464. When Company Comes

I remember how excited I used to get as a child when company was going to come. Some people who didn’t live in our house and follow the various patterns we followed were going to be in our house, and there was no telling what might happen. My parents would usually get food that they would put in bowls on end tables – food that, from our point of view, was better than our usual fare – and we children would have some, as long as we didn’t overdo it. And the adults tended to get involved in conversations that didn’t mean much to us or require much of us, so we could quietly overdo it as the adults discussed finances, politics, gardening, landscaping, each other’s health, each other’s changing lives, and whatever else they discussed.
But it wasn’t just the food. Some of the people who came were funny, and were really into children. My cousin Hank, who was already an adult, always had jokes to tell. My mother’s cousin Hesh played the guitar. That was cool. And
some of the people who came had children – either younger children I could enjoy being older than, or children my age I could play with. Our house was different – had different smells, different sounds, and a different feel to it. Outside, there were different cars parked in the driveway.
Once in a while, we were asked to show guests what great children we were. We’d read poetry, show drawings, play music, or talk about our lives a little. I don’t know how much of that was because the guests were sincerely interested in us, and how much was for our benefit. We certainly did like showing off, and I suspect that sometimes it was important to have some official time to let us do it. If not, we might end up doing it on our own schedules and in our own ways – maybe in the middle of some good discussions that didn’t involve us. Asking us to show off may have had to do with our parents being proud of us, but it was also a wise strategic move.
When a child first learns a new word, the word may take on a very specific meaning, to be expanded later, when the child hears it used in new contexts. For example, some children think that “vacation” means “trip.” To them, if you’re not going anywhere, you’re not on vacation. “Company” started out as a very specific word for me. “Company” was people other than my siblings and parents who came into our house, sat in the living room, and made our day a little different for a while.
I know that some children complain when people come to visit. I’m sure there were times when I complained. Sometimes I had my own things to do. And when adolescence sets in, there can be a tendency to separate; it can be difficult to get some adolescents to want to spend time with children and/or adults when they could be spending time with other adolescents. But now, well beyond adolescence, I have good memories of having company. And it’s still fun.

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