I spent lots of time at my grandmother’s kitchen table. In fact, the table pictured above is her kitchen table. It now sits in my library. I recently sat down to plan out my holiday meal and began reminiscing with my mother and aunt about how much we learned about the heart of hospitality from my grandmother. Now that I am grown and raising a family of my own, I wish I could sit down with her and visit about life, her great grandchildren, and her recipe for wild rice.
Growing up, Thanksgiving was always a gathering of aunts, uncles, and cousins at grandmother and papa’s house on Quaker Avenue in Tulsa, Oklahoma. It was a special place to gather for many seasons. We spent mosquito filled summers hiding under the low hanging branches of the huge magnolia tree . We gathered around the flocked Christmas tree during the holidays and searched for the ornament with our name on it. Grabbing rakes from the tool shed along the breezeway that was covered in wisteria vine, we raked huge piles of crunchy, brown and curled leaves from the huge trees in the backyard. One perfect July summer afternoon I was married under the old oak tree in the backyard. The house itself is gone now and so are my grandparents. But the memories remain.
I don’t have many photographs of those special gatherings. My mom may have a box tucked away somewhere with a few pictures of the ladies in the kitchen or the boys playing football in the yard but there are no scrapbooks or videos devoted to capturing these moments. And in the 1970’s and 80’s there were no Facebook posts or Instagram shots. No one walked around with their cameras at the ready.
And yet… I remember vividly the winding brick walk past the oak, magnolia, and tulip tree to my grandparents front door.
I remember the dark entryway with its bench and coat tree. A right into the pale blue kitchen to smell Aunt Judy’s rolls baking in the oven and sneak a piece of Aunt Maryann’s fudge from the breakfast room table before dinner. Around the corner to the dining room with its bay window and beautiful table set with fine china, crystal and linens. I pull out the chair on the far side of the table and stomp on the floor to find the buzzer that rings in the kitchen, a relic of when the house was built for those with kitchen help. On through to the living room where soon there will be a flocked Christmas tree with a train running around it but for now it is set up with card tables to seat the many cousins for dinner and later to be used for domino tournaments. A stop in the den where there is college football on the television and piles of magazines next to the mauve couch that is perfect for lulling you to sleep.
When the meal is ready we gather in the entry and hold hands for Papa’s prayer and seating instructions. (As the cousins entered the teen years there was always the possibility of graduating to the main table.) Then we file through the kitchen to load our plates with goodness!
Oh the food! There was smoked turkey and Grandmama’s brisket and wild rice. Scalloped potatoes, green beans with almonds, the cornbread dressing with pecans and raisins (my favorite!), honey glazed carrots, Papa’s cranberry relish and Grandmother’s frozen cranberry salad, and our family’s favorite green salad with grapefruit, mandarin oranges, grapes, and almonds all lined up on the sideboard. Of course no holiday meal would be complete without Aunt Judy’s famous sourdough rolls. For dessert there was fudge, pumpkin pie or pecan. If you were bold you would ask for a slice of the apricot pie that was made especially for Papa (his favorite!)
Then there were leaves to rake. Huge piles of them to run and jump in! The boys would play football out on the huge front lawn, which is when this bookworm would find a place to read or hit up the stack of House Beautiful magazines in the den. That is until one year, when my brother broke his collarbone on the football field and I tagged along for a trip to the emergency room!
My grandparents house was always a welcoming place for guests. The table always had an extra place set. Some years it was foreign exchange students, visiting missionaries, or a single person from church who did not have family in town. In addition to hosting family holiday meals, grandmother frequently hosted baby or bridal showers for ladies from church. No cold fellowship hall with crepe paper and balloons was good enough for these brides and mothers to be! A shower at the Lamprich home might feature a full length eyelet table cloth and a crystal punchbowl, or tiny little monkeys hanging from the chandelier and a circus train car as the centerpiece.
Her Christmas dinner party for widows became an annual tradition, an event that dozens of women looked forward to every year. The fancy details made the event feel special but it was the welcoming manner that made the guests feel special. She spent days preparing her home to be lovely for her guests. She always made it fancy, not in a show-off, “look at my fancy things” way, but in a way that told guests they were special and she was honored to have them in her home. They didn’t feel uncomfortable with the finery even if it was not something they were used to, but welcomed and loved.
At one point in her life my grandmother did not own a crystal punchbowl or fine china. She did not have a table big enough for a dinner party or a home in the nice part of town. And yet, she showed hospitality in the same welcoming manner, inviting the youth group over to sit on the living room floor for popcorn and generic soda.
Our homes are personal and although there is nothing wrong with large gatherings in community settings, there is something more intimate and special in being invited into someone’s home and receiving what they offer you in love. My grandmother’s legacy of hospitality is deeply rooted in my childhood memories and is something I hope to pass on to my children. I will tell them that hospitality is not the place or the things. It is the heart.