Wednesday, June 20, 2007

"O" is for 'ospitality

We have a very good friend who lives nearby named Olive. Olive has become my inspiration for the hospitality offered here at THM. When we visit Olive, and we visit often, we walk right in - no calling first, no planning, no knocking on the door. Olive trained us to do that. And she does likewise at our house. Nearly everytime we stop by she has something delicious baked. Her cheese scones are to die for and her jellies and jams have been labelled "the best in the world" by F&L. It seems we never leave her house without being given a little something to take home: the above-mentioned scones, jellies and jams, or a book or magazine, or a dozen eggs from her hens. Olive doesn't make a big deal about all this. It is quite natural and expected as far as she is concerned.

Olive also keeps an eye on things at THM during the winter months, she has taught me to make jelly (only learn from the best!), how to garden properly in Newfoundland soil, she has encouraged me in this project although I am sure some of what I am up to is somewhat mystifying to her, and she treats F&L like the grandmother everyone wishes they had. Really, I can't sing the praises of Olive high enough. I am so grateful to be her friend and to be the recipient of all her wonderful hospitality. But as I say, if I start singing her praises in front of her, she waves them away with "oh no, that's just what you do"

This kind of hospitality is an important part of Newfoundland culture (a big generalization but a pretty accurate one). In some ways, Olive is right: it is what you do here. Many people don't knock first and tea and a bun is expected at a visit. You never send people away empty-handed. And so it is here with THM. But this is where it gets a little funky. Last summer, I always tried to have some tea buns available for visitors, yet 9 out of 10 refused them along with the cup of tea offered. I often felt that would have been different if I had sold them. Somehow, the relationship between me and the visitors made purchasing the food more acceptable. I never did sell it--I just kept offering and sometimes people enjoyed my hospitality, but mostly not.

I also have a gift shop - really a drawer of a dresser in the livingroom - filled with gifts that I give visitors at the end of their visit as a thank you gift for stopping by. The gifts are not fancy. I have a selection of doilies that I have collected from yard sales, some painted rocks that say "Why are you here?" and some coasters made from left overs from the foyer wallpaper. This year, Lucy has made some little yarn dolls for visiting children. These offerings have been better received, although people sometimes seem a little embarassed. Giving things away to near strangers is an odd dynamic these days, I guess.

But this dynamic is what it is all about. Olive sets the standard very high, but I try!

(Olive, as photographed by L on New Year's Eve, 2004)

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