C.W. Gusewelle is away this week. His regular column will return. In the meantime, here is one of his favorites.
Our house guests, Mel and Jo, were the nicest folks imaginable. They’d gotten up at 3 o’clock in the morning and driven all the way from Iowa for a church conference. And exhausted by that long day, they came to spend the night with us.
When you accept the hospitality of strangers, you take pot luck. I can only hope the experience will not cause them to lose interest in religion or become less active in matters Presbyterian.
We were not at home when they arrived. They’d left the meeting sooner than they’d planned, and we were out for dinner with a friend from Africa and a visitor from France. How long they’d been waiting is a bit unclear. Not so long, they said. Their car, with its Iowa license, was parked on the street out front.
My wife leapt out to greet them. I rushed to the house to get a set of golf clubs the Frenchman was going to take back to his brother in Paris. There was a moment of furious milling on the sidewalk, some people coming in, other people leaving with articles of sport. There was no use trying to explain.
We sat Jo and Mel in the living room and offered soft drinks. Immediately all the cats appeared — more cats than they’d ever seen in one place. And the enormous one, Teddy, bore immediately for the sofa, where Jo sought to ward him off with discreet little motions of her hand, while at the same time managing to smile and drink her soda.
Mel thought he might take a bath before turning in.
We urged him by all means to feel at home. But it was an old house, we explained, with certain defects. The upstairs bathroom door was hard to close. If you pressed against it — pressed really hard, that is — it usually would latch. Otherwise it might swing open.
The tub drain was temperamental too. Sometimes you had to kind of jiggle it to make it hold water. Sing out if you need help with it, I said. (Although having to ask someone you’ve known for about 10 minutes to help you take a bath is not one of the easier things to do.)
Oh, yes, we added. The door of the guest bedroom was tricky too. Wouldn’t latch no matter how hard you pushed. It might be a good idea to get inside and put a chair against it, unless they wanted to wake up in the morning with cats sleeping all around and over them.
We said we hoped they didn’t have any animal allergies.
“No, no!” they replied brightly, both smiling at once. “We love cats!”
So they retired. And it was time then to bring in the dogs. First came the old one, legs splaying, falling, getting up, wheezing like some emphysemic murderer dragging a body up the stairs. After that it was the bird dog’s turn. He always comes in with much commotion, skidding, running into things, nails scraping on the floor, more or less guided by my screams and threats.
It’s the sort of terrifying racket you would hear from an inexperienced mahout trying to direct a killer elephant.
Then, for a while, it was silent in the darkness. I imagine our guests caught an uneasy nap. Then a cat knocked a glass off the guest bathroom sink. Then a different cat, lonely on the floor below, set up a sepulchral wailing. Then, somehow, it got to be morning.
Then the bird dog went out with another explosion of noise — past the bathroom, occupied but with its door ajar, past the bedroom, with the chair away from that door and cats boiling in and out like commuters at a rail station.
You cannot believe how fast it is possible for people to get dressed, packed and ready for the road. At breakfast, they kept looking alertly around — wondering what might come at them next out of some corner.
We said we hoped they had rested comfortably.
They sure had, Mel said. They’d barred the door, as we advised. Nothing had molested them. And the bed was the healthiest kind to sleep on. Good for the back. Very firm.
It reminded her, Jo said, of a bed they’d slept on once in Mexico.
Then they hurried out to throw suitcase and clothes bag in the back of the car.
We liked Mel and Jo a lot. We were glad to have put them up and just wished they hadn’t been so pressed for time.
Our neighbor to the west mentioned afterward that he’d had house guests for a church conference a year or two ago. He was going to be gone a lot, but he told them to help themselves to milk in the refrigerator and cookies in the pantry. Later he discovered they’d eaten the wrong sack and had spent the weekend eating dog treats.
No one ever promised that the way of faith would be easy.