Hospitality

Hospitality is certainly part of Muslim culture… It is a reminder of the importance of hospitality in understanding people and allowing them to know you. In our American culture we don’t place as high of a premium on it, and we kind of expect that we can just tell people what we think, and they’ll just accept it because we told them. We don’t have that element of hospitality anymore that allows us to really get to know people on a heart level. 

Jonathan Trousdale, The Bosnia Project

Amy had warned us about Bosnian hospitality before we traveled — but mostly it was in terms of coffee drinking. I thought, That’s not such a problem. I like coffee.

And it was true — we were offered lots of coffee. Served in tiny cups and often with sugar cubes. Made the Turkish way.

It turns out I prefer my large American mug of coffee with half-and-half in it.

But Bosnian hospitality – oh my goodness!

Ajla, our junior hostess, playing the harmonica (aka accordion) for us

The coffee was such a tiny part of their hospitality. On two nights we were welcomed into homes for veritable feasts. The first of those meals I would place in the top ten meals of my life. The food was absolutely amazing, especially the baklava.

Bosnian hospitality also includes music. At that first feast, Ajla started the musical segment off playing the “harmonika” (aka accordion), but then there was singing and dancing that went on late into the night. Such a celebration!

Two nights later we dined at a fudbal (soccer) club and watched a game that included the two men from our group.

Bill-2 and Bill-1 dressed for soccer

Watching the game before dinner

After the game and dinner, someone got out an accordion again and the men sang. The best men’s choirs in the world had nothing on this group. It was wonderful.

The second dinner in a home was on our last night in Gradačac. We drove and drove on winding country roads until we came to the house. We dined on a large porch that overlooked a valley. Once again, an accordion came out after dinner. The food was great, the singing fun, and the view spectacular.

More accordion!

What a view!

If I could do one thing in the Bosnian way, it wouldn’t be making coffee or bread or pie or even baklava — although all those things were amazing — if I could do one thing the Bosnian way, it would be to practice hospitality.


The panorama of the valley is my day two entry for the photography challenge I’m doing. It involves posting nature photos (taken by me) for seven days.

I’m going to tag some of my favorite bloggers to take up the challenge too. If you’re tagged and don’t want to do it, that 110% fine with me. I totally understand.

Maneé Trautz — I’m tagging you for three reasons.

One — because when I was looking for hospitality quotes I found one that said “Be a flamingo in a flock of pigeons.” I’m not entirely sure why that’s a hospitality quote, but it made me think of you and your flamingo series back in February (which I loved).

Two — your last post included a picture of a turtle. My last post included a picture of a turtle! Total kismet. (Plus, turtles amble, and that’s the word of the day.)

Three — You haven’t written much lately, my friend. (nudge, nudge)

 

Helpful Words

A foggy morning (that has nothing to do with the post)

“It happens to all of us, you know,” someone said to me when I was talking about my father’s latest foggy episode.

Yesterday morning, when my father was studying his watch, I asked him what time he had.

“Hmmm,” he said, studying the hands and the numbers, “it looks like it’s two minutes past… past… I think it’s two minutes past Tuesday.”

I texted my sister. “I have the title for the book about Dad and dementia — Two Minutes Past Tuesday.”

Funny — but so not funny. Not even remotely funny the more I think about it.

Later in the day he had essentially forgotten my oldest brother, or, at the very least, key elements of Stewart’s life.

“It happens to all of us,” this person said to me, when I told about the things my father had said. “It’ll happen to you. It’ll happen to me. It happens.”

Such a glib response made me wonder if I talk too much about my father and his struggles. I try not to.

The other day when two of my children had a discussion that devolved into nastiness, I said, “Let’s try this again. First she said this (fill in the blank), and then you responded with this (fill in the blank) — but what could have been a better response?”

We talked through possible responses that could have diffused rather than ignited the situation.

It probably won’t work. The next time, they may get after each other again, but maybe a seed has been planted. A seed with a better fruit.

Last night as I lay in bed thinking about the unhelpful response thrown my way, I wondered what I really was looking for in sharing the story of my Dad’s poor thinking. What would have been a better response?

Nobody can really fix the situation. It is what it is.

But here are a few things that may have sounded better.

My sister’s response — “Oh my.” Two words show that she feels the same dismay that I do.

“I’m sorry.” It can be a pat response, but it can also be very sincere. It shows compassion and sympathy.

