The Alabama Housewife
Southern Humorist, Storyteller and Writer
You never know how many friends you have until you buy a (insert—lake or beach or mountain) home.
You’ve likely seen that sentiment on kitschy signs, embroidered pillows, and dish towels and you likely giggled at them thinking: “Oh my gosh! Isn’t that the truth?” And while it can be tons of fun to have a vacation home in which you entertain folks from time to time, it can be an entirely different scene when you find yourself living full time in an area that many visit only while taking a holiday.
The endless stories I have heard of homes overflowing with uninvited house guests often leave me puzzled. In each case, it seems as though folks who otherwise lead perfectly normal, cordial lives lose all sense of propriety when seeking a free place to lodge. Once upon a time one friend of mine had a two year old and a baby on the way when she was faced with a long weekend and a full house. She shared with me a tale that involved a few family members who have an open invitation. Unfortunately on this occasion they brought with them some of their neighbors and the neighbors took it upon themselves to bring a tagalong who was sad after a breakup. She also happened to be a girl who refused to go anywhere without bringing her dog. My friend and her husband are kind and welcoming, so they took it all in stride. However, I was shocked at the unbelievable insensitivity of a friend-of-a-friend who felt it was acceptable to lodge with a complete stranger—a pregnant one at that— and include a pet. Have you ever?
Another friend who lives along Scenic Highway 30-A with a breathtaking view of the Gulf of Mexico often opens her home to guests. Some invited, some not. Once when she allowed some of her old school chums to stay in her home for a weekend while she was away she returned to find the air conditioner (which the guests had set to 68 degrees) leaking all over the floor, dirty dishes languishing in the sink, an unmade bed still laden with unwashed sheets, and the worst of the worst—her razor sitting on the shelf in the shower after being used by what appeared to be a male gorilla. Suffice to say, that childhood friendship will not be revisited anytime soon.
One dear pal of mine who’s lived in a common vacation spot for years and years told me about her strategy for dealing with the phone calls and texts she gets far too often. When she receives word from family or friends announcing they are planning a visit she is polite but direct. When she wants company, that’s great—and she’s quick to open her home to close friends. When she doesn’t, she’s kind but direct. She has learned through the years not to beat around the bush, and has a key phrase I’ve borrowed more than once….“Oh how exciting! I will be so glad to see you again. Please let me know when you have your hotel reservations booked, and we will find a time to meet for drinks or maybe supper. I can’t wait to catch up with you!” Smart girl. I do want to point out that the vast majority of requests we receive are from folks we are delighted to welcome and we’ve yet to have a single visitor we wouldn’t gladly host again. So if you’ve been to stay with us please don’t think this is pointed at you.
It’s not, I promise.
I also want to share a little advice with you if you’ll indulge me….If you find that you have friends or relatives who live in a place you desire to visit don’t assume their guest room is designed for you to be the guest. Also remember that even though you will be vacationing in the area, it is likely they still have to get up and go to work or get their kids to school each day. They aren’t living there simply to be your personal entertainment whenever you arrive. If they enjoy company, they will issue an invitation when the time is right. Also, keep in mind that when you are invited to be a guest in someone else’s home, you should always offer to help while you’re there. Take a turn loading the dishwasher, carry out the trash, walk the dog, make a trip to the grocery, or cook a meal. And don’t forget to bring along a bottle of wine or two—or three or four, depending on the length of your stay. When you get ready to depart, strip your bed and ask your hosts if they would like you to replace the clean sheets or clean your bathroom before you go. While they will likely say no, it’s the gesture that counts—and it’s the very least you can do. Once you have returned home, be sure to drop your hosts a nice note in the mail. (Remember: being a grateful guest is sure to earn you an invitation for another visit to paradise.)
Ultimately, keep in mind the words of yet another kitschy dish cloth:
“House guests are a lot like fish—both start to stink after about three days."