Tuesday, May 21, 2013


Isak Dinesen's Out of Africa has a chapter entitled "Visitors to the Farm."

Lately, I have had some visitors to my own farm!

Last week, young (23) Austin Ashcraft was blowing through town to interview for teaching positions in Orange County. He bravely made the trip north to L.A. in rush hour, appearing at my door in time for a cup of strong coffee. We made our way to 7 p.m. Mass at Holy Trinity, to Indochine for Vietnamese noodles, and then to the Casbah Cafe where Austin enjoyed a carrot cupcake and I observed (it was close to 10), "You young folks surely have lots of energy!"

He is off to Africa with a friend, poised to light the world on fire, and I got a huge kick out of getting to spend time with him.

Then Monday afternoon I was returning from jury duty in downtown L.A. when I rec'd an email:

"Hi Heather,

You don't know me, and we've never met. But my family is passing through LA today (we are from the north country of Portland,Oregon) and after seeing your blog post about you walk through the neighborhood near St. Francis of Assisi Catholic church after your morning Mass, we decided to pull of the highway and see the neighborhood.

"Hello Jesus!" I just said to the kids (I have 5). We are parked outside of the church you wrote about and can hear the children playing in their schoolyard. It is a peaceful, welcome turnoff from the highway.

If this email happens to go to your phone, and you'd like to have a cup of coffee, or stand on the sidewalk in the sunshine to shake hands, shoot me a text. Number below. :)."

Part of me thought, Oh for the love of heaven, I need to catch up on some work. And the other part thought, You're going to go home and make a giant cup of coffee: why not invite these folks over? So I emailed back, and ten minutes later a van pulled up and out spilled, Sia (long i, who is pregnant), her husband Justin, and their four kids: Aidan, 7; Eli, 6; Micah, 4; and Hazel, 2. 

We settled in at the big long white table on the veranda.  Sia told me a bit about her background, which included being raised on a farm among the Alleghenies, several siblings, and a love for Appalachian music.

So I said, "Oh yes, I have spent some time in Appalachia. Why just a couple of months ago I was in Pittsburgh, and this lovely woman picked me up and brought me to her farm outside Steubenville. In fact you look a lot like her. Her name was Dru Hoyt."

Whereupon Sia and Justin looked at each other really hard, and Sia said--"Dru Hoyt is my mother." And we all shrieked "Oh my God!" "No!" "How weird is that?" for about five straight minutes.

Anyhoo, we had a grand old chat. This is just how I enjoy children: in hour-long stretches, with their parents present. Every so often, I'd feel a butterfly-like fluttering on my side or wrist, and would look down to see a little hand and a small face bestowing the MOST beatific smile.  The kids speared fountain algae with sticks, inquired as to the difference between goldfish and koi, and drew. We grownups talked about money, vocation, and the fact that Catholicism is all about enjoying good food, good beer, good coffee, good sunglasses, and in Justin's case, the music of Ryan Adams.

Thank you, visitors to the farm!


  1. Oh, how fun!

    After just moving into a new house with a friend I've discovered that people are constantly stopping by unannounced, and enter the house without knocking. As an introvert I am surprised by my liking of this. It reminds me of my hometown where I'd return home to discover a friend had made themselves dinner in my otherwise empty house, was wearing my clothes, and had invited their friends over for a bonfire party without either I or my family's knowing. But more than evoking memories of my beloved hometown of Charlevoix MI, it got me thinking about hospitality. While I understand there are communities an unlocked door is an invitation for trouble, in communities such as the one I find myself in now, Is there any greater hospitality than keeping one's front door unlocked so neighbors, friends, and members of the church next-door can pay us a visit, borrow a sweater, a book, or a movie? Already we have discovered the reward in such hospitality has paid off - people find themselves in our new little home to fix things we've expressed need maintenance, or to repaint our walls and drop off a pizza they paid for. These rewards were unexpected, but welcomed, as are the visitors who do not offer anything but a request for food, drink, and the use of my belongings.

    You wrote in Redeemed that what brought you to Catholicism is that the church doors are always open, always welcoming anyone and everyone. Although my new little house is not a church or a holy ground, I hope it can provide some refuge and love for those who need it; you know, a friend in need of company, a runner in need of a toilet or drink of water, that sort of thing.

    I hope to also share a pot of coffee with you, as Sia's family and Austin have done! Someday! Someday! Someday!

  2. Beautiful, Alicia! You would be welcome!

  3. Yes, music... THIS gives me chills: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HN-wHU2f_jg&list=PLB8F6D72E5E0CBBA3

    Check youtube for "Ryan Adams BBC 4 Songwriters Circle". Melts my soul.

  4. What a joy to read about Austin and this other family that you welcomed into your home. Heather, you always give the reader a wonderful insight into the welcoming part of Christ. Thank you so much for sharing and for being who you are and doing what you do To show the open arms that Catholicism invites us to. Your details are so vivid and real that I almost feel as if I was there. The coffee was great!

  5. "This is just how I enjoy children: in hour-long stretches, with their parents present." HILARIOUS truth from you, Heather!


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