I’m not a great hostess, but I try. My-other-half (MOH) is a great host, and since we are often hosting the same event, I sometimes get the credit, but I’m just riding on his coat tails. We both enjoy inviting people over, but I’m awkward where he is very comfortable. I’m not much of a small talker, and I sometimes get distracted on the way to refill someone’s drink. And when someone brings a gift with them? AYE! I’m a hot mess. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. Do I open it now? I think yes, but I also think you’re not supposed to open a gift in front of other guests who didn’t bring a gift. I feel weird setting it aside until later. If it’s food or drink, am I supposed to serve it now? Oh, the angst!
I’m sure my mother was a wonderful hostess. She was warm, kind and friendly. People would comment that she always had a smile and she certainly knew how to put people at ease. But I must not have been paying very close attention when we had guests. I do, however, certainly remember her lessons on being a good guest.
- Never go where you haven’t been invited, and never invite yourself along.
- Always say please and thank you.
- Don’t overstay your welcome.
- When it gets to be mealtime, you skee-daddle on home.
Because these rules were non-negotiable, I assumed everybody understood them and played by them as well. I was not equipped to handle rogue situations when they presented themselves, as inevitably happened.
In the early days of our couple-hood, MOH invited me to a Fourth of July family gathering in South Haven, hosted by his cousins’ aunt and uncle. That would be an aunt and uncle that were not MOH’s aunt and uncle; in fact no relation to him. I do think I might have asked a question like, “This isn’t your family? This is your extended family’s family?” But I didn’t think to say, “I’ve never even heard of them. Have they heard of me? And you’re sure they extended an invitation to me?” Honestly, to this day, I don’t know if MOH’s immediate family knew I was coming with him, if MOH’s cousins’ family knew I was tagging along, or if MOH’s cousins’ aunt and uncle invited me, but I attended. And big surprise! I felt awkward.
Shy, introverted girlfriend meets 16 extroverted aunts, uncles and cousins hyped up and ready to rock and roll on a holiday weekend. Have you ever played ‘One of these things is not like the others’? Have you ever been one of the things that was not like the others?! It was scary for me, but they could not have been more friendly, welcoming and willing to include me.
I was greeted with hugs and a kiss on the cheek. I was asked repeatedly if I played tennis, and even though I didn’t they seemed to accept me. We drank beer, ate grilled blackened whitefish, and the cousins had some laughs speculating whether it would “come out” feeling as hot and spicy as it “went in.” These many cousins made plans to head to the beach, to play tennis, and some, to participate in the 4th of July parade. I was out of my element, stuck close to MOH, and observed.
Early on, I figured out the guy manning the barbeque grill was our host and the hostess wasn’t even home from work yet. My mom would have a stroke if she knew I was traipsing through this beautiful Victorian style home, to which I may not have been invited, and the hostess wasn’t even home, nor had she met me. No one else seemed bothered. At some point in the afternoon/evening she did make it home, to a house teeming with people, having completed her nursing shift at the local hospital. We had the briefest of introductions on the fly.
As the evening turned late, it was determined that MOH and I would sleep in a pop-up camper in the side yard with two other couples our age. It was all so foreign to me, but I tried to go with the flow. As everyone settled into their accommodations and one by one they tripped into the house to brush their teeth and use the bathroom once last time, I held out so I could be last. When it was finally my turn, I slowly and quietly turned the handle on the screen door and tiptoed into the house, hoping I wouldn’t encounter anyone on my journey. Fortunately I did.
Our hostess sat by herself in the dimly lit sunroom. She had her feet up and she was drinking a glass of wine, clearly unwinding after her long day. She had come home from a 12 hour shift to a houseful of guests that needed to be fed, given a place to sleep and most assuredly cleaned up after. She called to me to join her and I sat down, immediately blurting out my concerns about being an uninvited guest. She waved away my worries and fully at ease, asked me about myself, my family and MOH. She didn’t once ask me if I played tennis. It was the most comfortable conversation I had all weekend.
After an hour or so, we said goodnight and I crept back into the camper, and feeling more relaxed than I had all day, drifted off to sleep. In the morning my camper-mates all woke around the same time. It’s nearly impossible to move around in such tight quarters without waking everyone. One of the cousins pointed to MOH and me and said, “Wow! There sure was a lot of snoring coming from that direction last night!” Absolutely mortified I asked, “I snored?!” Well, not really snored, I was assured, “You were more of a whistler.”
For many different reasons, that trip has stayed with me. And what I always come back to is how our hostess just accepted me, reached out to me, and turned my feelings of discomfort into an easier and more comfortable experience. So when we have guests and I’m feeling anxious, or the unexpected happens, I try to remember that visit and channel the confidence and warmth that made a lasting impression on me.