Babe's Lesson: How To Be A Good Guest (And Get Invited Back!)

Today is Mother’s Day.  Now that I’ve been a motherless daughter for 3 years, and a grandmother for 8 years, I’m thinking about lessons I learned from my mom, how she  passed them on to me, and how I might successfully pass them on to the many children in my life.

I realize now that the lessons that stuck with me, as fiercely as if they’d been velcroed on, weren’t what was said, but what I witnessed and observed over time, first-hand at home. 

It would have been out of character for my Mom, who was called Babe, to say, “I’m role-modeling the behavior I expect of my children.”  But that’s pretty much what she did. 

 I’m thinking of one lesson in particular, a social nicety that really stuck-- never show up empty-handed.  Even if the host says, “Oh, just bring yourselves.  We’ve got it covered.” I learned from watching Babe, and my dad, that you always bring something to welcome yourself into someone’s home, to show your appreciation. 

I’m pretty sure Babe never said this gentle etiquette lesson in so many words.  She didn’t need to because over the years I had observed her behavior.  When she and dad were preparing to go out, to visit someone—for dinner, to play cards, a sick visit—they always brought a few goodies.  When I was a child, my parents were middle-class, so the goodies were 1950s modest but still thoughtful. 

Even if she’d been a wine-drinker, which she wasn’t (Scotch and soda was her go-to drink), she would never have recycled to someone’s home a bottle of mediocre wine that had been brought to our house.  And by the way, how did one sad bottle of wine that gets passed from house to house start qualifying as a hostess gift these days?  Babe would’ve been puzzled by this recent practice of ultra-convenience.  Not to be too picky here, but not so long ago a acquaintance in the neighborhood arrived for dinner, and brought a half-quart of ice cream that was half-eaten.  True, she didn’t show up empty-handed, but how did that ice cream, complete with nasty little spoon marks dug in it, pass as a thoughtful gift for the hosts?

Babe favored bringing something she’d made—maybe her clam dip, which was everyone’s favorite, and flowers, fresh flowers, and sometimes a box of special candy from our favorite store in Seattle.

I learned always error on the side of generosity.   Not lavish, look-at-me generosity, but friendly, thoughtful generosity.  And I think just maybe I’m succeeding in passing Babe’s lesson on to the next generation, or at least it’s getting noticed.  Because recently when I was visiting my grandchildren, one of them yelled out, “Jo always brings stuff!”  Right.  And maybe they will, too, when they grow up.


Jo with the next generation, Walker Giese

Jo with the next generation, Walker Giese