I just got the word: company’s coming. That means everything is about to change for a few days.
It’s not just any company, mind you. It’s not one of my buddies dropping by on a slow Saturday afternoon for us to yap about inconsequential things ... well, inconsequential to the rest of the world but for those of us that care about Braves baseball, old horror movies and wrestling heroes from the 1970s, believe me, it’s consequential.
It’s not even Preacher dropping by for Sunday dinner company. It’s in-law-from-out-of-town company coming! Somebody get a piece of paper and a pen, we’ve got a “to-do” list to get together.
A 'few' days
First, how many days and nights are they staying? Can’t say, huh? They’ll just be here a “few” days, whatever that means, before they hit the road again on their ongoing vacation cross country.
Sometimes they come from up north and are on their way to Florida. Sometimes they’re coming up from Florida headed out west. Just depends. With a big enough family they can get to you from any direction. If they’re retired they can leave the trip open-ended as to where they head to next. And let’s face it, you’re probably only charging them a fraction of what a hotel would charge them per night. Breakfast included. And lunch. And dinner.
Let’s realize that you’re not exactly sure how long they’re staying, so that means “backup groceries.” Of course, you’ve got to get regular groceries for the next few days to feed the crowd, but you’ll also need some backup groceries in case the stay extends. Try and remember what that aunt complimented you on last time she was here and get the ingredients so you can make it. Pick up those treats the uncle enjoys.
Any kids coming are going to eat what they get and like it! If you normally buy 5 pounds of sugar, you’ll need 10 for the extra desserts you’ll be fixing. Coffee by the can, milk by the gallon and an extra dozen eggs. Just pretend Jethro Bodine is coming to eat and you should be fine. And you might want to take one of the kids with you to the supermarket so you can push two grocery buggies.
A mini-warehouse to deal with
Next is the guest room. When was the last time someone even went in there? Opening that door could be akin to opening King Tut’s tomb for the first time in 3,000 years.
Dust? Dust bunnies? Bunnies? Get the vacuum cleaner out and get to work. But first you’ve got to get out all the stuff you’ve been stowing in there while using it as a mini-warehouse. There’s plenty of Christmas stuff in there, from Christmas wrapping paper to Christmas gifts waiting to be re-gifted. Yikes! There’s the present auntie gave that we were waiting to pass on. Better get that gift out and in sight somewhere so she thinks we loved it. We just hope she doesn’t decide to get us another one this Christmas.
All this stuff has to be moved somewhere, but out of sight of the company. Basements are good if no one is going down there. Attics are OK but hard to get to. Some of this stuff goes in the kids’ closet and some of it just ends up on the far side of our bed on the floor so if someone looks in they won’t spot it.
Kind of classy
With all the junk from the guest room finally cleared out now we can start cleaning. Dust the cabinets and vacuum the floor. Make sure all the lightbulbs work and get the cleaner on that guest bathroom faucet and make it shine. We like to put those little soaps and shampoos we get at motels in the guest bathroom. Makes it kind of classy, you know? And get the nice towels and wash rags out and put them in the the bathroom. Wait a second ... a quick peak under the cover on the bed and you realize there are no sheets on there. Yikes, you know what that means ... got to wash some sheets!
Now, let’s stand at the front door and see what their first view of the house might be. There’s a stack of DVDs that need putting away. A paint set where the kids were painting pictures at the fireplace. Hey, maybe we could get away with giving auntie and uncle one of their paintings so we have one less thing to store in the guest room once they’re gone. Hmmm, do I need to clean out the fireplace with the ashes left from the last fire we had in February or can it wait until next Christmas Eve? What are the odds they’ll look in the fireplace anyway?
And of course all the throw blankets we curl up under while binge watching TV will need to be folded and put out of the way. And all cushions on the sofa need to be reseated on the furniture. But maybe flipped over first. And there are still two glasses from last night with melted ice water in them and an empty popcorn bowl that need to go to the dishwasher. There will be more of those on the mornings after the company gets here.
Next we move to the dining room. As luck would have it, I’ve been using it as a workspace with my computer centered on the seat where I sit like it was a thousand dollar metal place mat. To one side is a book I’m reading and on the other a large stack of unpaid bills next to a much smaller stack of paid bills. There are also some receipts scattered about and a handful of handwritten notes from phone calls that have come in the last few days.
All this must be stacked and stowed in various places so I can get back to the work at hand when the company leaves. Hopefully I won’t put any unpaid bills somewhere I can’t find them ... especially when they cut off the electricity to the house for failure to pay and I’m bumping my shins into furniture in the dark, thinking “I’m sure I paid that bill right before the company came.”
For the dining room table we’ll put out a new table cloth that matches the season. Holly and red berries if it’s anywhere after Nov. 1, or a floral pattern if it’s spring or summer. If the company will be arriving right at supper time we might even go ahead and set the table with the nicer dishes and put the salt, pepper and sugar bowl in the middle. Fancy, right?
And we’ll get out the extra folding chairs and put them where we’ll sit, allowing the company to get the chairs that go with the table. If we need eight chairs around the table I can just get them to fit and be workable as long as we serve ourself food from the bowls on the stove, because there won’t be any room left on the table from all the plates. And we’re sitting so close, the whole thing is off if anyone is left-handed.
At my grandmother’s when the call came in that company was coming, there might be another task regarding the dining room table. I would watch her stand there staring at the table, carefully studying it. You see, it was often completely covered with a pattern for sewing something. I would have been keeping up with her progress as she carefully measured twice, reread the instructions, studied the sizing lines on the thin, tissue paper pattern and then watched as she scissored through it with those zig-zag blade scissors she had.
But now she had to stop mid-dress or shirt or whatever the latest project was and roll the whole thing up, including the piece of cloth she placed on the table to keep the scissors and pins from scratching the top.
She didn’t always need the table for sewing things, as she once made my cousin and I Batman and Robin costumes just by eye-balling the caped crusaders on TV and then eye-balling our sizes. She was a whiz of a seamstress, but with company coming, the dining room table once again became for dining.
It's all worth it
Finally, the kitchen has to be readied. That means the dishwasher has to get going so all the dishes will be clean, the pans in the drying rack next to the sink have to be stuffed under the counter someway in amongst all the Tupperware plastic containers we have under there. OK, most aren’t actual Tupperware, they’re plastic containers that food came in.
This stuffing under the counter drill makes the kitchen look nice to the eye but can lead to embarrassing avalanches of pots and pans crashing out when they tumble free the next time that cabinet door is opened. If you know what Fibber McGee’s closet was like, you get the idea. If you don’t, look it up.
All of this seems a massive chore, but when the company gets there and the food is cooked and the old and new stories start flowing, it’s all worth it.
And in the emergency of company dropping in unannounced and seeing the reality of all the stuff of life out, my wife’s family has an expression: “You know, this is just the house we live in, our other house is really nice and clean.”
Mark Hannah, a Dalton native, works in video and film production.