I am staying at Sophie’s house. I like it here.
It’s my second stay in the house inhabited by my sister (on my biological father’s side) and her husband (who is more like a brother than an in-law). And coming back, it is familiar; only last time, Sophie wasn’t here. Same house, same space, only somehow…brighter. And baby toys everywhere. And sweet baby sounds. And daddy playing chase around the coffee table and squeals of joy from baby and laughter from mommy.
There is love in this house. Love for life evident in the companionship of its occupants, in the rich melodies that are playing throughout, in the Armenian and English spoken back and forth by its occupants, even by the three rescue dogs who share the space.
And now evidenced by the delightful evidence of a baby growing up and flourishing in this environment of love and happiness.
The hallmark of this home is hospitality. Here, I am family, as is—I suspect—anyone who visits.
“In the cherry blossom’s shade
there’s no such thing
as a stranger.”
~ Kobayashi Issa
My experience in their home is not unlike my experience visiting the rest of my rapidly expanding family. My brother and his partner make their home in NC immediately warm and inviting just as my sister and her husband in FL do (only theirs has a lot more pink and girl stuff everywhere). Each home has its own unique touches, different deeply stocked pantries, and unique foods. (Coffee, deep and rich, is a commonality they all share.) In the same context, I remember the times I stayed with and enjoyed the meals, relaxation in the garden of fruit trees, and eclectic collections at Aunt Donna’s and the warm, gentle homey-ness and comforting meals experienced at Aunt Carol’s.
All of them have hosted me and other family members (and significant others upon occasion), feeding us ‘til we could pop and making us instantly—and heretofore—feel like we belonged.
Today (Sunday, January 22) my experience with familial hospitality expanded again as I had the honor to be invited to my brother-in-law’s family for a traditional Armenian dinner. And oh what a treat!
You know that scene in Antoine Fischer, when he comes in at the end to all that family? Well, this wasn’t far from that. Though not blood related to me, his mother, his sister and her husband, an aunt and uncle, a couple who were his parent’s dearest friends, and his mother’s boyfriend were there to greet me and Aunt Donna (biological mother’s sister) with open, welcome arms, broad smiles, and words spoken with a rich Armenian dialect. We walk in and there was wine and crackers and cheeses, nuts, tequila, and vodka (which was pronounced ‘wodka’ which was just so cool). They all listened intently to the amazing story of how we were all connected and ultimately brought together, looked at pictures of my sons, and laughed at the antics of the little sprite who entertained us with her every “drunken” step.
And then this meal (!)… holy moly! His mother prepared a traditional Moroccan feast of couscous she learned to make from her time there that looked like something out of a movie. We ate, and ate…and ate.
What do I remember the most? So many things. Aunt Donna telling the story about her broken toe and the scotch. Henry’s story of proposing to my sister not at the top of the Eiffel Tower and the tale of his sister’s refusal to believe that the dessert presented to her with the words “marry me” was really for her. Agop’s story of getting out of the 90 mph ticket, the tale of New Year’s Eve at the casino, and walking down to the local Armenian grocery/liquor store to buy our lottery tickets for the drawing that would be held in a few hours. [I don’t think any of us won.] How the conversation flowed effortlessly between English and Armenian. And then there was dessert! And more shots! In the afternoon! It was greatness!
I won’t soon forget the look of admiration on “Ana-Mom’s” face as she observed her happy family gathered around the table, catching a glance and her genuine smile in my direction seeing me so obviously happy. (I know this look; I’ve seen it on the looks of both aunts’ faces and also on my mother’s face when we were all together before she passed.)
And my very favorite part? The way it seemed every 10 minutes, there was a reason to raise our glasses to toast something or someone and say “Կէնաձդ” (“Genatzt”)!
So much to take in. So much laughter. So much happiness. So much warmth.
Ah how my soul needed this respite.
I’m sure there were family times like this for me growing up though I don’t remember so much openness and joy—except maybe at dear Aunt Nell’s or at her daughters’ homes. I like to think the boys will have memories of many such jovial times around our own table while they were growing up. And of course near in my mind and heart are times like this in the homes of my dearest friends—who have become my family—where (sometimes weekly) we laugh, enjoying wine (or really amazing bottles of champagne) and each other’s company.
I’ve received some nice gifts over the year but I’m certain none of them has been or will be greater than the gift of hospitality I received during my recent trip to Cali…and throughout my life.