Good grief is my kitchen small. It really drives me crazy. I just love to host people in my home, especially at the holidays. But as people tend to do, they huddle up in the kitchen, and it feels hard. Sometimes I’m embarrassed that my dishwasher is stainless steel and my oven and refrigerator are white. I have no giant island. No sitting area with a fireplace. Sometimes I feel embarrassed to have to rub elbows. Surely my gatherings would be better if we all weren’t so darn close. How have I gotten to a place where I expect more? Even that I need space to host well? Just a moment spent with beloved memories will right my skewed perspective. If I could pull a chair up to any holiday table this year, I’d choose my Mamaw’s. If I could emulate a holiday gathering I’ve attended, I’d choose hers. It was just a feeling she gave you. She’s gone now, but those memories linger. I don’t want to compare my hosting with that of friends, or Instagram or magazine articles. I want to compare myself to her. It’s her who had it all figured out. I’ve thought a lot about her and how I want to emit that same kind of love. About how to do it her way with my twist. She made me feel loved. Though she mostly sat in her chair and could barely see toward the end of our time with her, she smiled when I came in. Her whole face lit up. Her hugs were tight and long and usually involved some firm pats on my back. Greetings were quickly followed with, “Fix yourself a plate.” Her little white stove was perpetually covered with pots filled up with dishes she had mastered, perfectly seasoned green beans, a giant iron skillet with fried potatoes, warm pans of cornbread. Crockpots with soupy pinto beans. Most days she started cooking around 5 AM. My Mamaw lived in a little brick ranch off a country road in Kentucky. You could sit in the kitchen, on her couch, on one of two chairs, or in rockers on the front porch. She never thought through seating, or brought in card tables. There were six chairs at her table and we spent the day rotating through them. I don’t remember her ever complaining about her kitchen size. Nor did she ever seem like a frazzled or tensed host from attempts at holiday perfection. Her table was distressed farmhouse before it was the trend. Life distressed her table in the most natural of ways. By uncles who sat down to heaping plates after long days at work. By toddlers spilling Kool-Aid. By mug after mug of shared hot coffee. By babies who banged on it with their momma’s fork. For as long as I can remember, the ten commandments were displayed on her wall. Some years we came loaded down by the weight of the world, the sins we’d committed. Some years we came light-hearted, trying our hardest to be faithful and good. Either way, we were welcomed with love. We came as we were. As you walked up her porch steps bundled up in your layers, you’d notice the windows steamed up on the inside. The warmth came from a cozy gas heater and all the living and breathing going on inside the walls of her home. Her decorations weren’t trendy, themed, or vintage. There was no perfect burlap garland or bunting across the fireplace. She never pinned on Pinterest. But her home felt like Christmas. It was family and love. Comfort food and people that you didn’t need to impress. There was never a doubt if kids were welcome. She had no Wii on the big screen in the basement, no ping pong table, or play room. She didn’t think through entertaining kids or teens. She didn’t need it, and we didn’t get bored. We played with cousins not seen all year and sisters we normally fussed with. We played “house” and “school” in back bedrooms. Or, we simply sat listening to stories of Christmases long before we entered the story. There was no fear that children would break something. Her home was well lived in. She never looked stressed when bands of kids bound through her front door with their muddy shoes and squirmy bodies. They were as welcome as adults. Babies were passed from hip to hip. Young mommas got a break. There was no granite in her kitchen, no stainless steel, no extra stove, wide island or extra sink. She didn’t labor over for elaborate holiday recipes. Nonetheless, she cooked like an artisan, mastering her well-loved dishes all by memory. She produced food for an army, and crowds of people knew to come in and fill up a plate. She never sent invitations or Christmas cards. But her love and remembrance of us was never doubted. Her loved didn’t need a stamp to make it across state lines. Her plates, glasses and silverware did not match. There were no holiday dishes. It made us feel at home and at ease. We knew every plate we used was part of a history of years of family meals at her table. We didn’t have to worry about kids breaking them, or whether we were using the right fork. Holidays at her house were magic, and the special ingredient was her. She drew us to herself and to each other. Having a houseful gave her great joy. Gathering at her table felt like respite; melting away all manner of hurts, sorrows and struggles. She giggled so we did too. There were so many funny stories to be retold. I’d love to rub elbows in her kitchen just once more. Sadly, I can’t, but next time people are rubbing elbows in mine, maybe instead of cringing, I’ll smile. /// Happy holidays, friends. You are more than welcome to come fix a plate in my tiny kitchen.




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