This I Believe

Greg - Red Bluff, California
Entered on September 25, 2006

Hospitality Requires Hand Tools

I Believe in Hospitality. Not the kind of hospitality that entertains select friends, but the kind that goes out of its way for strangers.

I learned about true hospitality from my uncle. I have never met anyone who put more energy into helping family, friends . . . and strangers.

Visitors to Uncle Jim’s house were told with a smile, “Make yourself comfortable. If you’re not at home, you should be.”

At Uncle Jim’s there was always a pot of coffee on, and anyone who came to the door was invited to sit and visit for a few minutes. If he knew you had a problem or a project, he didn’t wait for you to bring it up. Between sips he would politely find out if there were some way he could help. This humble ritual spoke volumes about the way he lived his life, the way he chose to be hospitable.

By watching this routine for years, I saw that hospitality isn’t just about sitting in a comfortable room. Honest-to-goodness, old-fashioned hospitality is likely to involve hard work and inconvenience.

He lived in the country and had a well-equipped shop. It was common for his evenings to be interrupted with headlights rolling in the drive. A relative or neighbor had a car or tractor that needed to be fixed right away. He’d quickly put on his coveralls and pour coffee for himself and for his guest. A little joke or a bit of teasing let them know he was glad he could help.

He worked hard to keep up on his own chores, so he would have time to help a widow in town with a broken pipe. Or to spend a day nailing a tin roof on a friend’s out-building. He kept up this pace into his 80’s. His own aches and pains were less important than the needs of those around him.

I learned that, while hospitality is easy to give lip service to, it is far more rewarding as a way of life . . . more meaningful when it’s taken out of the glass case of theory and used like a wrench. When it gives warmth like an old wood stove.

Uncle Jim wasn’t trying to be a hero or a martyr. When people need help . . . you go help them. It’s that simple.

He’s been gone for three years now. And I will keep trying to apply in my life what I saw in his. I’ll try to make myself useful to those around me.

Recently I used his tape measure while fixing a friend’s utility trailer. I try not to be so busy I can’t help someone move or paint a room. And I let my guests know they are genuinely welcome in my home. I believe that true hospitality involves being gracious, but it also requires hand tools.