“That must be so hard.” Yes, yes, it is. I appreciate when people acknowledge that.

“Is there anything I can do?” Yes, there is. You can visit him. Don’t worry about whether he’ll remember your name or not — because the visit isn’t about you. Don’t worry if there are long periods of silence while he searches for words, or if he loses his train of thought altogether. He loves having people sit with him, talk with him, and listen to the same stories (or story fragments). Don’t feel that it’s a waste of time because he may not remember. For that hour that you’re there, he’s loving it. I’m loving it, too, because he’s being fed mentally by the presence of another person.

“How are you doing?” Some days I’m not doing terribly well with all this. Thanks for asking.

Sunset – Sunrise

Last night, I picked Mary up at 8:30. She had to work late because of induction weekend. Everywhere in Cooperstown, it’s all hands on deck.

On the way home, I kept saying, “Look at that sunset!” It was red and orange and gorgeous.

She dutifully looked and agreed.

Then I said it again.

Lather-rinse-repeat.

When we pulled in the driveway, I said, “I can’t stand it. I have to take a picture of it.”

“Sunset photograph number four-thousand-six-hundred-and-fifty-three,” Mary said. She knows me well.

I snapped this shot on my phone.

“Dang,” I said. “The colors are never right.”

“You can focus it, you know,” Mary told me.

No, I didn’t know.

She took my phone/camera, pointed it at the sunset, tapped the screen on the sunset itself, and took this picture.

Yes, that was closer to the colors. Still not the same as being there — but definitely closer.

This morning the sunrise was ridiculous. I couldn’t stop looking at it.

“I can’t stand it,” I said to myself. “I have to take a picture.”

In my head I heard, Sunrise photo number five-thousand-four-hundred-and-sixty-two. Someone somewhere was laughing at me.

First shot:

Not terribly exciting.

I tried the Mary-technique and tapped the screen, focusing on the colors of the sunrise.

So much better.

Thank you, Mary.

Sometimes it’s possible to teach an old person a new trick.

The Rest of the Story (or, An Ethical Question)

If you knew that one phone call to an influential person would elevate the level of care received in a health care setting, would you make that phone call?

I delved into that question yesterday when I met with someone on an unrelated matter. After taking care of some business, our conversation detoured into my father’s most recent emergency room experience.

“Call me next time,” he said, and handed me his card. “Keep this in your wallet and call me.”

“I won’t call you,” I told him.

My parents raised me to believe that everyone should be treated in the same way. Everyone deserves dignity. Everyone deserves good care. Everyone.

Yet, despite my saying otherwise in this man’s office, I had, the day before, been searching for his phone number while sitting at Hallway 6 with my father. It turned out the website wouldn’t load because it was down for maintenance.

As my sister would say, “It was a God thing.”

I was ready to throw my principles out the window for a little respect for my father. See how shallow I am?

But God, or happenstance, kept me from calling, and my principles remain mostly intact.

Because, in the midst of this search for someone who could get us out of the hallway situation, Roy the cheerful PCA came along.

Tell him a story,” he said.

The rest is history — castles in Bosnia and a hallway bed that became a place for storytelling.

Next time, would I make the phone call? I like to think not.

When I sit quietly with my ideals, everything is clear. I am confident in how I would act given a difficult situation.

But in the midst of a trial, idealism and nobleness vanish like smoke. I need safety measures and reminders in place. I need websites to malfunction.

I intentionally did not put that business card in my wallet. I don’t want to be tempted.

A different hallway bed I sat beside last year.

The call bell for the hallway bed last year. My father didn’t even receive this.

 

Tell Me a Story

During our down time in Bosnia, Leah starting asking, “Tell me a story.”

It was so open-ended that I struggled with it.

I asked her if she got the idea for that from La La Land. Those words were the lead-in to my favorite song from the movie.

Leah assured me that, no, she had been asking that question for years. I’m pretty sure that La La Land got the idea from her.

So, sitting in the shade one day, she said, “Tell me a story.”

“I can’t,” I told her. “I need some parameters.”

“Okay. Tell me a story about when you were in grade school,” she said — and I did. I told her about a day in 3rd grade when I experienced agony and ecstasy, as best a 3rd grader can.

