FRONT-PORCH GOSPEL: Southern hospitality greets you heartily at the front door
Good first week of October to all! Welcome to the “front porch.”
Columnists generally know that when you sit down to write a column, you need context. You scroll through your mind to think of something from the past or present that must be told in the here and now. Then you tell it with as much Southern drawl as possible.
Today, rest assured, we have plenty of context. First, the following story popped into my mind this week when I was talking about hospitality at the nursing home to which we go each Monday for a little worship service. That’s the “present” context, but the context from the past is by far the best – this story, you see, features my mama, likely LaGrange, Georgia’s most gracious citizen. Next week – on the third of October – it will be 46 years since she and the angels took that glorious flight. You can plant your fall gardens by this: Come the first of October, you and I are going to talk about Mama, again, just as we are now. Context demands it.
You can’t talk about Mama, Grandma, the South, or red clay without talking about Southern hospitality. There is no hospitality in the world like that you see about the time you cross the Mississippi, although I’ve seen some pretty good hospitality as far west as Texas and even up into Oklahoma. But it seems to get better and better with each mile south, all the way ‘til you pull into Grandma’s driveway. As a young fella, I had the best seat in the house from which to observe her “So glad to see ya!” Southern way. Every time somebody took sick, Grandma would have a pound cake at the afflicted one’s house before the sun went down. Folks sure took sick a lot back then.
On any given Sunday, an unsuspecting visitor who wandered in to church would get a personal invitation from the world’s greatest cook to come over and eat lunch. The guest might not be as “unsuspecting” as he appeared, because everybody knew when you showed up you were going to get an invitation from Grandma three seconds after the last Amen was said. Truth is, that invitation was probably the main reason we had so many visitors over at Murphy Avenue – that, plus maybe the opportunity to get a generous helping of one of Preacher Miller’s rafter-shaking sermons.
I was one of the fortunate ones who got a taste of both every Sunday growing up. Grandma started the movement, and Mama and some others joined the ranks as quickly as they could.
You couldn’t outdo Grandma, but Mama came awfully close one day back in June, 1969.
That’s when my big sister Jean married a fella named Mike Fall from Dallas. So, on the weekend of the wedding we had a houseful of guests, many of them wearing blue jeans, cowboy hats, and boots. The evening before the wedding, our family and all the Texans were about to sit down to a Grandma-like feast, when a knock came at the door. Mama went to answer it, and, not surprisingly, saw another visitor at the front door, standing there with a suit case.
“Come right on in here,” Mama said in her graceful, Southern drawl, escorting our newest guest into the house.
“We’re sure glad you could make it,” Mama said, “and you came at a good time. We were just about to sit down and eat supper, so set your suit case down over there and come on in here and eat with us.”
The fella did as he was told, and for the next half an hour or so we enjoyed one of those Southern feasts that space here will not allow me to describe. You understand.
After supper we sat and visited for a good while longer, because Southerners want to know everything about everybody. It was then that Mama turned to the newest visitor: “Now, we’re sure glad you could make it for the weddin’,” she said, “And we’ll make room for you to stay right here. We won’t take no for an answer.”
The fella looked a little uneasy and seemed not to know what to say. After all, he obviously hadn’t seen hospitality like this before. But he managed to get a reply out, and with it, a story for the ages.
“Ma’am,” he said, “I appreciate the hospitality; but I’ve been lookin’ for some way to tell you this. I didn’t come for the weddin’. I’m just an encyclopedia salesman.”
Coach Steven Bowen, a long-time Red Oak teacher and coach, now enjoys his time as a full-time writer and preacher of the gospel. In addition to his evangelistic travels, he works and writes for the Church of Christ of Red Oak at Uhl Road and Ovilla. Their worship times are 10 a.m. Sundays and 7:30 pm. Wednesdays. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call or text 972-824-5197.