I had to go to an IEP meeting for Wonderboy yesterday. I was planning to take the whole gang, but as the hour drew near I changed my mind. I called my friend Mary, who has often encouraged me to lean on her in such instances, and asked if she were going to be home that afternoon and could she keep my girls. She agreed, warmly and eagerly, almost before I got the sentence out. I would have to drop them off in an hour, I clarified. Mary was unfazed by the last-minute-ness of the request. Absolutely, bring ’em right over.
Mary has seven children of her own, including an infant. Her oldest child is twelve. Her arms are always full, yet her door is always open. She and her husband Ernie gave Scott a room for over a month the summer before last, when he was new in town and the kids and I were still back in Virginia trying to sell the house. We were complete strangers, connected via our mutual friend Erica, and Mary and Ernie said any friend of Erica’s was a friend of theirs. That summer, Scott worked long hours at his new job, but he was around the house long enough to be mightily impressed with this warmhearted, friendly, happy family. He told me how the kids would greet him so politely, “Hello, Mr. Peterson!” every time he pulled into the driveway, and how warmly Mary and Ernie would press him to join the family for dinner.
Look at me using the word “warm” three times in two paragraphs. It can’t be helped: these are some of the warmest, sunniest people you will ever meet. I dropped my four girls off yesterday and took Wonderboy to the IEP meeting, and when I returned ninety minutes later, I found six of Erica’s seven children in the throng. Five minutes after I’d left for my meeting, Erica had called Mary with the same kind of last-minute request. Her baby needed to go to the doctor; could Mary watch the other kids? Sure she could!
I love walking into that house. Here I go, wanting to use the word ‘warm’ again. It’s a home that says: children are cherished here. And: friends are always welcome. Kids’ drawings embellish the walls; their books and toys enliven every room. The kitchen and family room occupy a big space as open and inviting as Mary and Ernie’s hearts. I look around that great room and I see the definition of hospitality. I’ve seen it immaculate for parties and I’ve seen it enthusiastically lived-in on a weekday afternoon. I’ve seen that every soul who enters is greeted with genuine delight, as if dropping by was the very nicest thing you could possibly have done.
I marveled, yesterday, at the nonchalance with which Mary had taken on ten extra kids for the afternoon. It was no problem, she assured me, the more the merrier—and I could see she meant it. Ernie was fixing a late lunch for the two of them, and almost before I’d slipped my bag off my shoulder, a plate full of chicken and peppers appeared before me. I was famished (IEP meetings always have that effect on me), and I inhaled that meal and felt myself to be one of the most blessed creatures alive. Eighteen other blessed creatures chattered and tumbled and raced and cooed around us: my five children, six of Erica’s, Mary’s seven. I watched how Ernie took time to talk to each child who crossed his path, asking them questions, listening intently to the answers. The more, the merrier. This home bears testimony to the truth of that phrase. How easily I can imagine the merry homecomings in years to come, the boisterous Thanksgivings and Christmases, the jubilant Easters; shy brides laughing at the goodnatured ribbing heaped upon young grooms; grandchildren by the dozen. Mary’s eyes smiling across the kitchen island; Ernie’s voice ringing out above the happy throng. This is the sort of home children will want to come home to, even when they’re grown; it’s the sort of home in which every guest is made to feel like one of the family. The more you’re there, the merrier you are.