Hospitality

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February 16th, 2013

Canned tomatoes and a water pik are two completely disparate items. Or are they? My family laughs at me when I come home from the Pineaus. It’s as if I’m a random beggar walking through their homes, snatching whatever interesting trinket catches my fancy. Today’s haul? A jar of canned tomatoes and a water pik. […]

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https://readthespirit.com/rodney-curtis/wp-content/uploads/sites/14/2013/03/wpid-rcwaterpiktomatoes.jpgCanned tomatoes and a water pik are two completely disparate items. Or are they?

My family laughs at me when I come home from the Pineaus. It’s as if I’m a random beggar walking through their homes, snatching whatever interesting trinket catches my fancy. Today’s haul? A jar of canned tomatoes and a water pik. Not too shabby.

I grew up around the corner from the Pineaus. They were my second family. I laughed harder with them than with anyone else on the planet; they “got” me. I was closest with their son, Paul, even though I was in their daughter Janet’s grade. But soon I formed a separate relationship with each of them. I took pictures and did a story on eldest son John and his rock band (The Orange Roughies). I shared vastly inappropriate jokes with their mother Rosemary while learning that butter is really better for you than margarine. I watched the Pistons and Tigers with Peggy when I wasn’t eating the astounding chicken their father Ken grilled nearly every Sunday.

I was a slightly different Rodney when I was with them. Hyper-Rodney, if that’s even possible; Rodney-on-‘roids. They pushed my buttons just to see what would happen. And something always happened.

One time, I brought a girlfriend over to meet them and things got a little crazy. They were all standing outside in front of their house and when I rounded the corner, their mother yelled, “It’s Rodney, run!”

They all took off into their house, including their dog, Puppy-Roo. It was comical to see from my angle but my girlfriend at the time thought it pretty darn odd. She hadn’t seen nothin’ yet.

I went up to their door, playing along and knocked.

No answer.

I rang the doorbell.

Still no answer.

Now, I won’t say who did what, in order to protect their anonymity, but moments later, I was being chased up the street by two barefooted, knife-wielding members of their family while my girlfriend stood on the sidewalk in shock. We somehow simultaneously decided to improvise a scene where I was a Hatfield and they were a couple of rabid McCoys. It all fell apart when I fell down on my knees gasping with laughter.

Hey, it was the 80s.

The relationship with my girlfriend didn’t last much longer.

That was only one of about 1,000 different, crazy encounters I had with their family and I love them dearly for it. When I had kids of my own, things toned down a bit, thankfully. Now, instead of knives, they greet me with objects of affection. The first time I brought my daughters over to see them, after a long absence, they showered us with gifts of food and clothing. For years afterward, my girls slept in giant Orange Roughy t-shirts after the band disbanded.

As their family spread across the continent and I moved away from the homestead, I began to keep in touch more and more with their father, Ken. Movies were our thing and we’ve started meeting up from time to time to see whatever sounded good to two guys 30 years apart. And he always seems to bring me something.

One time I received a tupperware container full of homemade cream puffs from his wife, Rosemary. The next, I’d get a videotape about smart financial investing. The last time we met, I got a few bags of the specialty caramels he makes and sells at the Royal Oak Farmers Market. He also gave me a couple free passes to the new luxury movie theatre with the impossibly comfy reclining seats. That’s just the way he is.

And, apparently, that’s just the way his daughter is, too.

While I was visiting my buddy Paul — who was in from Chicago and staying at his sister Peggy’s place — she kept piling things into my arms to take home to my family. I was able to fight off much of it, but I wasn’t crazy enough to deflect the delicious tomatoes she canned with her mother. Or savvy enough to deny myself a water pik, apparently.

It’s that kind of hospitality that I’ve never quite been able to muster up when visitors come to my place. Sure, I try to cook tasty meals or at least throw some guac in front of ‘em, but I don’t even come close to Pineau levels.

When I studied Sociology, I learned about the Potlatch tradition of the Pacific Northwest Native Americans. It was a ceremony of gift-giving, dancing and singing. If my memory serves me at all correctly, they even made it into a competition at times. Whoever gave away the most, rose up the most in prominence. I was even told that’s how they settled disputes.

I always found that fascinating and thought wars would be so much more humane if, instead of drones flying overhead, enemies were bombarded with a bunch of frozen Omaha steaks. Sort of an eye for a ribeye. Our first-strike policy could be pizzas delivered in 30 minutes or less. And I’ve often imagined settling border skirmishes with a dance off.

Unfortunately, Potlatch was banned over a hundred years ago. The white settlers probably preferred guns to roses. But the tradition has seeped into modern culture thanks to families like the Pineaus and actual organized groups trying to bring back the hospitality initiative like the one Charles Mabee works with around the Detroit area.

For now, I’ll devour Rosemary and Peggy’s tomatoes (then, I guess, water pik out the seeds). And I’ll try to figure out ways to be nicer, more giving, when people show up at my place.

I have some great role models like my own mother, the Pineaus and the Pacific Northwest Indians. If I take their cues to heart, maybe visitors at our house will one day be greeted with more fun, more merriment and perhaps even a water pik of their very own.

(Editor’s Note: For more on ReadTheSpirit’s take on hospitality and welcoming, be sure to check out our three part interview with Henry Brinton.)

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