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Charles Finn On: Preparing for Guests 

Writer Charles Finn writes about preparing for guests in this week's column,

Good friends we don't see often are arriving this evening for the weekend. There has been the usual flurry of activity: cooking and cleaning and the making of beds. A better quality of wine has been purchased than our budget normally allows, and a small grocery store of crackers and cheeses wait in the wings, ready to go under the knife in name of hors' d'oeuvres. Meanwhile, sheets have been changed in the spare room and the pillows fluffed. Towels put out. Our friends are driving in from out of state and I expect they will be tired and hungry. In readiness, soup simmers on the stove and there is homemade bread rising in the oven. What last minute preparations we can make, we make. Everything else will have to do.

It is a well-rehearsed play, this dance of preparation, and I like it and the small spike of excitement and adrenaline it brings. I like, too, the hectic set of accomplishments, all those chores I've been meaning to get to, but never do. Most of all, I like that point when it feels like a well-crafted choreography takes over, and we move, my wife and I, in graceful concert, sliding past each other in the kitchen, spinning on a heel to pick up a glass, a wordless hand placed on a shoulder to let the other know we are there, a kiss. The music is turned up and the washing machine thumps an out-of-tune bass, while the cats, bewildered and mad, look on, curious about this intrusion on their nap. When the vacuum makes an appearance, they run for their lives.

And so it is time - time for the broom, the mop. No longer wallflowers, we waltz them across the wood floor, poking them into corners they haven't visited for a month. We keep a clean house, but it is always useful to have guests show up. When I was young, I used to wonder what all the fuss was about, my mother frantically cleaning before relatives arrived. How easily we slip into the roles of our parents, I think. How beautiful and cruel fate. I pour a glass of wine and check the bread. There is time in the world for everything. There is no time at all. Our guests will be here in half an hour and I still need to make the dressing, prep dessert, shower and change. My wife comes into the kitchen and I hold a spoon of soup to her mouth. "Open."

"It's good, don't touch it."

Will we ever be younger is what I want to know? Will we ever be more happy or alive? I catch a glimpse of my wife and I reflected in a window and I see us balanced at the midpoint, the long high plateau of our middle lives. Already I can see us a few short hours from now eating too much, drinking too much, laughing until our faces crack and stomachs hurt. And I can see how everything will have been worth it and what didn't get done will not have gotten done and the only thing there will be will be the story we are telling and the immense pool of the now we are sunk in. And I know at that moment I will again look at my wife and love her, and I will look at my friends and love them too, and I will even love myself, wondering why and how I ever got so lucky. Outside, the world will have gone dark and terrible things will be afoot, but we will be together and that is all that will matter. You can survive anything, I believe, if you have friends.

And so the anticipation builds: a beautiful hurt. But now the clock that was spinning so quickly has run out of steam. Time has stalled. But worse, the first worm of worry is inching its way in and we begin to wonder if something has happened? Secretly, we hope for a flat tire, nothing worse. Then just when we think we should call - there it is! - a crunch of gravel in the driveway, a door, voices and the doorbell rings. But I'm already there, opening it, wiping my dishwater hands on the back of my pants.

"Barbara! Bobbie! Shirley! You made it! Come in, come in. Here let me help you with that..."

And so it begins.


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