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Open Table

Emily Dean


“Because the thing is – you’ll never regret creating community, starting today, sharing life over an open table.”

Windows finally open, a light breeze blew at the curtains trailing the floor. Late-afternoon sun shone through the kitchen door, sending crisscross patterns across the cupboards. Soft jazz played in the background while I lit the six small candles on the table and nestled folded napkins under the soldier-straight silverware. Lazy trails of steam rose off roasted corn fresh off the grill, patiently waiting to be buttered and salted. A simple tossed salad and olive oil and balsamic vinegar dressing rested on the counter while the tantalizing smells from my husband grilling on the deck wafted into the dining room. Reaching for the chilled pitcher of fresh iced tea, the doorbell rang, and I hurried to meet our guests, wiping my hands on a dishtowel thrown over my shoulder. The evening had begun.

“There is something profoundly satisfying about sharing a meal. Eating together, breaking bread together, is one of the oldest and most fundamentally unifying of human experiences.” ~Barbara Coloroso

Perhaps one of the simplest ways I know to show love to others is to have them over for dinner. While it takes time and intentionality (and usually a week-long text thread trying to connect busy calendars), I always end up thoroughly satisfied by friendship and good food. When my husband and I were in pre-marital counseling, our pastor asked us what hospitality had looked like in each of our homes growing up. I’d never stopped to try and describe the environment my mother had created in our house, chocking it up to one of those things that just effortlessly appears, like a genie granting immediate, perfect, hospitality. Now that I live in my own home, I know that’s anything but the truth. My mother spent time carefully cleaning our home, making sure family and friends would feel comfortable in our house. She wiped up dirty feet marks by the back-door entry and patiently washed the dirty dishes us kids always forgot to clean. While I remember her frantic vacuuming and dashing around the house with a dust rag, the one image that really stays in my mind is my mother bent over in the kitchen.

Above and beyond any chore or straightening, my mother welcomed people into her house by cooking them good food. We’d sit around the table, always lit by a candle, chatting and telling stories late into the evening, never minding the piles of books we always had around the living room or the pile of shoes by the front door. We’d sip on homemade Tuscan stew, eat platefuls of lasagna made with fresh mozzarella, and butter homemade rolls fresh from the oven. While my mother always offered a clean house to those who dined with us, she prided herself on nourishing them in a home that was comfortable and real.

In my own home now, I love making it into a spot where friends know they can always come and be welcomed, whether or not I’ve vacuumed or cleaned the toilet. But I can also feel the pressure of wanting our home to be perfect before I let others inside or find myself apologizing repeatedly or the messy throw pillows, the fridge that needs deep-cleaning, or that we’re having leftovers… again.

I let the fear of not being good enough keep me from reaching out and connecting with the people that I love, worried that I need to be, or do, or become something first. Because there is always something that could be better, right? Always a load of laundry that could be folded, a tablecloth that could be ironed, a shelf straightened, a garden planted… If we wait till everything is “better” then we’ll never get to enjoy the spontaneity of an afternoon picnic with friends in the backyard, inviting family over for dessert just because, or laughing over paper bowls of chili and cornbread from a box when it decides to snow in May.

“But entertaining isn’t a sport or a competition. It’s an act of love, if you let it be. You can twist it and turn it into anything you want—a way to show off your house, a way to compete with your friends, a way to earn love and approval. Or you can decide that every time you open your door, it’s an act of love, not performance or competition or striving. You can decide that every time people gather around your table, your goal is nourishment, not neurotic proving. You can decide.” ~ Shauna Niequist

Through the cleaning tips and tricks my mother taught me, the inspiration I find on social media, and my best laid plans, I’ve learned the most important lesson is just to say yes, to turn on the tea kettle, pull out odds and ends from the pantry, let my home be what it is. Because the thing is – you’ll never regret creating community, starting today, sharing life over an open table. Pull up some extra chairs, order pizza or dust off your favorite recipe and welcome someone in.

Article by, Reeve Klatt | Photography by, Hilary Hyland