Hosting people is a favorite. Hosting them in a country they’ve never been to or have only traveled to a time or two? Even better. I wasn’t quite sure what to think when she called. I didn’t really know her. We’d had a conversation at a family gathering or two. One phone conversation when she was in the thick of cancer and politics and life with a sick loved one. So I was surprised when she called and said that it was her birthday, and could she please spend it with us in England. Sure. Absolutely. See you soon.
She arrived the day after we returned from Celle. A near-perfect vacation filled with good food and good people and good scenery and good culture and everything that is so wonderfully Italian. So I was primed to be hospitable.
I wasn’t sure what to expect. Bring wellies I had recommended. She showed up with the world’s largest suitcase. Perhaps that’s a bit of an exaggeration. I’ve got grace--it’s tricky to know what to pack when you’ve never really been somewhere before. (To be fair the same suitcase travelled back a few months later, but with everything she needed for herself plus her two kiddos).
During the days we walked with Kelly and the dogs. Kelly can make anyone feel like an old friend rather than a stranger. We took the kids to school and my friends kissed her cheeks and made her feel at home--they’re good like that. In the evenings we sampled English beer--she’s a big fan and a bit of a connoisseur. We sat on the floor and talked and laughed and cried and discovered that we shared a mutual and somewhat odd and obscure favorite snack of popcorn with salt and brewer’s yeast. We talked. Then talked some more. Then talked and talked and talked a little more.
She came for her birthday. So we gave her the choice of dinner locale--both pubs of course. One to drive to and one to walk to. We gave her a good-natured ribbing at her choice of footwear when she decided on the walk-to pub. Heels seemed a bit of an odd choice for a path through an ancient churchyard and behind the horse pastures and over rocks and mud. She’s appropriately stubborn and strong willed for a survivor. For a widow. For a single mom. So she stuck by her choice. And looked great. And didn’t complain once. And always wore wellies to the pub after that.
It’s funny how a person can go from an acquaintance to close friend in only a week. I no longer disbelieve the possibility, but it still definitely surprises me. A year later, I’m homesick for the hospitality of the English countryside, and for my friend. My good friend. Happy Birthday!