In short, our class had gotten back from a trip to the library. I had checked out Mark Twain’s “The Prince and the Pauper.” My teacher, Miss Bliss, held up the book (and me, figuratively) as an example of a student choosing good literature to read. Later in the day, I couldn’t find my math paper in my desk — I’ve been a messy for as long as I can remember — and she dumped the contents of my desk on the floor in the middle of the classroom. I can still remember that shame. Same day.

Later, Leah asked Mary to tell a story, and Mary launched into an imaginative story with dragons and little girls. Ajla, one of the Bosnian girls, listened wide-eyed and delighted.

“You are a great storyteller,” she told Mary, “in the lies.”

Ajla

Ajla’s English was excellent. Except when she didn’t know the right word.

Yesterday, I spent some time at the emergency room with my father.

As we waited and waited, I grew fidgety. An excellent PCA named Roy helped turn my attitude around.

Roy had stopped by my father’s hallway bed several times. He was always cheerful. On one of his check-ins, he looked at me and said, “Tell him a story.”

I was busily mentally drafting complaint letters and griping to my sister via text. I didn’t respond to Roy, so he repeated it.

“I’m talking to you,” he said. “Tell him a story.”

“I can’t,” I said. “I need some parameters.” It was a deja vu moment — and I was back in Bosnia.

“I’ll get you started,” Roy said. “‘Once upon a time in a castle far, far away…’”

I laughed, and took up the story.

“Dad, did I tell you about the castle where we stayed in Bosnia?”

“A castle?” he asked.

the castle

“A real castle,” I repeated, “from the Ottoman Empire.”

Telling him about the castle took our minds off the fact that we were waiting in the emergency room.

With Leah, it took our minds of the heat and lethargy of the day.

“Tell me a story.”

Those are magical words.

 

Mentor

A Facebook friend has been asking a “Question of the Day.” Yesterday, he asked this:

Who is your “I’ve never met you and likely never will” mentor?

I realize more and more how much of a mentor my mother was for me. She was, above all the other things, a caregiver. Obviously I’ve met her, though. I just didn’t appreciate her enough in that role.

The thing is — a caregiver’s mentor is never going to be in any spotlight.

She’s going to be home, quietly doing mundane tasks.

She’ll find her strength and solace in an abiding relationship with God.

She’ll be able to count on one hand her closest friends, but will still have a wider circle of loved ones, people she cares deeply about and who care deeply about her.

However, most people won’t even be aware of half of what she does.

*****

The other day, at Cooperstown’s Antiquarian Book Fair, I found a treasure that comes close to finding my mentor.

I found a Book of Common Prayer with a name imprinted on the front: Rachel Ware Fuller.

Inside, the inscription told me that the book had been a gift from her son.

And then, there were pages and pages of handwritten notes.

I thought I had found the treasure I’ve been searching — a mother’s spiritual summation, all the things she has learned through parenting and wifing and friending and living. This would have been the mentor I never met and never will.

However, further inspection showed the notes to be from a Samuel Clark Harbinson, an Episcopal rector at a New England church. I’m not sure how the book was transferred from Rachel Fuller to him, but it was. Another inscription revealed that.

His notes are fascinating. And challenging. And thought-provoking.

Someday though, I hope to find a well-worn book with the margins and flyleaves full of notes written by a caregiver. I want it to have a coffee spill on a page or two, and ink smeared by tears on many pages.

And notes. Lots of notes.

I’ve already started accumulating a collection of other people’s journals and some religious books with notes in the margins.

But I’ll keep looking, at book sales, and in book boxes, for this Holy Grail of books.

That’s where I’ll find my mentor.

Good-bye, Odyssey

Bud said that he woke up in the middle of the night wondering if it was the right decision.

I reminded him all the reasons why — the catalytic converter, the exhaust system, the timing belt, the short circuits in the electrical system.

Still, our Honda Odyssey had taken us many miles — well over 200,000. Many trips to Florida, to South Carolina, to North Carolina, to Washington, DC, as well as the hundreds, maybe over a thousand trips between Cooperstown and Greene.

It’s almost as old as Laurel.

It has served us well.

When Philip was a little boy and we traded in one of our cars, he drew sad faces in the dirt on the windows. Laurel did the same last night with the Odyssey. My bookend children think the same.

Sad face, broken heart, bird poop (right to left)

We’re trading in the Odyssey. It makes us sad.

Sad

We’re getting a new car. It makes us happy.

Happy

I told a friend that we get a new car every twelve years or so, whether we need one or not.

We need one.

It was the right decision.