My mother grew up in the country. The country country. The kind of country that people are talking about when they tell that story about walking to school barefoot in the snow, uphill both ways. And maybe that’s why, when we make fun of my mother for her quirks, we tend to blame it on her former rural life. But for all of her not being able to work the computer and having a love of trashy reality TV, there is one thing my mother’s rural upbringing got perfectly right: being a hostess.
My mother is the best hostess I have ever met. Whenever people are coming to stay at the house she cleans the guest room top to bottom. They get crisp, clean sheets and the fluffiest towels, laid perfectly at the foot of the bed. My dad gets the job of washing out the tub, toilet and sink (a job he hasn’t relinquished even as he’s gotten older and less capable of bending. Instead, he’s procured a telescoping bathroom cleaning wand with a sponge on the end.) As a kid, my job was to dust and vacuum the downstairs, and now that I’m gone they split that between them, leaving the perfectly parallel “I’ve been vacuumed” tracks in the blue shag carpet they’ve had since before I was born.
As much as I hated those chores as a kid I appreciate them now that I am considered a guest. Those parallel vacuum lines say, “we knew you were coming and prepared,” and those fluffy towels say, “we don’t see you that often, so you can have the good stuff while you’re here.” These gestures used to make me uncomfortable. When I was coming home from college I never wanted the fuss, the trouble they went through, or the good stuff. But over the years I’ve stayed at many other houses, sometimes in guest rooms and sometimes on couches or floors, and I’ve come to appreciate the value of a good host to a weary traveller.
This weekend, and for several upcoming weekends through the summer, I’ll get to play host to waves of friends and family – some just visiting, and some stopping by on their way to other destinations. The first of these just arrived, and as my mother taught me I spent the day before putting the crisp sheets on the guest bed, washing the tub, toilet and sink, and getting out the fluffy towels (we have no carpet to vacuum!). It has become satisfying to do these things, knowing that my efforts make someone else comfortable, and I plan to uphold the tradition (even inflicting it on my children, when I am fortunate enough to have them). Perhaps those good old fashioned country quirks aren’t so bad after all.