A Lesson In Hospitality from Rufus
There are few memories so nostalgic as showing up to Grandma's house for a holiday meal, right? Except, upon her request, we called our grandmother "Rufus." And visits to her house were just as wonderfully unique as she was. I remember driving by her old homestead in south Florida when I was 18 and felt shocked at how short the driveway had become (I swear it used to be a mile long) and how humble the house (when we were little it took forever to chase each other around the mango trees). But as happens, as I grew bigger the property got smaller but my memories remained larger than life.
Growing up, my parents would carefully transport my older sister and I, half asleep, into our old red mini van at 3am, the middle seats removed so we could just camp out on the floor and sleep for the first 4-5 hours of the 14 hour drive south from Tennessee. The next 3 hours were spent creating our famous bubble letter drawings which we would hand out accordingly upon arrival. I'm a little foggy on the remaining 6 hours of travel but I'm sure we managed just fine between McDonald's drive thru's and our vast cassette tape collection. We'd finally arrive and pull into Leisureville, a 55 and older community nestled in Pompano Beach about 15 minutes from the ocean. Rufus owned a nice piece of land smack dab in the middle of it and the development built up around her as my mother and her three siblings came of age (perhaps not as leisurely as some residents were anticipating...). Our van would roll off the pavement and onto the long gravel road. My sister and I would pop our heads up from the floor and start listening for that familiar "YooooHoooo" that greeted us without fail from the front wooden door.
The whole place felt real. Real, delicious thick Florida grass, a blanket humidity that just sat in the air, reprieved by a few palm tree breezes overhead. The smell of mangoes and lemons ripening all around, the plush 70's carpet in the living room and childhood portraits of her four children still hanging on the walls. And the meals. Boy did we eat well.
When I was little I assumed that Rufus always had a pound cake on her counter. It was another accessory, a kitchen tool just as handy and well-used as her old percolator. As I grew older I became aware of the days before our arrival, busy with preparation and filled with cooking so that once we were there, her time was spent with us and not just in the kitchen. This was a meaningful lesson acquired from my time with her. Looking back I've compiled a few more lessons in hospitality. With love, from Rufus :
No need to roll up that oriental rug under the dining room table. Place a clear shower curtain under the baby's high chair and embrace mess.
If you've got three staple recipes, use 'em. Your guests are fine with leftovers and your grand kids come to associate those tastes and smells with you and your love.
Don't rush supper. This is a time to mingle, chat, linger, get seconds. No hurry to do the dishes.
Label everything obsessively, all over the house, so that folks might not be able to find what they're looking for right away, but they'll at least be certain of what they're looking at.
Order wine in bulk and keep those sturdy boxes for storage. Let your grand-kids sneak a taste every now and then.
You should have one refrigerator in your kitchen and a minimum of 1.5 additional freezer options in your garage. Mostly filled with butter, milk and eggs and beer.
Keep every reusable plastic container for sending leftovers home with guests.
Let guests use the same cloth napkin all week. Frugal and practical.
Keep cash on hand for paying the children when they're done "helping with the dishes" like only a non-parent can do without spoiling.
When you are in the kitchen, go slow and encourage the little ones to help. It might mean hand-picking the un-cooked lima beans out of your soup but it's a memory they'll cherish forever.
Keep a magical, musty smelling storage shed, preferably dark and damp, stocked with large trunks to maximize childhood curiosity and a healthy sense of fear.
Thrift your heart out. Beautiful, sturdy dishes are always on trend and can compliment any fine china pattern.
Eat your cake for breakfast. You only live once.