Monday, March 26, 2012

THE COMPANY YOU KEEP

The story goes that in England there was a very famous banker who would take the 6:30 a.m. train into work each and every day. He would arrive at the bank promptly at 7:30 in time to say a hearty "good morning" to the night watchman as he was ending his shift and getting ready to return home. One day as the banker entered the bank and gave his usual greeting to the night watchman, the fellow asked if he might have a word. The banker graciously answered, "Of course", and ushered him into his office. Sitting down the night watchman said, "Last night I had a dream. I dreamt that you took your usual 6:30 train and there was a terrible accident and many people were injured and killed. May I suggest, sir, that tomorrow you take the 6:45 train?" The banker thanked the night watchman and sent him on his way. The next day, the banker thought about what he had been told and decided that it really wouldn't make much of a difference if he was 15 minutes late for work. So, just to be on the safe side, he took the 6:45 train. Sure enough, the 6:30 train was in a terrible accident and many were killed and injured. Arriving at the bank, he called the night watchman into his office and fired him. Why did he do this?

This riddle and many others were some of the delightful morsels shared by J. Sidlow Baxter, the famous British preacher, when he was in our home for a meal. I count it a great privilege to have been included, along with my brother, at many meals and coffee times with guests in my parents home. Stuart Briscoe, Ivor Powell, Don Richardson, Dr. Helen Roseveare, Dr. Stephen Olford, J. Edwin Orr and countless others are some of the people that I remember who were invited over to enjoy one of Mom's home cooked meals or fine desserts. Mom took a lot of pride, not only in the meal, but in the whole presentation. Her china was a Scottish pattern, Brigadoon, with a beautiful purple thistle pattern. This large set of china is now in the proud possession of our daughter Christy, and it brings me great joy to recognize that Mom's legacy of hospitality lives on in our daughter.

Our home was always a beehive of activity. Mom and Dad entertained constantly. It was not unusual for my Dad to show up at meal time with someone in tow that he had just met. Mom would rise to the occasion and set another plate . . . or two . . . or three . . . . From members of the church, to students, visiting preachers, missionaries, politicians and dignitaries, all were made to feel welcome in our home. A guest book was kept and it's amazing to look back through those hundreds of names and realize the impact of my parents' hospitality.

In those years Prairie had a large board of advisors made up of some of Canada's brightest business, legal and accounting minds. This board met twice a year and was always invited to our home for a meal. I have a distinct memory, that when I was about 6 years old, Frank Reimer (one of the founders of Reimer Express) handed my brother and me each a five dollar bill. He very emphatically encouraged us to get down to the bank the following Monday and start a savings account. I should have listened!

For many years, until Mom's health made it impossible, Dad would invite 15 of his students for dessert every Friday night. Over the years, hundreds and hundreds of students came to our home to see their professor outside the classroom and visit with him in a more informal setting. Mom would prepare one of her famous desserts for the occasion. Baked Alaska, rhubarb custard pie with ice cream or fancy parfaits were the order of the day.

There are a couple of life lessons, learned from observing my parents' hospitality for which I will be forever grateful. The first lesson is that they treated everyone the same. From child to student, business executive to staff member, preacher, teacher, to the odd millionaire and even billionaire, (not that millionaires and billionaires are odd, but . . . ) all were respected and honored. This sent a huge message to us as children about the value of every single person. The second is that most of the time they included us in these meals and coffee hours. Mom and Dad did not buy the axiom, "Children should be seen and not heard", but instead encouraged us to interact with these folks. Of course we needed to be respectful and wait our turn to speak (which was sometimes pretty hard, especially for me) but the experiences were rich in that they taught us a lot about different cultures, viewpoints and various styles of communicating. I believe we received an entire education just from these experiences alone.

Today, as cell phones, facebook, email, texting and twitter seem to have become the main forms of communication, human interactions seems few and far between. In this fast paced world we live in, where communication can be so very impersonal, why not consider inviting a human over for some real genuine "facetime"? As we approach summer, what a perfect time to invite that neighbor, co-worker or friend over to your home for a barbecue or pancake breakfast. Get to know something about them–their heart, their family, their interests and what they are passionate about. You could even text them the invitation!

O yes . . . the nightwatchman . . . remember he said, "Last night I had a dream . . ."?

The bank manager fired him for sleeping on the job.

www.prairieboy.com

© 2012 Stephen J. Rendall - All rights reserved.

4 comments:

  1. Love this,SJR! I sometimes have wondered if hospitality is a dying art. I love having people over, but I certainly haven't practiced to the extent that your parent did. As always, nicely done. =)

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  2. It's really interesting to me to read your stories about your dad. I knew him only as my teacher. I always thought he seemed quite shy and reserved. Not so?

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  3. How excellent and well said! I think it's your best work yet! The riddle had me going. So clever.

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