Up the steps and onto the porch they came as I wondered how was this going to be? Total strangers entering our home with plans to stay for four days and I was thinking, what have we gotten in to? It was the holidays and that time of year was stressful enough without having to entertain strangers. Oh well, there was no turning back now.

With a deep breath and a smile on my face, I opened the door to invite them in. They looked harmless even though they were from “up north”. Yankees in our house. For four days. Oh my! The things we will do for our children!

After the pleasantries were exchanged, coats and luggage were taken to the bedrooms and we were all settled in, the real test was about to begin. What would we talk about? Did they like football and the Tigers and everything orange? Would they care for some sweet tea? No unsweetened tea was allowed in this house. What would they think about our traditional Christmas morning breakfast of homemade biscuits with fatback gravy? Should I make a breakfast casserole? Did they like grits? Please don’t ask for oatmeal or cream of wheat, I thought. I had no idea how to begin cooking that. That wasn’t southern enough by any means. What kind of coffee and orange juice? Strong and black or with a little cream and sugar? With or without pulp? Hot tea? Yeah, I had some Earl Grey somewhere, just hoped that it had no expiration date.

Appetizers anyone? Hickory Farms to the rescue that first night! Thank goodness it was the season for their kiosks to be well stocked. Would boiled peanuts be too much? Probably should wait a day or two to share this southern delicacy with them. That was as close to caviar as we would ever have unless I served redneck caviar with those fancy little crackers. No, Hickory Farms would get us through the first night.

Then the sleeping arrangements. Being the southern hostess, of course they would have the biggest bedroom and bathroom which happened to be ours. Would the bed be too soft or too hard? Please, Lord, let it be just right. And the pillows; did they sleep on just one or would they need two? It really wouldn’t matter because we had plenty of pillows, but these were important things to consider. Our best towels and washcloths were laid out with little soaps nearby. There was lotion, shampoo and conditioner. The toiletries were all there. Extra toilet paper was placed in the bathroom; sure hoped they liked Cottonelle because that was our favorite. Couldn’t bring myself to have an assortment of toilet paper. That seemed to be a bit much even for me.

I made sure that I got up earlier than anyone else so I could be dressed properly for our guests. Makeup wasn’t optional, sweatpants and sweatshirts had been put away and the nicest jeans and shirts that I had were ready to be worn. I even made myself wear shoes in the house. Oh goodness, the things we do for our children.

Thank goodness the lake was 26 feet below pond and there was a bridge that mysteriously rose up from the depths of the lake. That would be something to see, something to talk about and they could hear about the time that Lake Hartwell was being built. Farmland, once rich with everything “farmy” was now underwater. Trees looked up towards the sky and with the lake level being so low, the trees didn’t have to look too hard. The weather was cooperating so far and that was good.

Roasting two big turkeys and making dressing, not stuffing, was underway. Did I have enough cheese for the macaroni pie or as some people called it, macaroni and cheese? Should I make two kinds of gravy, one with giblets and one without? How did they eat these things up north? Did they eat them at all? Well, when in the South, do as the Southerners do, so the preparations continued.

The family began arriving with food and gifts and little ones. Our house was big enough for us but was a little crowded with almost 50 people present. Again, thank goodness the weather was cooperating. The kids loved playing outside. Whew!

Christmas Eve dinner was over; leftovers were placed in the refrigerator and finally, the shoes came off. I could wear them no longer. My feet hurt but they didn’t smell so there should be no problem there. It wouldn’t have mattered though. Not now.

Up early on Christmas morning, fatback frying, biscuits being made and yes, the breakfast casserole was in the oven. The Christmas china adorned our dining room table, our silverware was polished and the linen napkins were in place. Nothing but the best for our guests and I think they even liked my gravy!

Gifts were exchanged, more food was eaten and thoughts of a nap kept running through my mind. Would that be rude? Didn’t they want to take a nap? Were there enough appetizers on the table? Sure hoped they liked hot spiced cider…why was I worried? A good hostess would never run out of food, in fact, there was enough food for the neighborhood that day, but they weren’t invited. Maybe next year.

Many more stories could be told about those four days in December when three total strangers walked onto our porch and into our lives but I will stop right here. We knew our future daughter-in-law was a keeper and we loved her so much. After four days in December in our house, those three people from up north were no longer strangers. Chris, Kathy and Grandma Bootsie had become family. The sweatpants and sweatshirts were brought out again and the makeup was put away. That’s how it is with family; you don’t have to stress and worry about appearances. We are what we are. It was that simple. Now where were those boiled peanuts?

Wesley and Britton, this story was written for you so that you would understand how Mimi, CC and Grandma Bootsie met Namma and Papa, and why we share such a close bond with each other. Most importantly, always remember that Mimi, CC, Namma and Papa love you both very much. Forever and always.

Namma