The Open Door

In the first weeks of November, Michiganders enjoyed unusually warm weather.

In the first weeks of November, Michiganders enjoyed unusually warm weather. On one of those golden afternoons, while I was working on this issue, I looked outside to fall’s breathtaking glory and decided to take a quick bike ride through nearby Poppleton Park in Birmingham.

While cruising down the neighborhood’s charming streets, beneath a canopy of reds and yellows, my mind wandered back to autumn days spent in Evanston, Ill., on a street very much like those in Poppleton — each home different from the next, maintained lovingly, and with lots of old trees shedding their fall splendor.

Upon returning home, I couldn’t shake that beautiful-day sensation and wanted to extend it into the night, in my own backyard. I wanted to share it with friends, too, so I said to my husband, “Let’s throw the season’s last bonfire gathering tonight.” I suggested that we invite some pals over for fall cheer and fireside treats. He said OK, but then added, “We’ll have to, uh, clean.”

Undaunted, I texted friends, suggesting we could either have dinner outdoors at our home (and I told myself I would, for the first time ever, NOT tidy up for guests) or head to a favorite bar that has outdoor seating. (I began to hope they’d prefer the latter, because I knew I’d start cleaning.) They said, “You pick!” — so I did, indeed, take the easy way out. Over burgers and drinks, I told one friend that I’d really wanted to sit at the campfire, but our house wasn’t in perfect form for entertaining. She admitted that she’d much rather be sipping on a hot-cider drink, fireside in our tree-filled yard, than sitting on this loud patio, just steps away from the noise of Woodward Avenue. We made a pact to never again make a clean house more of a priority than spontaneous gatherings at home. From now on, I vow I will host spur-of-the-moment parties at the drop of a colorful leaf!

That thought brought me back to Evanston, to a cheerful, door-always-open home where my sister and her family lived when she was in her late 20s and early 30s. Every time my parents and siblings would visit her, we were amazed at the comings-and-goings of that household. People would pop in from mid-morning to night, and often would just jiggle the side door knob and call out that they were coming in to grab a lemon or cup of sugar, retrieve their child, or drop off a previously borrowed screwdriver. If my sister was home, she’d invite them to sit, to stay, to bring in their dog. No matter that her two young daughters’ toys, clothes, and food spills peppered the first floor and there often wasn’t a visible spot on the countertop. That was my sister. During her whole life, her doors were never closed. (Even as a teen, when most people slam their bedroom doors shut or lock them, if they can, my sister’s door was always open; it was an invitation to come inside and chat.)

Open to last-minute gatherings, quick catch-ups with neighbors, makeshift cocktail hours, and unexpected throw-together suppers, my much-loved sister revealed herself and her home to all, despite the messes, the time of day, or how she felt. I emphasize felt because on plenty of occasions during the time she lived in that home, she didn’t feel great; for four long years, she battled a horrific cancer. Through it all, however, her doors were open and her life was as she wanted it to be.

As we enter into the beautiful holiday season, remember this: The dishes can definitely wait.