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On keeping company

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by Carmella

Some call it simplicity; they call it life. Former interior designer Carmella Rayone pens an assorted narrative on living with less in their 665 square foot home in the foothills of Wyoming’s mountains at assortmentblog.com.

That first week the sun shone brightly, there was no wind, and in six days the snow was all gone. The prairie showed bare and brown, and the air seemed warm as milk. Mrs. Boast had cooked the New Year’s dinner.

“You can all crowd into my little place for once,” she said.

She let Laura help her move things. They put the table on the bed and opened the door wide against the wall. Then they set the table in the exact middle of the house. One corner of it almost touched the stove, and the other end was almost against the bed. But there was room for them all to come in, single file, and sit around it. Mrs. Boast sat by the stove and served the food from its hot top.

First, there was oyster soup. In all her life Laura had never tasted anything so good as that savory, fragrant, sea-tasting hot milk, with golden dots of melted cream and black specks of pepper on its top, and the little dark canned oysters at its bottom. She sipped slowly, slowly from her spoon, to keep that taste going over her tongue as long as she could… Afterward they sat talking in the little house, with the soft air coming in and beyond the open door, the brown prairie stretching far away and the soft blue sky curving down to meet it.

– Laura Ingalls Wilder, By the Shores of Silver Lake

The pages turned easily with a moistened finger as my young-girl eyes consumed these words from the fifth book in our tattered Little House series. The story spilled out as I read, pooling deeply in my imagination where it reflected a perfect picture of the New Year’s dinner in that tiny house.

I could see it all, and nearly taste it, too. This tale of the life of a girl my age captured me fully and gave me a seat of my very own at that dinner where the conversation was full and the memory sweet. I read along easily, knowing it then only as a delightful story; I know now that it was so much more.

It was the earliest awakening of an understanding. It was the seed of a life-course. It was a line-drawing of simplicity and uninhibited small-space living. It was the perfect description, not of entertaining, but of keeping company.

Company-keeping says come in here where the door swings wide. It’s a welcome gathering, no matter your space. It’s humble, and it’s real.

It lets you rest your elbows on the table as you linger near wax-dripped candles, empty soup bowls, and crumb-covered plates. It nurtures deep, without even trying to impress. It’s oyster soup on a New Year’s Eve.

It’s the very thing we came to know one day, my husband and I, when we climbed a wooden ladder into the low-ceilinged loft of a little woodshop perched on an island in a small bay in Alaska.

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We’d just come across the swollen sea water in an open fishing skiff to stay with friends who lived their summers there on the island. They’d prepared for us their best – that place beneath the faded tin roof of their tiny woodshop.

There was room in the little hide-away only for a mattress, which was dressed in fresh floral-patterned sheets and a handmade quilt. The pillows were fluffy where they sat at the head of the bed under the small, clear window; the window that offered a view through the towering spruce trees to the blue water below. On the windowsill sat a small jelly jar filled with fresh, wild flowers.

In the bright evening, there was dinner, close-quarters style, around the handmade table in their small cabin. Fresh salmon was served, with vegetables and wild mushrooms and there was spring water to drink from canning jar cups.

There was conversation and silly games and erupting laughter. And we felt kept. We felt fostered, nurtured, nourished, and kept.

They knew how.

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It was because of stories and experiences like these, that we knew, too. We knew that our little house could be the perfect place to keep company – for dinner around our table, surely – and even overnight.

We’d give adult guests our bedroom, that little retreat at the end of the hall. I’d prepare the bed with freshly-laundered sheets, the white cotton ones, and top them with the quilt. I’d place a footed vase filled with handpicked flowers in the night stand nook, right beside the clock (there may even be chocolate there, too, wink).

The kids would all sleep upstairs – a giant (wild?) communal sleepover in the hobbit-house loft, complete with sleeping bags, pillows, and giggling bodies strewn in heaps all over the beds and floor. Someone might lose a sock or two, but that’d be a small price to pay.

We’d unfold the sofa-sleeper in the great room for ourselves, the one that’s amazingly comfortable and always made up. Perfect. Perfect, because this way, in the early morning, our guests could sleep while we began breakfast and started the day.

We’d make hot coffee, and boil water for tea. We’d set the table with our simple white dishes and mismatched silver, and we’d keep the food warm in the oven until wakening guests began to appear.

Yes, even in this little 665 square-foot house, we could company-keep, too.

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Comments

  1. I can almost smell the coffee and feel the fresh sheets. Lovely post, wonderful point…hospitality is not about the grandeur but instead about the simple gestures made one to another for the sake of comfort and company.

  2. Lovely post! My mom has such a gift for hospitality, people never want to leave her house. I imagine your place is the same.

    Also: Little House inspires me in so many ways, we did a whole year of school based on the books :)

  3. Beautiful and inspiring post! We try to run an open home and practice hospitality regularly and this post makes me long for our first overnight guests! How wonderful to keep-company in such a way, to shower people in love in such simple, yet beautiful ways.

    • My sister was our most recent overnight guest. The chocolate and flowers pictured here in this post were placed in the nightstand nook just for her. I loved the look on her face when she saw the chocolate!

  4. This post was sweet and well-written. More than anything, though, it made me want oyster stew and a big stack of my Little House books :).

  5. I love the way you’ve captured your special evening — and tied it all to Laura. Gorgeous!

  6. Great inspiration!

    We have always lived in small apartments with less than ideal situations for guests, but we try to do a lot of little things to make up for that. Especially since our guests have to travel half way around the world to see us, we want to make the experience enjoyable.

