church and visiting both sets of grandparents, whom we were blessed to have with us for many years, we would come home. Dinner was usually at about 2PM, so Mom and the girls were working on that. Dad prepared the side table for visits from uncles, brothers, and others who dropped in for a quick visit.
Meatballs, according to family tradition, were lovingly formed with ground beef, grated Italian cheese, an egg, and crumbled bread, then shaped into balls, finally fried in a pan on top of the stove. Dad made them; Uncle Carl, Mom’s brother, who stayed with Grandma in her later years, made them. We always had something to eat and drink. We welcomed “company” and we sat with them around the kitchen table. The centerpiece was a tray of hard cheese, Italian bread, broken not sliced, along with a plate of piping hot meatballs. Little bread dishes were stacked to the side, along with a neat arrangement of white paper dinner napkins. Hot coffee and cold drinks were ready.
Sometimes, the tomato sauce was ready, and the brave ones, unconcerned with dripping onto Sunday clothes, dipped the meatball into sauce before eating it. Tomato sauce is a very individual thing, and each household had its way. … all good, but differing in texture, the addition of spices, whether to season with garlic or not, or to use a pinch of oregano. I imagine that you could fill a thick binder with ways to make the “best” sauce.
To me, hospitality means welcoming people into the family circle. It means that there is enough for everyone. It means that my home is your home, too. We greeted “company” namely, any friend or relative who arrived at our door. We welcomed with hugs, handshakes, and sat them at the table, always offered something to eat and drink.
I have experienced the hollow feeling in some other households, where the hostess greets you hurriedly at the entrance, tells you when dinner will be served, and goes back to continue preparing the meal. You find a sofa in the parlor and sit, keeping yourself busy and the children quiet, until then. No one seems to recall that you have driven a hundred miles, across state lines, to come to see Cousin Lucy or Aunt Helen. No one seems to realize that the children, whether toddlers or teens, are hungry.
The point is that the time the roast comes out of the oven does not matter. The time when the dining table is ready, water glasses filled, bowls of rolls wrapped in linen napkins, is not as important as the people who will sit at that table, or the folks who stop in on their way home from Sunday morning visits.
I miss those times at home, the busy Sunday morning routine filled with laughter and family, brightened by sharing a bit of food and drink together. Still, if you come to my home these days, I will invite you in, make you comfortable, and fix you something to eat and drink. I will extend my table not simply to make room for you, but mostly to focus on you, my friend, and this time together.