I grew up less than two miles from all four of my grandparents and saw them almost daily. Our relationships grew in the routine: shelling peas on the sofa with my grandmother while we watched General Hospital, riding in my grandfather’s truck to buy new Barbie clothes at the five-and-dime on Sunday afternoon.
We’d regularly sit around the kitchen table together, and I would listen to the stories they shared.
Other than when my childhood friends came over for an occasional sleepover, I don’t recall ever having overnight guests stay with us. All of our relatives lived nearby; they went home and slept in their own beds.
It was an adjustment for me when I married into a family that was spread around the country. I suddenly had house guests who would stay a week or more at a time, and in those early days I often felt more stressed than hospitable as I tried to fit my schedule and my life into their visit. I realized I had to learn how to be hospitable, something I thought was just innate in Southern women. In the past 2+ decades, we’ve hosted friends, family, and exchange students, so I’ve gotten a lot more practice, and we’ve been the potentially stinky house guests of friends and family, too.
My father-in-law was the first person to drop Ben Franklin’s fish-and-visitors quip on me years ago, and it came to mind again earlier this week. We were on Day 6 of my in-laws’ most recent visit. My father-in-law’s habit of turning on FOX News and leaving it on as background noise almost all day had gotten to me. I love quiet. Days can go by without me turning on a television.
I felt so frustrated that afternoon, after having little space for my own thoughts, and I was questioning the wisdom of having invited my parents, who are local, to join us all for dinner. Could I work myself out of the grumps and enjoy the evening? As soon as we all were together, though, my frustration evaporated.
We turned off the television. We sat down to steaks grilled perfectly by my older son, who soon will be leaving for a far-away summer job and then his first year of college. We let the conversation flow. We gobbled down my mother’s warm cherry cobbler, topped with vanilla ice cream. We told stories of long ago and even discussed politics.
And I saw my children surrounded by the gift they perhaps don’t yet realize they have – all four grandparents.
This spring, as I’ve started preparing emotionally for the transition of our son leaving home, I’ve continually reminded myself of the importance of our connections. How many more opportunities do we have to fill his heart with our stories, words, and hugs? Have we done enough to ready him for the world? Could this be the last time that he has all four grandparents sitting around the table with him?
It’s not my place to manage anyone else’s relationship, but I decided early this spring that it’s my place to create spaces in which relationships can grow. Be intentional. Be present. Be connected.
Ben Franklin penned his words in Poor Richard’s Almanack before many grandparents and their grandchildren were separated by thousands of miles, and generations before the invention of the airplane and or the motorized car. We still laugh at his words, yet we know it doesn’t matter if they’re true or not.
The connections are worth any potential stink.