Home improvement

IT seemed an eternity that we were patching holes, sanding floors, painting walls, and repairing windows. Don't cut corners. If we're going to do it, we may as well do it right. We kept reminding ourselves. After all, this was the most important room in the house -- The Guest Room. Finally, void of proper furniture but full of new life, it stood almost ready to receive visitors. We envisioned weary loved ones, their heads resting on soft pillows, their belongings lying in the (soon-to-be) old oak furniture, their hearts feeling at home in this finest of rooms.

Having shared with them the ``after,'' we would want to show them the ``before.'' At every step the little camera gave us its vote of confidence with a reassuring click. Not that our guests might be impressed but that they might share our joy in a work well done, in the freshness and warmth of the old made new.

Months passed. No mellowed oak bed, rocking chair, or dresser came to stay, and no mother, father, sister, or brother came to visit. Yet every day The Guest Room glowed perhaps a little brighter than the day before. When would it become what it was meant to be?

For too long pride kept a man I met from asking for help; selfishness kept me from offering it. Finally, almost too late:

A place to stay? Four of you? Sure. No problem.

I hear myself talking, all the while remembering the words of the Master, ``Who is my mother and who is my brother?''

Who are my loved ones? I ask myself as I leave the office and head for a furniture rental service.

Four beds?

Yes, that's right.

What'd you do, take in some winos from the street?

No, a family in need.

For how long?

I don't know. Can I call you?


A tiny car, dragging its burden into our driveway, disgorges children, mother, father, a lampshade, paintings, food, and all the anguish that displacement brings. Snappy black eyes meet mine as I wonder how much energy this little-boy ball of fire has for running through my house; for mischiefmaking in general. A little brown hand reaches out to touch mine as I try to guess the years of this little-girl ray of sunshine. A face that doesn't turn up, eyes that don't meet mine -- I sense the shyness of this travel-weary mother.

No English? That's OK.

Seora, ustedes son bienvenidos en nuestra casa. I hear myself talk as I lead these weary pilgrims up the front steps and through the door. Rusty, but not utterly awful, my college Spanish serves me well in touring the house and explaining the logistics of our now-expanded life style to our first guests. A bit of uneasiness remains in her face. Her sad eyes are brimming with what seems a mixture of relief and concern. I step closer with arms open, and in our embrace I am wishing to squeeze all the burden from her being.

The refrigerator is pitifully empty of food for six, but there are blankets, pillows, and towels for all.

How much will they eat? What do they like? How long will they be with us? A barrage of questions bombards me as I wheel my shopping cart up and down the supermarket aisles. The questions are followed by evaluation; evaluation of the life style we have known. Day after day we eat the same foods, see the same friends, drive the same streets. Then suddenly we are given a gift; a new experience, challenge, or change, which blesses us with spontaneity and diversity.

Friday's work drags on. My thoughts rest continually on our home's newly adopted fullness.

Do you need to work late?

Yes, what about you?

Well, I could, but I think I'll go home, play with the kids, and talk with Ana.

I can't help smiling at this sudden desire to listen to a language and play with children not one's own; to share with our new loved ones the happiness and abundance we have been blessed with.


Una casa nueva? Fant'astico! When will you move in? Tomorrow? So soon.

Dinner becomes a celebration for the newfound dwelling. Smiles, laughter, relief. The little boy no less a ball of fire at a restaurant than he is at home. The little girl so tranquil and refined in her expression of joy. Mother and father seem comfortable once again.

Sure, we'll keep the kids while you clean and move in.

Gracias, Dios les paga, Dios les paga.

God will pay us, Seora? What could He possibly give us that would be grander than the sound of children's laughter coming from downstairs; than the smile that turns the corners of your mouth toward heaven; than the space you have filled in our hearts?

I never showed them the ``before'' pictures of The Guest Room, I remember as they putter off toward their new haven. Oh well, our home's guest room is, after all, just a guest room. But our heart's guest room, now there is a very fine thing indeed.

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