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  • Writer's pictureJenna Beall Mueller

The Gift of Hospitality

Updated: Nov 29, 2020

The Friday after Thanksgiving is one of my most favorite days of the year.

It's when Adam and I take a long, country drive to Corsi Tree Farm. (Sometimes we bring one of the dogs, though this year we left the Bumpus hounds at home.) We cut down our perfect Christmas tree—almost always a Norway Spruce; we're very predictable this way—and then head home to decorate.

I love pulling out all of our decorations from the basement, but my most favorite yuletide baubles are nestled inside the ornament box.

From heartfelt gifts, like the crystal turtledoves my grandma gave us shortly after we married, to the many souvenirs from our travels, nearly every ornament has a special memory attached to it.

The very first ornament I pulled out of the box yesterday was this one, a jolly Canadian snowman. And it couldn't have been a more perfect choice.

This cheerful snowman brought me back to January 2020, a time that feels like positively forever ago after a year of devastating loss and heartbreak, civil unrest, and unfathomable division. Had we really managed a quick getaway to Canada in 2020? It was a mind-boggling thought.

But it was during this trip that Adam and I were treated to the most wonderful present: genuine, warm hospitality.

For my 30th birthday, Adam had gifted me tickets to see our favorite comedian, John Mulaney, perform in Toronto. My dad's former colleague lived in Toronto, and I sent her an email asking for neighborhood, restaurant, and activity recommendations.

Hélène replied immediately. Not only did she have a slew of Toronto must-sees, she offered up a room for our stay. It was unbelievably kind—especially since Hélène had never met us before and for all she knew, we were total jerks—and we took her up on her generous offer.

After landing in Toronto, we took a train to Hélène's neighborhood stop. She was waiting for us there on the platform and enveloped me in the warmest hug. "You have your dad's smile!" she exclaimed.

Her husband, Ron, was waiting in the parking lot with the car, and from the moment we buckled our seatbelts, we immediately felt welcomed into their lives,

We woke up to freshly brewed coffee each morning and got to share interesting conversations over the breakfast table. We were treated to Hélène's sensational cooking—one evening, she served a shrimp salad that we will always remember and never be able to replicate. We got to meet Hélène and Ron's children and grandchildren, and again, they all pulled us in, treating us like we were regular fixtures instead of a random pair of Americans.

One frosty morning—it was astonishingly cold, something like 10°F—Ron walked with us for hours around their neighborhood, showing us the sprawling park and beach before we popped into the charming shops of their bustling business district. Speaking of the cold, Hélène even loaned me a better pair of winter boots for our trip! Thank goodness, too, considering a snowstorm blew in that Saturday morning.

It was during this snowstorm that Hélène drove us to the Cheese Boutique, where we got to nibble on pastries and sip on espresso as we marveled over all the shop's confections. I'm pretty sure Adam was in heaven. It was a store we wouldn't have known to visit without Hélène's guidance.

Before any day's adventure, Hélène and Ron saw us off on the appropriate subway line, bus, or streetcar, and they were always a quick text away if we ran into any problems.

Every night we journeyed home, we were met with a warm glow from the living room window and the sight of Hélène and Ron reading in their cozy armchairs.

If you had asked me for a definition of hospitality before this trip, I would have listed off a checklist of sorts: clean towels, fresh sheets, a variety of breakfast options. Ask guests of any dietary restrictions, make sure you don't bumble about too loudly in the morning and wake them.

But Hélène and Ron taught me what hospitality really means: receiving someone into your home with open arms and an open heart. True hospitality isn't only about physical comforts—a roof over someone's head, warm meals—but about emotional comforts as well, like making a person feel gladly accepted and completely welcome. It's about sharing your life and maybe even inspiring new habits or attitudes. I know Adam and I left Toronto with an appreciation of just how much Canadians care about their neighbors and community. We learned about the power of staying connected, too.

And as we close out this chaotic year, I am choosing to honor those memories of Toronto and dwell on all the possibilities of the fresh year ahead.

It's going to be a better year. I just know it.

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