This Easter I arranged for a photographer to take a family portrait.  I was trying, with a picture, to battle ‘the empty nest’ feeling.   Jeff, Heather and their kids live out of town.  Mike and Elizabeth are involved in a new church plant in Tampa.  Over the last three years my Dad and Mother died.

“Traditionally, photography is supposed to capture an event that has passed…but photography brings the past into the present when you look at it.”  – photographer Julian Schnabel

Here’s a professional portrait of Duane’s family circa 1966:

We still joke about the non-professional infamous ‘pink shirt’ Mitchell family portrait of 1982:

I looked for a Bible verse about the empty nest, and found, “He sets the lonely in families.” Psalm 68:6.   I used to think it meant, “God puts us in families so we won’t be lonely.”  But my parents lived out the real meaning.  They invited the lonely to join our family

Mother taught a Bible class of young adult ladies  at Berachah Church.  Those women married and her class morphed into the Young Marrieds.

Mother and Dad invited couples from the class for dinner.  Two reasons this was not easy:

  1.  Our split level house in Abington was small, all of 1746 square feet.  The dining room probably 10 feet by 10 feet.  The pine drop leaf table set in the middle of the room had two leaves that could stretch the table to squeeze  maybe 12 people around it, extending into the living room.
  2. Mother did not like to cook.  She did prepare simple suppers for us.  Mealtime was important and happy.  Her strategy, most afternoons, was to drive to the Food Fair, 10 minutes away, to choose ‘something’ for dinner. 

To overcome her dislike of preparing food, while still having people over, Mother rotated three simple, ‘set’ company menus.  The first, was a ham dinner.  The second dinner included a casserole.    A dessert created from a Jello box or ready made graham cracker crust.  The third, Golfer’s stew, used Campbell’s soup.  Layer Beef chunks with chopped onions, white potato chunks, and sliced carrots.  Pour a can of tomato soup and a can of mushroom soup over all and top with a can of peas.  It earned the name ‘golfer’s stew’ because you could bake it in the oven at 275 degrees for five hours, or long enough to play a round of golf.  Mother never played golf, but it was easy and served a crowd.  Add lots of rolls, and a tossed salad, and no one would go home hungry.

For her birthday one year, Mother’s best friend Grace Chittick gave her a white ceramic soup tureen and ladle dotted with blue flowers.   Golfer’s Stew became almost elegant when presented in that dish.

The evening of the dinner, Wendy, Jennifer and I sat segregated from the company, at our kitchen table.  The Young Married class was jammed around the dining room table.  They were laughing and talking, ignoring us kids, just inside the adjacent room.   Dad began ladling the Golfer’s Stew from the tureen onto each plate.

“Eat up!”  Dad encouraged, while he tried to make sure he retrieved an even amount of meat/potato/carrots from the stew onto each plate he filled.  Mother gave us our stew to eat in the kitchen, then stepped into the dining room and glanced at the stew in the tureen.  She was surprised at how little was left in the bottom.  Dad had three more plates to fill!

“Just a minute,”  Mother said to Dad,  leaning over to take the tureen.  “I’ve got more stew in the kitchen.”

She turned and walked into the kitchen.   She set the tureen on the counter.  She lifted the cooking pan with the stew, and scraped out the few remnants of carrots and potatoes.  Mother glanced at us, stabbing our stew with our forks.  “Wait, girls!”

Mother grabbed each of our plates.   She slid our uneaten portions into the tureen, and breezed back into the dining room.

“Here we are,”  Mother set the tureen back in front of Dad. “There’s plenty.”

We didn’t really like Golfer’s Stew that much anyway.

Our family moved to Minnesota in 1970.  At Thanksgiving dinner that year, Dad’s voice cracked with emotion when he gave the blessing.  It was just the six of us around the table.  We were used to celebrating with cousins, aunts and uncles.  Every year after that, Mother and Dad invited people from church who did not have family or a place to go for Thanksgiving.

Having people over for lunch or dinner wasn’t only about eating.  It was the ambiance and conversation.  The food wasn’t gourmet, but there was always a tablecloth, and lit candles.  Dad told funny stories.  Mother came across interesting dinner questions in her reading that would promote discussion and laughs.

“What are you looking forward to this week?”  was a favorite question.  Mother would go around the table, making sure each person had a chance to answer, and be listened to.

Mother and Dad taught me that the essence of etiquette was considering the other person and how to make them feel comfortable.  That hospitality was work but balanced with bountiful rewards.

Our Easter portrait session produced fun pictures:

But God’s serendipitous plan for the family with the empty nest, having people over,  is better.

“Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it!”  Hebrews 13:2


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