Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Laughing, Loving and Learning at the Table: A Recipe for Hospitality

Hugging, softening, measuring, mixing, talking, baking, laughing, eating, sharing, then hugging again. On a Tuesday in November, a group of lively cousins in rural Clinton, South Carolina (home to most of the King women), make a space for butter, sugar, flour, eggs, flavoring, nuts, fruit, and a little bit of Jack Daniels to become a family fruitcake and share an unforgettable day at the table.
After their parents had passed away, King first cousins (Sheila, Linda, Maria, Beth, Sylvia, and Martha)  who are more like sisters wanted another reason to get together and laugh, so they picked a holiday tradition using their aunt Ann's fruitcake recipe. They met at Linda's in Clinton for hours of softening butter  and mixing batter by hand while laughing and retelling family memories.  The King cousins have a system and successfully bake dozens of fruitcakes to keep and to share.

A few years ago when our mom, Sheila, couldn't drive, Susi, my sister, drove her to Clinton for the baking, and they welcome anyone with a sense of humor. One group of loud and zany, an inherited King trait, women apparently wasn't enough, so they decided to share the fruitcake tradition with their daughters.  Nothing stands in our way. We request a day off from work and join the organized chaos.

We spent a few years watching, mixing, and learning, not only about baking fruitcakes but also about the King first cousins' younger days in Clinton. While learning that aunt Ann and Mamma King wouldn't approve of an electric mixer, Susi, Susan, Harriett, Hope, and I also learn about King holidays, family "disagreements," and other stories our grandparents didn't bother sharing (for good reason).  
The King first cousins slowly transitioned from workers to supervisors, interrupting a story about one of Mamma King's eleven children to remind us to mix the soda in water or flavoring first.  A few minutes later, an explanation of how someone might possibly be related by marriage is on hold for a toothpick check of the first recipe. We hear about the King traits they see in their grandchildren while Maria checks the time for the 1st recipe.  Maybe because Susan lost an earring in the mixture one year, I don't know, but they supervised a few more years until we gained their confidence.   


In 2013, the first cousins abandoned their supervisor positions and went straight to sitting and story -telling.  Give Maria credit, though.  She buys and separates the fruit.  Now at Harriett's house, the daughters, along with a wife of a first cousin, make the coffee, add the eggs, mix the fruit with the flour, write down when recipes 1,2, 3,..etc. enter the oven, take the cakes out, and wrap them in wax paper and foil without one minute of supervision.  We have conversations about work, family, movies, and books while the King first cousins discuss who they dated 50 years ago, what another cousin is doing now, or who is the oldest, which actually required paper, pencil and MATH.  I'm not kidding.

It's a King "women only" day of loud laughter. We make an exception for Steven, Linda's son, to bring the chicken salad from Whiteford's family restaurant and take a group picture. And of course, Al, Maria's husband, is required to show up for my annual motorcycle ride. But, that's it.  We need to return to our  "you won't believe this" and "have you heard about?" chatter and obviously decide who is the craziest King.  That's a tough one.     

We look forward to and are grateful for fruitcake day every year.  However, it's actually not about the fruitcakes.  If it was, the festivities would end after lunch. Time is not important. We don't hurry.  Perfection nor productivity matter.  It's all good.  As delicious as the lunch (chicken salad sandwiches and Harriett's chicken potato soup) always is, and as fun and thoughtful as the first Christmas gifts of the year are, we gather for a bigger reason.


We ought therefore to show hospitality to such people so that we may work together for the truth. 3 John 1:8

In her book, Bread & Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table, with Recipes, Shauna Niequest describes our fruitcake day perfectly, The heart of hospitality is about creating space for someone to feel seen and heard and loved. It's about declaring your table a safe zone, a place of warmth and nourishment.”  “So this is the dance, it seems to me: to be the kind of host who honors the needs of the people who gather around his or her table, and to be the kind of guest who comes to the table to learn, not to demand.”
At a recent an Allume conference (, I was lucky enough to hear Shauna speak further about hospitality.  "It's giving people a place to be when they'd rather be alone, creating sacred space to allow for His presence, and creating an experience where people leave feeling better about themselves."

Our table is a counter where we mix and talk, a stove where we bake and laugh, and a room where we eat, listen, share, and learn.  We learn of family, especially each other. We might jokingly boss each other around, but we feel safe and leave nourished.  More than an old recipe, our  November fruitcake day is about feeling better about ourselves and being loved by women with the same great grandparents, the same history, and the same zaniness.

Martha, Jenna & Katy
working on a Thanksgiving table decoration
The hospitality of our grandparents continues in our hearts, and we'll share it with a new group of King cousins and their daughters, starting with Jenna, who suggested to her mom, "get me out of school next year for fruitcake day."

May your Thanksgiving table be a place to be heard. May you learn and love,







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