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Doing the Company Scramble

Anytime I actually think about it, I'm surprised at how seldom we have visitors in our home. This was certainly not the case at previous times in my life. My ex-husband Doug and I loved having people in as often as possible when we were married, especially after we moved to a fairly large suburban home with an actual guest room. Even during my two years or so as a single mom in a small apartment, I never thought twice about hosting church groups and things. And after Carl and I were married, his family lived directly upstairs from us and my son had friends in to visit, so our existence was anything but reclusive.

During the year we lived in New York City, we had two visits from a Pennsylvania friend and her family and one from Carl's sister, with assorted nieces and nephews. Thinking back, our company was limited to people we knew well and felt comfortable with. Living in a 3rd-floor walkup in front of a bus stop doesn't exactly scream "Welcome!"

We were still fairly close, distance-wise, to Carl's family when we moved back to Georgia and lived in the 'burbs, but I never liked that house. There was something "crumbly" about it. We were tired much of the time from working long hours, so home was little more than a sleep-and-eat station.  I guess we just gradually fell out of the habit of inviting people over.

Then we moved to where we are now, and while my social life is so busy it gets downright ridiculous, everything is exported. Carl stays home in his bathrobe and watches TV while I jaunt around to church, the neighborhood rec center, and wherever else things are going on. Usually, I come home to a silent house, since Carl goes to bed early. Silence suits me fine, since by then I'm usually ready for bed. If I want noise, there's the TV or computer. Any other din comes from the neighbors and people driving by with their subwoofers turned up to 11. While our neighborhood isn't quite the hotbed of crime that some people assume, it's still far from a bucolic enclave.

When you fall out of the habit of having company and then someone does occasionally drop over, you fly into a panic. In my childhood, my mother hated it when people came over, though with a teenager (me) in the house, she basically resigned herself to it. She was a big believer in "privacy," which by her definition meant "people not knowing what I'm really like." My "little friends," as she called them, were okay. Boyfriends, too, as long as she liked them. Anyone else got the "Aw, Jesus!" treatment. If someone knocked on the door when my mother was enjoying a beer or a cigarette, or had her hair up in curlers, she'd bellow "Aw, Jee-zuss!" and scramble to recreate the illusion that we were the Cleavers. Even worse was when someone called ahead by an hour or two to announce that they were dropping by. Then it was "Oh, God, there are books all over the coffee table!  I have to vacuum! I haven't scrubbed the tub in six months! [as though someone were planning to walk in and request a shower...]. Wipe the kitchen table!  Pick up those Reader's Digests and put them back on the shelf vertically with the spines showing!  Put the lid back on the trash can! Sweep up the dog hair!  Close all the bedroom doors!" and on and on.  By the time the visitor actually came, I found myself standing at attention in the middle of the living room, unable to relax, somehow expecting that a white glove and a swagger stick would soon be produced. My mother often lamented the layout of our modest Cape Cod, and so I grew up feeling that the whole world was judging us for not having a "step-down dining room."

A few days ago, a friend from church called to say she'd be dropping by with some materials for a project I agreed to help with. I think this is the first time since last October that anyone -- one single person -- other than Carl or myself has actually walked in through the front door. And so, the "company scramble" was on.While I was grateful for this morning's generous lie-in, once 12 noon rolled around I was in full panic mode. For the first time since the weather turned cold, I had occasion to actually hang up all the winter coats, rather than draping them over the backs of chairs. It suddenly seemed like the ideal time to freshen the bed linens (Why? This was not going to be a sleepover!) and find something that could pass for a "guest towel." I heard myself negotiating out loud with the cat: "Precious, I'm going to clean your litter box now. This is not the signal that I need you to go and fill it right back up. Please hold it for awhile!"

Coffee is never in short supply around here, but I had no decent creamer or anything at all resembling  snack food. And we'd used the last paper towel on Friday. There are two small grocery-type stores within walking distance, so I took the opportunity to get a little exercise. I ended up going to both stores because the first one had no half and half or desserts with anything other than "Little Debbie" on the package. I ended up settling for mediocre chocolate chip cookies and shelf-life French vanilla "coffee whitener."  At the last minute, after arriving back home, it occurred to me that running a comb through my hair might be appreciated by a guest, as well as moving my car so that she could walk on the driveway and not have to step onto my still-soggy lawn.

And of course, the usual rules apply: The more you worry about the impression you're making, the less likely it is to pay off. Susan arrived about ten minutes late, after MapQuest led her to the wrong end of town. She sat in the living room, said she's not much of a coffee drinker, enjoyed a cookie, said a quick hello to the kitty and never went within sight of the bathroom, the bedroom, or the litter box. The entire visit took maybe a half hour and was very pleasant.

But at least the bed is made and the coats are hung up. Once or twice a year is good for that...


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