“I have a hospitality fetish,” I confessed to a Maine friend recently, as we were waxing eloquent on the virtues of owning a big old house in the country with room for company. “Oh, same,” she said. We’re both already thinking ahead to the post-apocalypse, and our visions of survival are centered more on the chosen family than the underground bunker.
The wickeder the world gets, the more militant I get about keeping the doors of my big old Victorian open. I am forever telling friends: please come, please stay. No, really, we mean it.
Over the last year or two, as the nation has become a crueler place for those of us on its margins, those conversations have begun to be more fervent. “You know you have a place here, always,” I told a beloved Catholic Charities worker, currently in the middle of a theology Ph.D. at Notre Dame and wistfully hoping to return to upstate New York. “Tell them they can come anytime, and just be here as long as they need to,” I said to my wife, in regard to a dear and brilliant friend undergoing some gender-transition growing pains. I fret like an auntie about friends with green cards, friends with precarious housing situations, friends who just look a little down at the mouth and could probably use some hot stew and company.
I suppose if all my wandering friends took me up on my offers at once, we might have some rearranging to do. I’m sure we’d manage. That’s what you have a house for.
Hospitality was never something my wife and I discussed, when we were just starting out on cohabitation, but it turns out we’re pretty much on the same page with keeping an open-door policy for friends in need. Good thing, too: I’m a menace on that front. One of the worst fights I had with an ex was a direct result of letting an entire troupe of stranded drag kings crash in our living room unannounced. Honestly, what is the point of owning a house if you can’t be a good Samaritan to a bunch of drag kings in fuzzy pajamas?
Julia loves hosting, but she would be content to rent. Chalk it up to personality, maybe – but I suspect it’s got something to do with her more solid upbringing, in one of those fabled two-parent households whose delights and tragedies all unfolded beneath one roof. She can still sleep in her old childhood bedroom.
I had half a dozen of them as a kid, all of them now inhabited by transitory AirBnB-ers, no doubt. Spending a chunk of my childhood placeless only made me more determined to put down roots. Having been to the wandering-family rodeo, no ground I stand on ever quite feels firm enough.
Owning this house was an investment, not so much in the real estate market, but in the more ineffable commodity of security — for ourselves as well as for others. Every time we host some wayward soul, I can feel that stock appreciate.
Anywhere land is reasonably plentiful and beautiful, like it is around here, people come like pilgrims to start things: farms, businesses, communes, religions. The Catskills landscape is strewn with utopian dreams in various states of revival and decay: the former lodging house repurposed as a Dianic Pagan temple, the farm-turned-artist-compound with the roadside garlic stand. My own utopian fantasy is a little more ordinary, but it’s very precious to me: a big old house stocked with wine and good food, wood fire blazing, a warm haven for friends who come to us worn down by circumstance or their sardine-can city apartments.
Lately, even 2,300 square feet and a variety of fold-out couches doesn’t feel like enough. My family has a beautiful little slice of forest and meadow outside half a mile from my house, and I’m daydreaming about putting a little retreat cabin up there, for the care and feeding of solitary writer types. Or maybe a yurt. Are yurts still a thing? I hear the kids are all about palatial canvas tents on platforms these days.
As I write this, my high-school bestie and her baby are en route to our place for a few days of much-needed R&R. She called me at the last minute, hoping a spontaneous plan might work out. It always feels good to say yes.