Sunday afternoons in South Africa —

there were always watermelons bopping in the swimming pool.

On big hospitality in a small house via

It was to keep them cool till they could be split for dessert.

But to us kids they were just a challenge to ride, to raft, to water polo between ourselves until a grown up finally noticed and yelled to quit it before we turned the insides into pure pulp.

Sunshine on the watermelons and their green striped skins and our shoulders and legs all gangly and growing up living large on the hospitality of our parents.



I can still feel the water running down my back from wet hair as we stood dripping around the table under the thatch roof lapa as dad cut into the melons slice after juicy slice.

We’d stand and bite and suck and spit seeds and there were always more people than chairs.




My mom could make an ordinary afternoon an event.

So much goodness dripping down our chins and still feeding my memory tonight – 23 years later – in a small rental house in Northern Virgina.

It’s a long way from my southern cross childhood and that swimming pool in Pretoria.

Hospitality as I’ve grown up has looked different.

I discovered a dirty pot in the microwave last night.

I stood and stared at it. Looked like it was from yesterday’s tacos. “Pete,” I ask over my shoulder. “Did you know there’s a pot in the microwave?”

There’s a pause before he answers.

And then his laughter rolls back from the couch with his words, “Yea, I guess that’s where I hid it before they came over.”

I wonder if my mom ever did that? Shoved dirty dishes in the stove or a cupboard? I don’t remember us having a microwave.

We’ve had a lot of guests pass through our conveniently-located-right-outside-D.C. house. My desire to host them with the carefree abandon of my childhood has gone head-to-head with my desperate self consciousness about how small our home is.

How the size of our house has felt like it stunted the size of our life.

How pockmarked our yard is with the holes of busy boys, the mud they’ve lovingly smeared as “cement” all over the back pavement, the rakes and hammers and shovels and old gloves they’ve forgotten in piles around their precious work site that I don’t have the heart to complain about.

How we only have 4 dining room chairs and the table is littered with markings that even Mr. Clean’s Magic Eraser can’t seem to remove. And how inevitably my kids will open the hamster cage and bring him over to the table right as I’m trying to serve the meal.

It used to give me profound waves of panic. Because there’s nothing like seeing your house through someone else’s eyes to realize the carpet might actually be beyond cleaning.

Or that the toilet seat with the one loose side that never bothers you is an embarrassment when you think about someone else using it. And that if you don’t warn the friend helping you load the dishwasher she won’t know that you can only pull it out so far before it comes completely off the rails and glasses and bottles bounce foolishly off the tracks.

Last weekend one of my oldest friends and her good man who has been deployed more than he’s been home the last few years and their three kids came to visit. They came several days earlier than we expected.

And there it was. The choice.


Panic or delight.

Fear of appearances or fully opening my arms to one of my favorite friends.

Picking up the backyard or inviting her boys to join the well-loved chaos.

Stressing the stains or surrounding ourselves with toys, kids, and enough time to catch up.

Frantically planning something to cook or ordering pizza and slicing a watermelon.


After five years in this small house with all the brown paneling I’ve learned a lot about big hospitality.

And no matter how much you clean or remodel or or move or rebuild, hospitality will always be more a matter of the heart than the architecture.

And your guests will only feel as comfortable in your house as you feel in your own skin.

And there’s no shame in paper plates if they’re heaped high with delight in each others’ company.

And kids are great role models when it comes to the unselfconscious art of explaining the ins and outs of each others’ toilets.

And no one ever did actually die of embarrassment.

But missing out on community is a kind of dying and what if I’d said no to catching up on two decades and three kids since we shared a dorm together?

So, it’s later, after we’ve said a hundred good-byes in the space of ten minutes and the boys have all agreed they’d like to be brothers and next-door-neighbors and I’ve wiped down sticky counters, chairs, and sofas that I discover that pot in the microwave.

And think about how my mom used to burn the beans because she wasn’t paying attention, or run out of mashed potatoes because the kids helped themselves to too much, or flip the brown sofa cushion over where it had split a gut right open.

But she always opened the door.

She always pulled out one more chair.

Kids were always included in the charades, the impromptu Bible lessons, the cleaning up.

And there was always watermelon for dessert.


{Sharing this post I originally wrote for my friend Ann this summer.}