I had initially read To Kill a Mockingbird at the insistence of my 7th grade History teacher who had, with a wry smile, told me that I reminded her of Scout. Admittedly, the moral of the story was completely lost on my hormone addled brain, and I abandoned the story half-way through in favor of some crush or another. One scene, however, stood out to me then and has remained with me since – the one in which Calpurnia scolds Scout on making fun of Walter Cunningham’s eating habits.”
In my youth, and perhaps even still, I identified with Walter Cunningham. We were both from a household that struggled financially but still managed to live happily, and we were both mercilessly made fun off; him for his poverty, and me for an overactive brain that didn’t allow me stop talking as I worked out thoughts and new experiences out loud (my mother used to call me The Percolator, if that’s any indication of my verbosity.) I believe the shared embarrassment is what made me hold onto that passage for so long. Then came Calva’s seizure (of which I will write about on Friday), which caused other Workers to begin grumbling about her being a liability and the possibility of banning her. Calpurnia’s words immediately came to mind:
“There’s some folks who don’t eat like us,” she whispered fiercely, “but you ain’t called on to contradict ’em at the table when they don’t. That boy’s yo’ comp’ny and if he wants to eat up the table cloth you let him, you hear?”
“He ain’t company, Cal, he’s just a Cunningham-”
“Hush your mouth! Don’t matter who they are, anybody sets foot in this house’s yo’ comp’ny, and don’t you let me catch you remarkin’ on their ways like you was so high and mighty! Yo’ folks might be better’n the Cunninghams but it don’t count for nothin’ the way you’re disgracin’ ’em—if you can’t act fit to eat at the table you can just set here and eat in the kitchen!”
I’ve heard countless tales of hospitality, from biblical passages to Aesop’s fables – but it seems that this is the one that’s taken root in my heart. Calpurnia’s hospitality stems from her ability to see the humanity in everyone – personalism, you might say. She plainly states that once someone is under your roof you are to treat them with dignity and respect – regardless of whether or not you agree with their choices. We are not to embarrass, and more importantly we are called not to judge.
While I know that it’s not feasible to open your door to those who do not have one, I encourage you to disarm your hearts, find the humanity in everyone and make the kind of hospitality that Calpurnia lays out something more than a way of life – make it a culture.