By Trudy Hansen* as told to Delores Bius
As a minster's wife and lady of the parsonage, I have made it a custom to invite to our home any members of our church who do not have families to share holidays with. Since I love to cook and am a rather informal hostess, these gatherings seldom present any problems. However, a recent one proved exception to that rule!
That Sunday morning Catherine*, one of our regular guests, phoned to say she needed a ride as she was bringing some contributions for our meal. In itself, this was a bit daunting as Catherine was not a very clean person and I suspected her cooking might not be the greatest.
However, my always optimistic husband hurried off to pick Catherine up before church. In the past, when she needed a ride, different members of our congregations had chauffeured her. Unfortunately, though, her vociferous complaints and unpleasant personality had managed to alienate most of the volunteers.
When my husband later came back to the house after dropping Catherine at the church, he was in his usual jovial mood. Putting a container on the kitchen table, he announced, "I have to clean up a mess in the car and then change my suit and dash to church."
Glancing at his best suit, I blurted, "What on earth happened to you?"
He sighed, "Catherine's jello mold was not set and it leaked all over me and the car when I picked it up. She had seemed so proud of it, but I don't know how you can salvage it."
Sue, my daughter-in-law, who had come by early to help me set the table, surveyed the jello with horror. "Mom, it looks more like fruit punch than fruit jello!"
"Knowing Catherine, I assume she did not drain the pears before she put them in the jello. What on earth can I do?"
Always the innovator, Sue suggested,"I'll dash over to the store and get some of that ready-made jello. We can fish the pears out and put them in that and the lady will never know the difference, I hope. We will not only save the jello, but also her pride."
Then my husband appeared with another of Catherine's concoctions. That turned out to be a burnt offering —baked beans with very burned bacon in them, emitting a scorched aroma. "Oh, another challenge," Sue frowned. "How can we fix this?"
Wearily I suggested, "Well, I think this is a no-win situation. I made baked beans, too, though, so at least our guests will have a choice. If anyone makes a comment, I will remind them of the Scripture verse that says, 'Eat such things as are set before you' (Luke 10:8)."
After worship services, when we assembled for our dinner, I tried to seat our guests at the table in such a way as to avoid confrontation as much as possible. Unfortunately, our assemblage included some rather prickly people.
I seated the outspoken Catherine by my daugher-inlaw, Sue, who could charm the birds out of trees and always brought out the best in people. Next to my also diplomatic son, who takes after his Dad when it comes to longer-suffering, I put Marilyn*, a recovering alcoholic who had obviously not completed her 12-step program and was always trying to pick an argument. Lucy, a charming widow who had the patience of a saint, was on her other side. My husband I put by David*, a bachelor with emotional problems who seemed to be in a world of his own most of the time but did relate to my husband.
Our dinner proceeded quite well and we were all enjoying the food when Catherine complained loudly, "Trudy, your beans taste funny. What did you put in them—vinegar or molasses or what?"
Quietly, I replied, "No, Catherine, those are your beans and the taste is from the bacon. Mine are the ones in the crock."
Sensing an argument in store, my husband, who knows I am not as diplomatic or long-suffering as he is, interjected, "Catherine, I rather like your baked beans—they remind me of the barbequed ones we used to have in Texas when we pastored there."
Thinking the situation was defused, I sat back and shut my mouth. But then the confrontational Marilyn remarked loudly, "Well, I disagree, Pastor. Your wife's beans are delicious, but Catherine burned hers some-thing awful."
Once again, I sat back expecting Catherine and Marilyn to come to blows when Lucy, our resident peacemaker, announced,"I love that jello with pears that you made, Catherine, and did I tell you what I brought? It's rather a surprise. For dessert, I made Strawberry Trifle. As you know,I am originally from Great Britain and it's one of our specialties there. Would you help me dish it up while the rest finish their meal, Marilyn?"
The two women rose from the table and I volunteered, "I'll show you where the dessert goblets are." We left the others to keep peace.
The rest of the afternoon went well and our son drove Catherine home, and the others left then, too.
Once my husband and I were alone again, I sighed, "I don't know whether I can get through another of these dinners for folks who are home alone. Frankly, I'd rather just the two of us were home alone, except for our son and Sue!"
"I know just how you feel, honey," he agreed, "but the Good Book adjoins us to 'use hospitality one to another without grudging' (1 Peter 4:9). It never ceases to amaze me, though, how you manage. How did you get that jello to set so quickly, by the way?" "Sue came up with the idea —she ran to the store and bought ready-made jello and transferred the pears to it." "Well, Catherine never seemed to know so it was truly sleight of hand!"
"Speaking of jello," I was reminded, "I have to get to the dry cleaner first thing tomorrow with your suit. just hope it's not ruined." "Don't worry, honey. I'm sure it will be ok."
"Well, at least we have a few months before the next holiday," I sighed.
"Or," my husband suggested, "If the Lord returns soon, we will all be at the marriage supper of the Lamb! I don't think there will be any burnt offerings or watery jello there!"
* Not the real names