Arlene Pearl Bubar, my beloved grandmother, was one of 14 children, and was a product of the great depression. She was the youngest in her family and was spoiled by her mother and older siblings, when she married she had no idea how to cook. She grew up on a farm in Northern Maine, very close to the Canadian Border. Her mother was Genevieve and my grandmother would recount that she was a “Proper lady, who wore a corset until the day the died”. She married my grandfather when she was 19, her mother-in-law Olive, a French Speaking Canadian, took her under her wing and taught her everything she knew about cooking and entertaining.
I tell you this because the stories of these people make me smile, as do my memories of helping my grandmother prepare everything from home made frites to warm date filled molasses cookies, but also because she developed these habits over a lifetime and you can too. At her house there was always a delicious and bountiful spread of food no matter what time of day you may show up. My dad tells a story about how him and his high school buddies would come home late at night, after drag racing, and she would whip up burgers and frites at 10pm for the whole gang. I can honestly tell you, it is my greatest hope that I too will be happy, rather than annoyed, when my kids and their friends show up as teens late at night hoping for a home cooked meal.
My grandparents were poor, hardworking people. My grandfather worked three jobs, my grandmother worked and her sons worked to help keep food on the table. However, this fact never stopped her from making my dad and all his friends a meal, or from feeding all us kids when we showed up. Nor did the size of her home or kitchen diminish the welcome and the abundance food.
These are the habits my grandmother practiced to make sure her home was always ready to welcome guests.
Arlene had a well stocked pantry:
I stayed with her many times during my summer break and took part in all aspects of daily life, including the 4 trips to the grocery stores a week for the needs of two retired people. She shopped the deals and stocked her pantry and a second fridge/freezer combo packed full of food. She managed this by couponing, scanning circular adds, and shopping the clearance section at the super market. Arlene knew what would freeze well, which expiration dates were more like suggestions and what needed to be used first, she also wasted nothing. This women would allow herself half a beer at lunch, cover the can, then drink the other half the next day. Her self control is inspirational.
I do all of these same things to help stock my shelves with food prior to having guests come stay. I keep a variety of snacks on hand and my freezer is always stocked and ready to cook at least one breakfast, lunch or dinner for guests. My tools are more modern as I shop circulars in an app, the Flipp App is my favorite, but the concept is the same. It doesn’t need to be fancy but a meal makes people feel welcomed and comfortable.
Arlene Kept a very tidy home:
She was a hard working women, with the help of a hard working man. I learned from watching them that anything could be accomplished when you worked together. She cooked the meal and he did the dishes, with my help of course. I remember him telling me as I washed dishes, when I was around 8 years old, that “We’re a team you wash them and it’s my job as the dryer to get the things you missed.” It was their outlook in life that a job worth doing was worth doing right, but doing it together was what made it special.
Her house was immaculate. Beds made, clean bathrooms, dishes washed, shoes put away, I can honestly say in all the years I visited their home there was never anything out of place. That’s not to say there wasn’t a stack of newspapers on the kitchen table or a book left beside a chair, there was, but that’s where those things belonged. It is this concept that I am suggesting, things don’t need to be picture perfect, they just need to have a permanent home and remain tidy within it. This way your home feels welcoming and lived in, but not messy and overwhelming. When a home is too cleaned up, people end up afraid to sit or eat or relax because they fear disturbing perfection.
So leave your mess of papers on you breakfast table if that’s where you read your papers, just put them in stack when you’re done, so that when a guest drops by they can quickly be moved aside.
Arlene’s house smelled nice:
This is a big one. In all my years of visiting her it never smelled anything but fresh. Her secret was to keep plants in every room and open up windows daily to let in some fresh air. She would open the kitchen window in the middle of summer or the middle of winter, I remember thinking she was nuts. As an adult I see it for what it was, when you cook three meals a day in a tiny kitchen those smells linger, the best way to freshen a space is to open a window, not to mask it with another smell.
I use this tip as well. I open up my windows and let the fresh air blow all the smell from my cooking away. I also have an Oil Diffuser that I like to run after I’ve closed the windows. I do it this way so that I’m not covering smells, but replacing them, making my home smell fresh and clean.
She would also keep the bathrooms well stocked with air freshener and scented candles that could be lit when needed. This tip is also one I use for my own home. There is nothing worse than having a poop emergency when you’re a guest and there’s no air freshener in sight. So do your future guest’s a favor and stock up on my favorite room refresher, this one is refillable and recyclable, I prefer the lavender scent.
Arlene understood the art of listening:
My grandmother wasn’t a quiet or reserved woman, but neither did she ever seem to be the center of conversation. She had learned to ask questions and then listen to what others had to share. She demonstrated her caring for the person across from her by allowing them the time and space to talk without interruption. This particular skill is one that came naturally to me, most likely because my father and mother demonstrated the same knack for carrying on a conversation that didn’t revolve around them. Most people in my family can and do talk about the weather, connect a story about the weather that is self deprecating, to another story about what the weather may be like over the coming days. It may seem silly but discussing non-threatening topics that even children can join in on, makes everyone feel welcome to be part of the larger conversation. Which helps to make people feel safe in your home.
Arlene knew when to say goodbye:
Okay, this particular piece of advice is the best one that I have to offer and she demonstrated such grace in showing her guests it was time for them to leave. There is absolutely nothing worse than having well meaning people overstay their welcome. Everyone’s having a blast, no one wants the conversation to end, but kids have bedtimes and so do old ladies. Once the meal had ended or tea time was over, she invited someone to help her clear the dishes. She would say “Hey, doll, do you mind very much helping me to clear up the table?” Who could refuse such a kind request for help, no one in my family ever did. In fact this was the cue for multiple people to jump up and offer help, and that was the key, to get people moving out of their comfortable seat. To make it very obvious it was time to start cleaning up and wrapping up the event.
She would use the same method when she was at our house. Once there was no more scratching of utensils on plates she would stand up and say “Now, how can I help you to clear up this mess?”. I dare someone to refuse such a kind offer to at least help clear the plates. Again even at my own home I knew to hop up and do it before she could.
My greatest compliment came a few months ago when my sister was over for lunch on day. She commented that she hadn’t seen anyone enjoy spending that much time in the kitchen since visiting with our grandmother. It was so nice to hear that she felt welcome in my home, that she enjoyed being there, and that my joy at being able to make her feel welcome was apparent.