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The art and beauty of hospitality

By Jan Miller Penton

This morning I’m trying really hard to block out the conversation in the front seat. Kathy and Debbie are chattering away about nothing and everything as good friends do, and I’m interjecting a word or two when I can’t help myself. It feels so wonderful to have good friends to hang with, and I’m totally counting my blessings.

For a people person like me the isolation of COVID was compounded by a move right smack dab in the middle of a situation that none of us will soon forget. The beautiful Smoky Mountains have always been a place of tremendous beauty and solace to me, but there is something so special about the place where you grew up.

One funny thing about me moving home is that many people don’t know I ever left. I went in Claiborne Hill the other day and one of the sweet cashiers said, “Hey Jan. I haven’t seen you in a while. Good to see you!” I smiled and explained that I had been out of town for a bit, but it made me realize that we are all so busy taking care of the day to day that we often don’t notice who is or is not in our orbit.

Although I use Facebook in spells and don’t do the other forms of social media I do get a good bit of my information about friends and acquaintances from the platform. I take a look and find out who is vacationing and where they are. Other posts let me know who may happen to be sick or in the hospital. But even with all the technology that we have today there is nothing like a real conversation with a real friend.

As I left church yesterday I began to think about how wonderful it felt to be home. Could new people in church feel much as I did in a new community during COVID? A little awkward? A little out of place? I bet they do. For church people we are probably not aware of how unusual unchurched folks may feel upon even entering the building.

My Aunt Sarah Lee Ball taught me many things by example and one was the art and beauty of hospitality. She never married and although she was very successful in her career and had lots of friends she also spent a good deal of time alone. I remember that she moved home after retiring from her public school music position in Chevy Chase, Maryland.

Aunt Sarah Lee left her friends and colleagues in Maryland and moved to the small Mississippi town of Harrisville. She almost always had a nice meal ready by Saturday evening to pop in the oven after church.

Instead of dining alone she often invited visitors at church to dine with her. Once I asked her about this practice and she responded that she felt this was her ministry. Aunt Sarah Lee was truly a gracious Southern lady, and I remember her with love.

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