image from campbells.com
Last night, I was thinking of something that happened last summer. We were invited to a gathering via our oldest son. I had met the other couple before and while the wife seemed a little nervous, she was nice enough. Then he told me that she really struggles having people over. One eyebrow raised, I remember dismissing the comment and thinking, “ah .. It’ll be fine. It always is.”
You see, although I come from a humble farm upbringing, I’ve traveled, lived on my own, and have always been self supported. Not many situations intimidate me and I know that whatever “moxie” I have is because of my very capable mother and aunts. Growing up, I witnessed talented women who could assist with a calf delivery in the night, get five kids off to the bus on time, hang the wash on the line (after using a wringer-washer to get our laundry done), manage a 1/3 acre garden, and serve multiple mouths multiple meals daily – all from scratch. They did so with grace and good humor and, in my mind’s eye, hardly broke a sweat. They taught 4-H, shepherded us to swim and piano lessons, drilled us on our vocabulary lessons, and taught Sunday School. Their gardens envied Farmer’s Markets and they cooked, canned, and pickled enough to get us all through a long winter. I can remember many instances when Mom and Aunt Irene found themselves “nominated” to “put on” (host/plan/cook for/etc) a party in someone or another’s honor, often with little notice… for 100+ people. Easy-peasy! Christmas dinners in our family were never prepared for less than 35 people, 17 of them children. Summertime cookouts brought scads of family members of all ages and, while some offered a dish to pass, many just showed up bearing a hearty appetite for family time and delicious foods.
Back to my story from last summer: As is customary, I phoned ahead to see what I could bring and was asked to contribute a side dish which, to me, means “bring two.” So, after a full week at work, I prepared a fettuccine pasta salad and marinated vegetable salad. We arrived and found ourselves part of a small group of people milling around. I was not surprised to see that our boy had prepared burgers and smoked chicken; I brought out my pasta salad and marinated vegetable salad. The hostess presented.. with great flourish … baked beans. After a bit of mingling we all sat down to eat. The conversation was a a little stiff but safe, focusing on weather, summer plans and such. I could tell that he was trying hard and secretly hoping that we were having a good time. I listened as her husband and others raved about the beans. On and on they went about the beans. And they were good but … really? Around the table, as I watched as the entire group devour the chicken, burgers, pasta and vegetables that we’d brought all I could hear were oohs and ahhs about beans.
Glancing up, I couldn’t miss the raised eyebrow on the hubbs’s face. He knew that I was thinking: It’s not like she grew the beans. These are open-the-can-and-plop-into-a-casserole dish-beans. Seriously?
But them something happened: An old familiar lesson swirled around me again: not everyone’s experience is the same. The experiences you’ve had were exemplary, and hers might not have been. Maybe this is as good as it gets?
I got what our boy meant about “she struggles to have people over.”
Not everyone cooks.
Not everyone likes hosting get-togethers.
It’s OK. I understand.
But here’s where the rubber meets the road: When someone brings home-made goodness to your table, maybe while you’re licking your fingers eating it, you can pay them a compliment, too.