I’m not that good at guests.
I don’t mind living with people, because the actual conversations are short and casual, and anything beyond that is usually something real – an authentic encounter because one of us truly has something to say. It’s the extended but shallow social encounters I can’t really do.
I tend to panic badly and go in for a lot of handwringing beforehand. What will I say to them? What if I inadvertently say something stupid/rude/insulting/inappropriate? How will I survive them? When will they go? Can I run away? Could there be any kind of feasible scenario where I could just get in my car and drive . . . and keep driving . . . and . . . how much money have I got in my bank account? Would I ever be able to come home? Who would look after my beautiful mama if I went and never came back? That sort of thing.
Then, what to feed them? I raised five children and every day used to be like a school canteen. Even then it wasn’t that easy. The Bruderhof asked if they could send one of their girls on placement to help us at home. It’s a bit like rumspringa, they have to taste life outside the community for a period of time before they may make the choice to become a member. So we were the taste of life outside. But the thing was, though they lived simply, like most communities they had a life that was . . . well . . . normal. Whereas we could only afford one proper meal a day. We had cereal for breakfast and a cooked supper, but lunch was bread and jam. Carbs featured prominently in each meal – potatoes or pasta at the cooked meal. All our household ate meat in those days, but either sausages (cheap) or four ounces of mince that could give a meaty taste to a big lot of onions and root vegetables. Well, as the girl would be going home for supper each day, I thought she might think I was a seriously bad mother if she only ever saw us eating bread and jam, so somehow during the six weeks she came on placement to help me at home, I felt I must find the money to make it look as though we ate salad with cheese or cold meat with our bread at lunch time. I felt quite relieved when the placement ended, though she was a lovely girl.
Nowadays when people come to eat we can afford to feed them (provided we’re not talking about too many or too often), but I can never think what to give them because my head is already overwhelmed by the prospect of them coming at all. So I just buy a heap of basic things – salad leaves, tomatoes, celery, bread ++, butter, cheese, cooked fish, cooked meat, various kinds of antipasti (I feel sure that should really be ‘antepasti’; I mean anti sounds so oppositional), yoghourts, fruit juices and anything else I can think of, bung it all on the table at once and say, “There you are, help yourself, have what you like”. And that seems to go work okay. I can never keep track of who’s vegetarian and who isn’t at any given time or what they like to drink. We in our household don’t eat a lot of bread, and are mostly sworn off dairy and meat apart from at parties, so the fox and the seagulls get a wonderful feast of leftovers when we’ve had guests and revert to our habit of brown rice and curries.
But there are some guests I find just easy.
These last few days we’ve had a number of people visiting. My grandson was one. I thought he would like some sweets included in the party fare, so asked him what I should get. Chocolate? “No,” he said: “normal sweets.” In Marks & Spencer his Auntie Fiona went off in search of normal sweets, and I must say she did get a triumphant haul. And some chocolate.
The sun shone, which made visiting easier – the best place to feed the under-fives is, in my opinion, outside. It all seemed to go well.
But my easiest guests of all? No contest.
From the large cheerful group we were on Sunday, this one:
And then uninvited – but entirely welcome – today; this one: