My mom excitedly introduced me to John, a guy that she and her grandtwins got to know this past summer at Great Camp Sagamore. “This is John! Ty really enjoyed him this summer”, she exclaimed with a huge grin. I smiled.”Nice to meet you. It sounds like you had a great time with my mom!” This happens all the time, whether it is church or the bookstore or at one of my band gigs. So many times someone has said to me, “Are you a Horan? Are you related to Carole?” And my answer is always yes. My mom collects people the way some people collect stamps or shells.
From a very young age, our family dinners always included others, whether it was one of our friends or someone living with us. An overfull table didn’t seem out of place. It wasn’t until years later that I found out that most people only ate with their nuclear families. And it wasn’t just food we shared, it was also our space. We moved to the Near West Side when I was 11, and the two family house provided all the space we needed for our family of 9, plus whoever. Here’s a pic of the seven of us with some guy named Tony we picked up along the way. My parents wanted to help out in the neighborhood and at St Lucy’s church, and that included giving shelter to those who needed it. The upstairs mirrored the downstairs, and it was really fun for the kids to have our bedrooms be in the kitchen or the living room. I paired with most of my siblings throughout my time there, and once Judy and I got the front room with the balcony! There were a lot of us but there was always room for one more at Our Father’s House.
Shirley was a bit broken when she moved in with us. She didn’t say much at meals and left for meetings at the same time every night. She was so quiet with us that we weren’t even sure she liked kids. She was in a lot of pain and gobbled aspirin like M&Ms. Over time she felt more comfortable and became a cherished part of our family celebrations and our lives. She was a talented artist and would make us a gorgeous calendar at the beginning of every year that had a place of honor on our dining room wall.
Joe moved into the empty rooms upstairs over the prayer room in the back of the house. He wore a burlap shirt and carried a small bag, a pottery wheel, and a guitar. When he spent time with us he talked about pottery and Jesus. He spent a lot of time in quiet prayer, and was always willing to do anything we needed around the house.
Rich lived with us when he was down and out, and it was a while before my parents realized that he wasn’t really trying to get his life together. At that point they told him he could stay, but he had to crash in the (unfinished) attic. I guess even my parents had their limits. He lived up there for quite a while, and smelled like him long after he moved out.
We also had a couple of neighborhood kids cycle through Our Father’s House, my parents taking them under their roof and under their wing. And then when the house emptied with kids heading off to college and real life, an exchange student from Spain named Barbara joined the pared down family of Mom and Jen for a year. Barbara was a joy to have around, and years later Mom and Jen went to visit Barbara in her home in Spain and had the trip of a lifetime. Here’s a picture of the three of them. Once the nest was empty the upstairs was renovated back into an apartment, and under the close watch of my brother, the apartment was used as a place for recovering people to get their lives in order. Carefully vetted by my brother, those guys were a godsend to my mother who now had security and guys to help take care of the property.
Now my mom’s house is emptier but her life is even more full. She volunteers at so many places including her neighborhood, her school, St Lucy’s, and Great Camp Sagamore and has picked up people at every stop. There are so many more people Mom has circling in her orbit these days. We all tease her about all her young friends, but they bring joy and laughter into her life. and help keep her young. She spends time traveling around the country visiting all the people she had connected with over the years, and has plenty of people around town to meet for lunch and dinner and coffee. Does she sound like fun? I will introduce her to you. There’s always room for one more!