A few weeks ago I wrote about the beauty of hospitality, and my resolution to practice it more often. Let me tell you, my transition from Martha to Mary has been awfully slow-going. It isn’t that my determination is flagging. It’s just that circumstances keep interfering with my progress. For one thing, I have to contend with a lack of the supplies that are necessary to execute certain gracious tasks.
One particular can’t-do task is that of serving a guest a drink. This shouldn’t be a problem, since there’s always something to drink somewhere in our house. There’s fresh-tasting well water from the faucet. There’s a jug of milk in a small refrigerator that is kept in the pantry. There are even a couple of two-liter bottles of ginger ale in a secret hiding place that the kids have yet to discover. And there’s a tidy reserve of alcoholic beverages, since, as Hilaire Belloc once observed, “Where’er a Catholic sun doth shine, there’s always laughter and good red wine.” As good Catholics, we keep the requisite wine and liquor on hand for the enjoyment of non-Italian visitors of drinking age, and Italian visitors of any age.
But the problem isn’t a shortage of beverages. It’s a shortage of cups.
Now, if you were to look into the cupboards of all American households with children, you’d likely find their collections of cups to be very similar. There’d be holographic collector cups from convenience stores, featuring images of that guy from Halo 3. There’d be plastic kiddie cups from pizza joints, with their colorful pictures scratched beyond recognition. An there’d be a slew of chipped and chipped-er gift mugs, half of them bearing the phrase ”World’s Greatest Mom” in a flowery font. Each of these cups would be serviceable, but not for company use. Would you pour your guest’s sherry into a yellow plastic stein that read “I Survived the 2006 Minsi Muck Hike”?
I took a hard look at the contents of our own cupboard and found them to be distressingly typical. So I decided to replace our cockamamie cup collection with something called “drinkware.” I substituted real glass glasses for the plastic stuff and relegated Master Chief and his ilk to the basement. The new drinkware transformed the look of our table, and made me want to invite in passersby for lemonade. The effect was short-lived, however, as the glasses turned out to be as fragile as, well, glass. Our family is the kind who will pass a cup of milk the way Mad Dog would slide a glass of whiskey down the saloon table, but without the practiced hand. So it was only a matter of days before our drinkware began to go AWOL. The new was gradually replaced by the old, resulting in a table setting looked like a meetup of House Beautiful and Looney Tunes.
The Samaritan woman at the well spoke of “Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock.” I picture Jacob and his twelve sons dipping well water into simple earthenware cups, none of which read, “Beam me up, Scotty.” I guess that serving a drink to your guest in ancient times was, in some ways, simpler than it is today. Even if your guest was an angel.
Speaking of angels, our parish priests will occasionally stop in to give a house blessing, or just to visit. When Father T. came and stayed for dinner, I was faced with the mild dilemma of choosing a mug in which to serve his coffee. I nixed all of the “World’s Best Mom” mugs, as well as the child-sized mug with Ten Little Indians on it. I also decided against the mug featuring a heat-sensitive image of the Starship Enterprise crew that disappears when the mug is filled with a hot drink. I would have been okay with the mug picturing the chemical configuration of caffeine, but it had a sizeable chip on its rim. I finally settled on a pretty polka-dotted mug, a recent gift to my daughter Grace from a long-time friend. It was kind of sissy-looking but at least it was intact, and it didn’t proclaim its owner to be cat-crazed, sick of housework, or over the hill. I hurriedly poured Father’s coffee without thinking to look inside the mug. (Should I have?) After Father left and I was clearing the table, I noticed that there was a tiny polka-dotted ceramic cow affixed to the inside bottom of his coffee mug. A tiny polka-dotted ceramic cow.
There was only one thing I could do. I decided to pour some sherry into a yellow plastic stein that read “I Survived the 2006 Minsi Muck Hike.”
Copyright 2011 Celeste Behe
And drink it.