How Long is Too Long?

By Janey Womeldorf

How Long is Too Long?

How long is too long for company to stay?

There’s an old adage that says, “Fish and visitors both begin to smell after three days.” Before I address this, let me remind my houseguests who stayed way longer than three days, often for weeks at a time, all of us squashed into our cramped, two-bedroom apartment, bodies sometimes spilling over into the living room to sleep, I love you. More importantly, you love me.

Back to the expression at hand: First, I’ve smelled three-day old fish. Admittedly you reel backwards when that initial blast of fishy odor smacks your nostrils, but it’s nothing that a serious hit of spicy seasoning and some after-dinner mouthwash can’t cure. Now compare the inconvenience of the house that reeks of fish which has permeated even the shower curtains to the intrusion of the we’ll-be-no-fuss company who want to live under your roof with you for three delightful weeks, and it’s a no brainer: Of course I’ll choose company. In the big picture, family, friends and shared memories are what life is all about.

I stand, my tail between my legs though, as I confess this: Whether entertaining friends for a night or hosting family for a month, there is a shameful sense of relief that consumes you that moment after you wave goodbye, close the front door, turn around and breathe in the silence. Your work is done, and you feel your entire body sigh. What’s puzzling is how this bodily sigh of relief intensifies as I get older.

In my twenties, having a house bulging with guests was fun, hectic and exhilarating; at 50, it’s welcome, but exhausting. We recently hosted visitors for six weeks, and the evening they left, my husband and I shared a bottle of wine then collapsed into bed, shattered. The next day, we melted into our recliners and immersed our lethargic brains and flagging bodies in peace, TV and calm. Our house-guest jetlag was so bad, it was an effort to even shower and get dressed; even moving to the dining table was too draining, so we ordered pizza. And thank goodness for portable phones so, one, we didn’t have to move from our comfy respites, or two, overly exert our index finger. We napped, read and piddled around all day; it was heavenly. Our depleted energy levels improved slightly on Sunday but still not enough to muster up a meal, forcing us to face the outside world in search of someone to cook for us.

Don’t get me wrong: I love my family and friends. When they are here, I cherish their company but as soon as they leave, I crave the therapeutic and familiar routines my husband and I have crafted over the years – especially the mornings.

On our days off, mornings evolve at wake speed with caffeine at the helm. The pace is leisurely, breakfast is low key and music is loud enough to soothe, but quiet enough not to disturb. We read the paper, catch up on e-mail, surf for nothing in particular, and murmur occasional nothings to each other. We are in our blissfully calm Neverland, enjoying the reward of making it through another week.

Workdays paint a different picture. Mornings are scheduled down to the minute leaving zero room for conversations beyond single sentences – easy between couples; painful with company. It’s not that I don’t want to hear your weird dream about your old high-school teacher coming to dinner but the clock’s ticking. Consequently, I regularly cut guests off mid-stream only to drive to work frazzled, guilty and late.

The fact is, whether you are entertaining company for a night or for a month, it takes time and effort and not just when they are there. It starts before they arrive – nothing makes you clean like company. “Don’t use that toilet I’ve just cleaned it. Use ours,” I tell my husband.

My Mum is a dust fanatic. Before her recent visit, I vacuumed the ceiling fans, attacked the top of the fridge, and because she likes to open the window at night, I cleaned the grime that collects in the space between the window and the screen. I even ironed pillow cases for one guest, until my sister told me to get a life.

Then they leave – and it’s round two: You strip beds, wash sheets, clean toilets, scrub tubs, replace furniture, re-store the table leaf, move chairs, wash towels, dry sheets and remake the beds. Finally, the satisfying smell of clean lingers in the air, and you head back to the kitchen to reward your hard work with a calming cup of tea which you sip alone, as you savor the quiet time.

The irony is, two hours or two days later, the same silence no longer soothes you. Emptiness permeates every orifice of the house, and your body sighs again. Not one of relief like when they left, or one of satisfaction after you got your house back together, but one tinged with melancholy. Then it hits you – you miss them.

You chuckle as you recall the hour you spent trying to take a group selfie and wondering how everybody else makes it look so easy. Or being doubled-up in laughter that afternoon you all made soft pretzels, and someone’s dough went airborne and landed on the fridge door. Or the morning, you were so engrossed in conversation you left the house with your slippers on. Suddenly, the preparation, intrusion, noise and chaos are long gone, and now you just feel honored they even wanted to stay as long as they did.

The fact is, I have never regretted a single night, week or month that family or friends have spent with us. Spending time with loved ones is a gift, and nothing beats those precious moments that you know you will remember forever. They are unique, special and priceless.

And, depending on how long they stay, smell free.

About this writer

  • Janey Womeldorf Janey Womeldorf once went to work wearing different shoes. She now freelance writes and scribbles away in Orlando, Florida. It’s probably best.

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One Response to “How Long is Too Long?”

  1. Linda O'Connell says:

    My husband and I joke that if we ever buy a beach condo, we will have more visits from our children and grandchildren. I enjoyed this story.

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