How to Train a Houseguest
By Robin Jovanovich
Pullquote: Ten days, nine nights, and still fast friends.
When good friends, actually the first friends we made when we moved to Rye in 1992 and among the recent crop of friends who decided to Just Say No to New York taxes, say they’re coming back to town for the holidays, there is only one response. Come stay with us! For ten days? — uncomfortable pause — why not!
There was excitement even before our friends arrived. The husband had told us to expect a big delivery on Wednesday. Wednesday came and went. Did the porch pirates nab the delivery before I made it home that night? That might throw a wrench into the visit, especially if it was a big housewarming gift. Notwithstanding dizzying improvements in technology and communication, we learned that the package had been delivered to a house down the street. I was busy making lists of all the things I had to do before the Arrival and asked my husband, who neither makes nor reads lists, to rise up from the couch, change out of his exercise clothes, and go pick it up. Apparently, it wasn’t an open-and-shut task. The owner of the other house, which was enormous and had a long driveway, kept asking why someone else’s luggage, not my husband’s, was on her doorstep. He ciould only reply: “It’s a long story…”
My husband came wearily home about a half-hour later, hauling an enormous suitcase up two sets of stairs — “just a few of our clothes” our friends chirpily told us over the phone. Ten days, ten days that might shake the friendship world?
Back to the immediate. We don’t have a tree, I sputtered. “You promised you were going to get a tree, and we don’t need a 9-foot monster like last year’s!”
“Thought we going to order that fake Balsam,” he retorted in some fake cowboy drawl.
“No, I read The New York Times article about real versus fake trees and all those trees are from China and we’ll be taking away the livelihood of our tree farmers if we go the fake route, and the trees can be mulched and are good for the environment, and….”
His voice rising, but at least sounding more polished, more Ivy League, “Thought we were going to cancel that *!@#$^&… publication.”
“No, I hate doing the crossword puzzle online and then we’d have nothing to argue about.”
The guests arrived five minutes after we’d dashed in from dinner on a Saturday night. Before we could offer them water, wine, or nourishment because who eats on planes, they wanted a tour of the new place. We helped bring up the rest of the luggage — and there was more. As houses go, ours isn’t bad for you or your houseguests, unless they are your in-laws. The guest bedroom and two adjacent bedrooms are about a half-mile down the hall from ours.
After catching up on important matters and assuring them that the contractor wasn’t coming back until Monday, which meant we had Sunday all to ourselves, we all happily collapsed.
I had a chance to get the kitchen spruced up for breakfast before they came down the first morning. Both of them knew how to put the pods in the Nespresso, graciously turned down my offer of eggs and vittles, and assembled their own cereal bowls. The husband even washed up. When he informed me that you could put real silver cutlery in with the stainless steel in the top tray of the dishwasher as long as the pieces didn’t touch, it was revelatory. I brought out the good silver.
Our friends were well-versed in the art of reading the news on their iPads, too, and never seemed to be eying a coveted section of the Times, not even Real Estate.
And they did their own laundry.
Pretty soon I was asking their advice on where to put the Christmas tree, once my husband got one.
I’ve never mastered the lights part, but fortunately my husband has always risen to the task. Seeing that he was focused on finishing a consulting report, our friend offered to do the lights. And seeing that I was on deadline and more crazed than usual, he offered to help decorate the tree. Until December 5, 2018, I had never allowed anyone to decorate my tree, and if they added so much as four ornaments, I’d sneak down and rearrange them. What can I say? Sometimes you just have to let people help you.
We went to the city and saw a good play and talked about it most of the way home.
The day our friends sat at the dining room table and did their Christmas cards, I was almost ready to ask them to do ours, because they had a streamlined system — one or the other would remember the first name of so and so’s second cousin and they’d printed up address labels.
When we were low on oranges, our friends went to Costco. When I was a little later than promised coming home from work, they’d already started making dinner. When the contractor needed to get into their bathroom to finish painting, they got out of the way. They walked our dog. They never set off the alarm.
Our other houseguest, my friend’s sister, arrived for the weekend (I did recall extending the offer), and we just made room for one more at the kitchen table. And the conversation flowed.
Our friends helped us get ready for a big Christmas party, even though they had another long-planned engagement, and when they returned, and the DJ was still playing songs from our youth, they joined right in and didn’t miss a beat.
No one seemed to mind eating leftovers for two days and, when my husband left on a business trip, they let me tag along to a dinner party.
When they were packed and leaving for the city that Tuesday morning, I started to get teary-eyed. The house might never look this great again. They’d made our Christmas. When were we going to see them next? “Wednesday, in the city,” my friend gently reminded me.
She and I had ambitious plans to see two art exhibits, stop by my favorite city clothing shop, and just walk and talk. But when I tried to get out of bed Wednesday morning, the room was spinning. I never made it farther than the sink.
Two days passed, my friend called to say her husband had come down with the same bug and was so sick he couldn’t make their flight.
A few days later my husband returned, and we called our friends in California to find out when we should start getting their room ready next December.
You can’t train a houseguest, just invite the right ones.