Thursday, June 16, 2011


I’m a ‘50’s child raised by parents who grew up in the 1910s and ‘20s. My parents were well old enough to be my grandparents. As I grew up, I thought their attitudes were rather out of step with the times – more so than my friend’s parents -- but now that I’m older and talking about the days of yore, I appreciate my first-hand knowledge of vintage ideals.

My shirt-tail cousin Leah commented on the previous blog about her aunt and uncle (her aunt now 96): “This generation (including my aunt & uncle) would feed anyone that came to visit, no matter how long. They never complained about cost or inconvenience. I think that in Bertha & Ina's time, the welcome mat was always out (at anyone's house).”

I was glad Leah said it because that’s the way I remember it – extend the hospitality of home and table when called upon to do so without complaint. When I was at home with my parents, we had company frequently, and my parents welcomed the prospect. (Well, my mother did; my dad may have grumbled to himself behind a closed door.) The welcome mat was brushed off, fresh linens put on the beds, and the house and yard put in order. 

Here are some things I remember about how my mother managed the prospect of company:
  •  It was at once an obligation and a privilege to accept any social invitation. Whether called to serve as guest or hostess, the service was accepted willingly and seen as a blessing.
  • Whatever she was doing within the home was not an obstacle to serving guests. If she was babysitting three or four grandchildren that week, she did not turn away company. The household machine gathered up whoever was there and we continued on.
  • My mother had help. Sometimes when I feel I just can’t do what she did, I remember she had a girl who was really dependable and helpful – yes, sometimes even capable. I would entertain children, bake cookies, help with the laundry and the cleaning, stir a pot or carry things up and down stairs. “I’ll need you to be my right-hand man,” she would say, and I would “take up the slack” where needed.
  • Mother saw it as a good thing when the general routine of life was turned upside-down for a spell. When you returned to life as usual, you had something new to think about.
Once I grumbled to my mother that I had been uncomfortable sleeping on a broken-down hide-a-bed when visiting relatives. Mother’s quick comment silenced me: “People share what they have.” 

[The photo was taken when Arvid and Laimi Portfors and their son Paul and his wife Martha visited us about 1962. Arvid was my grandfather’s younger half brother. From left to right: Laimi and Arvid; me (Kathy); my mother, Dorothy Dobson; my grandfather, C. O. Portfors; Paul and Martha. The visiting Portfors were from Thunder Bay, Ontario – AND – they didn’t speak much English. Apparently there's a Finnish community in Thunder Bay, and they didn't need to speak English. Sadly, I'm the last man standing. Paul was the first to go -- passed away of a heart attack, I believe, not too many years after this visit.] KW


Chris said...

Aha! I think I figured out where this photo was taken--your grandfather's back yard, right? And you (and the clothes) look just about right for our having just finished 7th grade. (Oh what a year that was!)

My parents, too, were always ready and willing to put a quick dinner on the table when friends from out of town would stop by (no phone calls then). Breakfast for dinner was always a good bet. :-)

Leah said...

So interesting to hear about your mother's attitude toward visitors, Kathy. She must have been a very gracious woman.

I suppose everyone has memories of how their household reacted to "company" when they were a child. The one thing that sticks in my mind is that my little brother would have to eat on the oven door! If too many people were seated at the table, he was sent to the kitchen. Mother would open the oven door and he would sit on a little chair with the door acting as a table for his plate.

During the late 1800's and early 1900's, it was common for ministers to travel around the country. A family from the congregration would invite him to their house and he was provided free room and board.

I have a little bio from my paternal grandmother. She writes of her childhood in eastern Kansas in the 1890's. A new preacher was at their church one Sunday and he was invited to their home for dinner. My grandmother's sister was washing dishes. My grandmother came into the kitchen to find the minister trying to kiss her sister. Their father wasn't at all happy and the man was quickly sent on his way, never to be seen again.

I'm sure every family has stories of visitors coming to stay and making room for them in their hearts and homes.

Kathy, your mother knew that it was the decent thing to do...feeding and caring for visitors. It was more about who she was, not who the visitors were.

Kathy said...

Yes, it was behind Grandpa's house. I can't tell the time of year -- no leaves on the willow. (At least, I thought it was a willow.) I made my top from a panel -- seems like it was called a handkerchief top.

Well, yes, Mother was a gracious hostess, I think, but my point is that her attitudes were not unique. Travelers stayed with friends and relatives in those days, and if you couldn't stay with someone, maybe you couldn't go.

I would never have thought to use the oven door as a table, but often the children were set elsewhere just because there wasn't room at the big table.