  7. I love this, I always get so stressed about having company in a small space and should really embrace your way of doing the best you can to make them feel welcome. So what if things don’t match, they are here to see you.

    • I’ve been the lucky guest in homes that were very humble, but the love and hospitality were anything but. Like the time we were served bear meat stew in our hosts’s grandmother’s fine china!

  8. Oh how I love this post! Lately, as our family grows, I have felt over whelmed by entertaining..this post has encouraged me to forget about the space issue and remember what we are celebrating!!

    I’m not sure that I’ve ever read By The Shores Of Silver Lake and I thought I had read all of her books. I must have it now.

    take care and best wishes for the approaching season of guest :) Merry indeed! doreen

    • Be inspired! I remember when, in one home that had a small dining area, we fit as many as possible around the table, then set up another table in the laundry room for the kids – complete with table cloth and candles (they were old enough and within sight of the adults) – they thought it was wonderful, this eating in the laundry room!

  9. Keeping company is a gift.

  10. What a beautiful post, I love it!!! We have a very small home and we are always having folk over to stay… I used to dread it, always trying to be perfect, but folk are looking for friendship not perfection and we have been blessed by amazing visitors from all walks of life and all around the world over and over again.

  11. I’m a new reader, and I just wanted to let you know this is a beautiful, well-written post. Thank you!

  12. Hospitality is a beautiful thing and in my world (Observant Judaism) it is greatly encouraged and practiced. It is important, however to make sure you FEEL like you can do it because if you only have company because its a good thing or the right thing to do then you won’t do it with a full heart and your company will sense that.

    • Offering guests something very simple would be a good place to begin if you weren’t sure you could do it. Just crackers, cheese, grapes, and a good beverage would be wonderful. Or one could go totally Farmer Boy (another Laura Ingalls book) and serve popcorn and cider!

  13. avatar
    Carrie Taylor says:

    Beautiful!!! You are such a lovely writer. :-)

  14. My Yia-Yia (Greek for grandmother) had such a gift for hospitality. I would love to offer the same hospitality to future guests in our house! :)

  15. Carmella, you are in good company when remembering ‘our’ childhoods fondly through Laura! The simpler times inspired me so much, that I began http://www.bonnetfriend.com! Hope you enjoy glancing! Thanks for sharing so beautifully…and happy autumn.

  16. Oh boy… that made me cry. I love it. I also love how excited Audrey was at the library last week as we looked for the autobiography of Louise Braille, and how I came across Laura Ingalls Wilder’s as well. She was so thrilled to get some of these amazing biographies, Sacagawea, and someone else. Apparently her class had seen a movie about the Ingalls family, and she loved it. I told her about my childhood as I contained my excitement about my already in the works plans of purchasing the series as a Christmas gift. She became more excited, momentarily mute, one of the now rare moments where I see symptoms of autism showing up, and she is unable to speak. I am grateful that it is showing up with excitement instead of fear or her being upset. We then go find the series and she selects the Little House books with the same title of the movie. I tell her she will be missing out if she does not start at the beginning, and this makes sense to her. She picks up the Little House in the Big Woods, and grinning we set off. Maybe this is why I teared up. Maybe because I love to “keep company” and take care of people. Maybe because I miss getting together with people. Probably mostly because this speaks without words the language of love and tenderness. What a beautiful story.

    Last Spring, as I was very ill (dealing with Lyme disease) we were in a position to offer a roof for three weeks to a family of 6. We are in a decent sized 3 bedroom apartment, new to apartment living at the time, and from a home about 1.5 times larger with a 3 car garage. We were not supposed to have anyone stay for so long, but this family, still with nursing toddler, happened to be between housing and needed a place to go. We are good friends now, though we hardly knew each other back then. In fact, we are getting ready to celebrate, at a baby shower I am throwing shortly, the impending arrival of their 5th little one! Good thing they are in a house now. :)

    Thanks for sharing. You write quite well and I will have to come back and read more.

  17. I love this. It reminds me of my mother in law, my other mother in law. The spare bed made up, the single hand made stoneware vase filled with a few stems of flowers from the garden, breakfast of homemade toast and tea, a snack after a bike ride of some sort of herby dip and vegis plucked from the garden or a friend’s garden the day before. Wine and wine and wine that night over the longest conversations.

  18. I once made apologies about my home to a friend who had unexpectedly dropped by. She started to laugh and said “Oh, you’re mistaken. I haven’t come to visit your house. I’ve come to visit you. And well, you look fabulous!” I relaxed. I concentrated only on her. The tea wand cake was never tastier. The visit was lovely. It was all we needed.

  19. I love this. I am so glad The Nester linked to you. My 31 days is about how the 5 of us live in 800 square feet and we have had company. It’s always encouraging to see how it can be done and I love that Little House excerpt.

  20. I thoroughly enjoyed this post! Thanks for sharing!

  21. So beautiful and encouraging to me!

  22. avatar
    Anonymous says:

    Thank you, thank you, so much for this post! I love the Little House books so much. I headed straight over to your blog and oh my, I spent just five minutes reading and I was overwhelmed with a feelings of calmness an ability to manage anything that comes my way. Thanks again for your inspiration! This post and your blog will certainly hold well-used spots in my bookmarks bar!

  23. This is so lovely Carmella and that quote from ‘By the Shores of Silver Lake’ warmed my heart. It brought back many vivid memories from the Little House series. Thank you for sharing your story and encouraging us all into a life of company keeping. So glad I found this blog today.

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