House Beautiful

April 10, 2008 @ 10:44 pm | Filed under:

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 โ€™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 merrierโ€”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.

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28 Reponses | Comments Feed
  1. mamacrow says:

    I need this today, in a bittersweet way. I guess I’m a bit tired today because when I was mopping the kitchen floor (couldn’t take sticking to it anymore…) the four eldest took the oportunity to go in the front room (usually fenced off for safety reasons) and jump all over the sofas (wrecks the sofa covers which does my head in). I shouted. A lot.

    Now I find myself reverting to my preferred state – does it REALLY matter?

  2. Sarah N. says:

    Thanks for this beautiful picture of family life. Your friend reminds me of a friend of mine whose home is filled with happy children, her own and their friends, delicious meals and a feeling of deep peace. We don’t live in the same town anymore but I love hearing what is going on at her house when we talk on the phone and cherish the few visits we’ve had in recent years.

  3. Angela, MotherCrone says:

    I so admire people like this. It is something I wish I had in myself, but I tend to be get so ruffled when the unexpected pops up. I need to learn to enjoy visits more, even when they aren’t on the calendar!

  4. Love2learn Mom says:

    Lissa – this has got to be one of the most beautiful posts I’ve read in YEARS! Thank you!

  5. Activities Coordinator says:

    What a lovely family. We moved from an area where “just popping in” was the norm, to an area where it is socially unacceptable. I miss the warmth.

  6. kristen says:

    How lucky you are to know a family so big in every way. It is people like this that are meant to have large families, because not all of us could handle that! Insert me right here!!

  7. Meredith says:

    Wow, I wish they lived near us, come to think of it, I wish YOU lived near us :)))) Warmest Friday wishes to you and YOUR sweet family!

  8. Alison says:

    It’s funny how large families, especially with homeschooled kids, can fit right in with other large families. They know how to play. Not to say there are never any problems, but they or their older siblings work it out before mom is called in. I find we can manage a large crowd of kids—the only headache it the constant in and out of doors!

  9. WendyinVA says:

    Reading that did my heart good. You are blessed to have them as friends. And I’m sure they would say they’re blessed to have you. ๐Ÿ™‚

  10. Melissa Wiley says:

    I feel like we have been incredibly blessed with friends wherever we go. I mean, I lived on the same street as Alice—how lucky am I? ๐Ÿ™‚ And then in Virginia we had two families right in the neighborhood we were crazy about—we had moved into that neighborhood on purpose to be near Scott’s college roommate & his awesome family, and then we got the bonus of getting to know Sarah and her clan. And then here in San Diego we’ve got Ernie and Mary, and the amazing Erica who welcomed us right into the fold when we showed up in town, and the fabulous Lickona bunch, whose home is very much like the description above, and the beautiful Seaglass Hearts family, and I could keep on going! Very blessed indeed.

  11. Kristen L. says:

    I love Mary and Ernie! They are indeed one of the most warm, hospitable, beautiful couples I’ve ever known. I’m so happy you are near them!

  12. Melissa Wiley says:

    Kristen, we have GOT to get you down here for a visit. Boy, I tell you, that Thomas Aquinas College sure turns out some delightful people. Ernie & Mary, the Lickonas, you, Love2LearnMom, Willa, Suzanne, our good pals the Vercillos…who am I missing?

  13. AnCatDubh says:

    Being closely associated with Ernie and Mary (Ernie and I share parents), I take a personal satisfaction in reading this account of their happy home.
    As a family member and the mother of a large clan myself I see and appreciate the struggles they face. I know from the outside that happy homes often seem effortless and the inhabitants of these homes seem imbued with a saintliness we may not possess.

    The philosophy of the “the more, the merrier” may be easier for some than others. Coming from large, happy families, as Ernie and Mary do, helps. But the sacrifices that this philosophy requires are real and unique to each new family that embraces it. It hit me that as young mother that I was no longer a part of a large, happy effort. I was now at the head of it and the buck stopped with my husband and me. A little frightening for someone used to following orders.

    I suspect it has been the same for both Ernie and Mary, who both fall lower on the totem poles of their respective families than I. And that may have something to do with their adherence to this philosophy. Had their parents not embraced it, they might not exist. So the welcoming of each new child, each friend at the door, each family member come to visit, no matter what the physical or financial burden, is a reciprocation and a recognition of the gift their parents gave them. This generosity of spirit accounts for their large family but it also what feeds it and gives them the strength to handle it with fortitude and good cheer. That is something to which we are all called.

  14. patience says:

    This is one of the most beautiful and heart-warming posts I’ve read in a long time. But I can’t find the right words to express how and why it touched my heart.

    Lissa, the reason you keep meeting amazing people in your neighbourhoods is because you are amazing people. And you always seem to have such a positive, loving, grateful vision of the world and other people.

  15. Hannah says:

    Wow, that portrait is so touching, and reminds me to endeavor to provide that same spirit in our much smaller home and family. Just a few minutes ago the neighbor boy broke something of ours and didn’t even have the integrity to come tell us about it. In considering how to handle it, this post of yours reminds me to always keep people ahead of things.

  16. Karen Edmisten says:

    What a beautiful post — they sound like amazing people, as are their friends. ๐Ÿ™‚

  17. Penny in VT says:

    What a lovely and inspiring tribute – thank you for sharing the love!

    … and I would add, as an admirer from across the country – “takes one to know one”! ๐Ÿ™‚

  18. Marsha says:

    What a wonderful legacy and testimony they have! While it is a rare day for me to have 18 children running about, I do hope that people feel welcome and cherished in my home… whether there be an extra 12 or 2.

  19. margot says:


    MY DH !!!
    Though you don’t know him . . .
    (I was a dropout, so I don’t count HAHA)

  20. Love2learn Mom says:

    Margot, you CERTAINLY count!!!

    Also, don’t forget Nutmeg.

  21. Ana Braga-Henebry says:

    I believe this kind of warm, inviting, unstressed (“come even if my house is not perfectly clean”) hospitality to be a reflection of a Christian heart. Is such hospitality becoming a lost art?

  22. Becky says:

    This was a great post for me to read today. I want to be just like them! Thanks for the inspiration!

  23. Erica says:

    Sniff, sniff….again. I’ve read this probably five times now and it still brings tears. Mary and Ernie are our neighbors, our friends, and our toddler’s godparents. Every word of this beautiful tribute is true! Thank you, Lissa, for saying it so eloquently and from the heart. It’s exactly how I (we) feel about them, their family, and their home.

    AnCatDbh (a.k.a. Ernie’s sister) – What you wrote about large families is simply lovely.

  24. Abigail says:

    Lovely post! I hope those words of warmth and hospitality apply to our house someday. I also hope your IEP meeting went well. I’m going to be using you as an inspiration to rock the tight Maryland Home-schooling Reg Meetings with a my own Unschooling Philosphy this September.

    I stopped by to tell you that I’ll be praying for your family’s intentions at the Papal Mass in D.C. on Thursday.

  25. Tina says:

    That just makes me SO jealous!! I wish I had a relationship with a wonderful family like that. I have so often dreamed of living in a neighborhood where all the families are kind and loving and our kids play together happily. Maybe someday. *sigh*

  26. Jennifer in OR says:

    Thanks for sharing about this WARM family, it about brought me to tears – it inspires me to be more like this.

  27. Nutmeg says:

    L2L mom, you are too kind. I am still aspiring to be like my TAC friends… what a privilege it was to attend college with prople like these! And, of course, I have my own story of being hosted by Ernie’s parents and siblings as I waited for my flight home one Christmas break…

    Lovely lovely family!