First One Awake
Hospitality is a simple and deeply guided art, an expression of a value that says “there is room for you here in our routines. Come eat with us. You need not ask before you open the fridge, or the cabinet above the stove for a mug for coffee. The towels you see hanging on the racks by the tub are yours to use. If you need something, don’t apologize when you ask. You are never bothering us. Not ever. We’re so glad you’re staying with us.” I’ve written about this before, and there’s still more to say.
Our friends Mac and Audrey practice this art. Indeed, they arrange their lives around it.
When we arrived at their home after dinner on Saturday, we were expected to walk right in, not timidly knock for permission to enter. We are family, they say, not guests. And it’s family in the best interpretation—an easy meshing of lives and habits and morning routines and who needs the shower next. For the five or so days we spend together, there is ample picking up where we left off, laughing, shaking our heads at the world’s sorrows, and eating whatever is here whenever the mood strikes you. The coffee pot is never empty.
We make this journey every June, to gather with family and dear friends and the most pleasant of acquaintances on the Cheyenne River reservation to pray for everything and everyone. It really isn’t more complicated than that, and if I waxed on in an attempt to paint you a more detailed picture, it would become more complicated than it needs to be, and more importantly, I’d be handing over stories that aren’t mine to tell. Let’s leave it here for now: we drive 1300 miles to pray our brains out, and leave after ten days, filled with lessons we can’t learn anywhere else on the planet.
Mac and Audrey teach us about authentic openheartedness; we pay close attention and bring it all back home to unpack over the next eleven months. I had no sooner put two of my duffel bags on her living room floor than she came toward me with a Wal-Mart freezer bag filled with items she’d collected at various rummage sales in the past year (she sure knows me, doesn’t she??). And I handed over a similar bag of carefully selected treasures from the Midwest (in a Granville, Ohio Ross Market IGA paper sack), which she immediately unloaded, smiling. I now have more fabric to use for the next quilt idea that hits me, and she has the beginnings of a great dinner—Carfagna’s classic pasta sauce and a pull-apart garlic-parmesan ring of bread that, as of yesterday morning, already had two pieces missing (when something smells that good, there’s no point waiting, and no harm done helping yourself). Sunday morning, we woke up to her signature breakfast—eggs Benedict, served on familiar Corelle plates with purple irises on them.
We spent most of the day sitting at the kitchen table or stretched out like royalty on the couch and recliner in the living room, Gilligan’s Island reruns on the TV. Patrick even nodded off here and there in the conversation, and we only noticed it in the kindest of ways. Let him be; Sundays back home rarely see such inertia. We’ll enjoy it while it’s available to us. Regular chores will overtake us again soon enough.
For now, I’m the first one awake, and moving about the kitchen with extreme slowness as I fill the hotpot with water for tea and oatmeal, trying to keep the fridge door openings and closings to a minimum. Audrey is asleep on the couch and there’s no wall between the kitchen and the living room to absorb the clanking of silverware (try scraping the last bits of oats and strawberries from the bowl in complete silence. I can show you how to do that now).
This soundless space of morning is the perfect time to reflect on what a privilege it is to know and love these two people, and share their way of life for a short five days each June. We’re surrounded by vast horizon-hugging cattle pastures and South Dakota prairies, and can see the weather change in the west while the clouds in the east move across their part of the sky unaware. The spindly-legged but stalwart Dupree water tower stands at the edge of town behind the elementary school’s parking lot, and I ask Audrey how it has managed to survive the brutal winds of winter. Everywhere we look is evidence of survival, of continuing on in a harsh and beautiful landscape. Mac and Audrey have made a good life together in this place, adding their own triumphs and heartaches with grace and generosity of spirit. If we talked less, or cut our stay short, we’d still have an avalanche of wisdom to pick through on our long ride home. It’s that fertile, that rich.
Audrey stirs on the couch, and the fridge hums to life for another cycle. I think it’s safe to move around less silently, to find my bag of sewing projects and heat up more water for tea.
I wonder what she’ll teach me today.