When we did our taxes in Oakbrook, Bruce and I met up with the wonderful writer and blogger, LB Johnson and her “Partner in Grime”. I wasn’t sure what we’d talk about because her writing is so very intelligent and she has been a commercial pilot. Her current employer is impressive. My mind goes blank. I search for words. When I write, it takes days to hear the story. There is a fierce, smart tone to what she says. I deeply admire her writing. I have stars in my eyes amazed at the intelligence of her blogs. As an Indie author she has hit the Amazon bestseller list with her books. Each one–The Book of Barkley, Saving Grace, and Small Town Roads are fun reads. They take their audience to another place but also make us think.
L.B. Johnson is a devout Christian who lives her faith, and I mean lives it, by donating money to animal rescue and supporting her father’s needs. She invites lonely elders to her home for meals. She loves her dog Abby, who has her own sense of humor and hates baths.
LB was very gracious about my novel The River Caught Sunlight surprising me by asking me to write a blurb for her novel Small Town Roads. (I wrote: “In the tradition of Kent Haruf’s bestselling Plainsong, L.B. Johnson has written a lyrical, meditative story that acknowledges the dangers and comforts of our world. Small Town Roads is a loving story about an old, slow place where the terrible loneliness of grief eases because ordinary people decide to be community.“) I told her that she should get a Somebody to write it but she said she loved my writing and wanted my name on there.
I told Bruce when we walked into the Cheesecake Factory that I was intimidated, that I hoped things would go well. As soon as I saw L.B. and “Partner in Grime” I felt safe, like we’d known each other for years. It’s funny how a person’s presence in person and their presence in words can be different. It’s impressive how well crafted and intriguing L.B.’s online persona is. She is all that, but she is a safe, loving woman in person.
She mentioned that July 4 is awful in her neighborhood because people shoot fireworks nonstop for days. They sound too much like gunshots, something she can’t bear. Bruce and I invited her and “Partner in Grime” to visit us over the holiday. Here the fireworks that people shoot are real and at a distance. Sometimes we can see fireworks on the horizon if the corn isn’t too high. (It’s too high.)
This too felt like a risk because I’m not good at hospitality. Our farm is magical but scruffy. I have not weeded our borders and we have life–wild black walnuts and raspberry bushes and clover sprouting. A few years ago our neighbor’s fence row was a clear, barbed wire fence, put up to let his cows graze the left over corn after harvest. Now there are trees nearly reaching the power lines. Plant life pushes back against us.
And our home is a farm house with books and papers covering our tables. And dust over it all. We have two cats with litter boxes and two dogs who like to bark, especially at Bruce like he’s a stranger. I hoped the place wouldn’t smell. But I remembered the hospitality of Gene and Bob Proctor, friends who were like our second parents, how we drove all day from New York, and arrived, tired and harried. They couldn’t greet us so they’d left a pot of soup and bread for us to eat, a gesture that healed a darkness I’d been walking through for six months. Amazing how a small thing like soup and can heal an outer darkness, where you feel pushed aside and you can’t seem to find your way back in.
I kept thinking of Gene and Bob as I cleaned, of the hard work they put into making their house comfortable when we arrived. I used L.B.’s visit as an excuse to dust the books on the bookshelves, otherwise the dust thickens on top. I’ve been in homes where the kitchen table was piled with stuff and there wasn’t a place to sit. And we’ve slept in beds that were covered in cat hair. But I know how other work can take up time from keeping tables cleared and bedrooms free of cat hair. Since Bitsy stays in the guest bedroom we cleaned the bedding and dusted thoroughly. We figured out our menu–steak and potato salad one night, and beef stroganoff the other with pork chops at the park for lunch. L.B. offered to make Swedish waffles for July 4 breakfast. (“Partner in Grime” stayed home with their dog who isn’t keen on riding in a hot truck. He had noisy renovations to do.)
I also thought of the last few times we had over night guests–how it didn’t go so well, even though I’d done my best to accommodate them. At a church seminar on hospitality, I confessed this, how vulnerable it was to have someone visit, and how it hadn’t gone well the last time. The leader said to drop the attitude and try again.
When people come to your home they see your routines–when you get up, when you go to sleep, when you do chores–your basic habits. They see your clutter, which nowadays is considered a terrible sin. Things you put in your home say a tremendous amount of who you are. I’ve seen the scorn on people’s faces when they’ve look at my books and horse statues. It’s a significant rejection. (My books and horse collection are spread throughout the house, unlike our former home where I could close them behind a small bedroom door.) The urge to pare down is there. I’ve already sent a 100 books out of the house, but I’ve bought fifty new ones. My problem is that there are other, more pressing things to do and I sink into overwhelm.
Sometimes people who are great, who have accomplished substantial things to make the world a better place, are also the most gracious. L.B. she brought grace to our home and my hospitality project, by seeing beneath the scruffiness to the magic. I overheard her saying that we’d done a beautiful job renovating our home. She came away refreshed and rested–a prayer of mine. We didn’t run out of things to talk about and we ranged over a variety of subjects. We also watched America’s Got Talent. And we talked like teenage girls into the night.
I felt safe, and I think she did too. (It’s been awhile since I felt safe. I’ve learned to listen to people. I’ve learned not to tell my story because my life is quiet this minute. I used to tell my stories all the time and drove people away because I was in a lot of psychic pain. So now I am happy to pay the universe back for those friends’ grace. But it’s a relief when you find a person to swap stories with, when there’s enough time for those stories to speak. It’s a true gift, even if it’s only for a few days. When I was in college a friend said that we can touch people’s lives for a moment. It was what she called “a moment for eternity.” We can have that kind of impact, even if we talk to a person for a short time. Friends who are no longer in my life have had a deep and lasting impact.
We went to the Kirkland Parade. I tear up at the beginning, when the veterans ride by and the sirens from the fire engines blare every time. Horses are my favorite, but before they came, a drenching rain poured down suddenly. We couldn’t bear the down pour even though it was refreshing on a steamy day. Then we went to Portillos. LB had said she wanted to see a sunset like the one I’d posted earlier. So when I saw a molten light rimming a cloud I said we had to go look and we saw this. I was pleased I could show her this beauty because sunsets can be plain sometimes–orange, blue, deep blue, stars. That night we drove to our neighbors’ to see the fireworks but the corn was too high, so we drove to a side road, not far from town so we could watch from inside the truck because of mosquitoes. They exploded a glitter of colors. A few times a local farmer shot his own fireworks, spraying sparks into the air.
A week later we put up hay and invited our young crew in to eat dinner–simple ham sandwiches, pasta salad, green salad, brownies and watermelon. And the next day we invited our roofing crew to eat the leftovers since the hay crew finished so late, they didn’t eat much. Whenever I talk to these young men I miss my students. I miss their energy and openness to the world. Because we had such a good time with L.B. I am thinking of others we could invite.
Oh, here’s what she wrote about visiting us: Independence Day in Rural Illinois.
What are your experiences with inviting people to your home?