There are times in life when fate smiles on you in an unexpected way, and you wonder if you've done something wonderful to deserve it or if it's just good luck. Maybe you find yourself upgraded on a long flight. Maybe your child becomes a professional athlete and buys you a condo in Palm Beach. Or the ultimate: You are invited to be a guest at Thanksgiving dinner. No ironing linens, no greasy roaster. It is the gift of time and tranquility, the true golden ticket.
I have been in this coveted position twice in my adult life. On both occasions, I have rekindled my childhood love of Thanksgiving, tasting cranberry sauce as if for the first time. One particular year, I sat with my feet up in front of my hostess' blazing fire and thought: If I play my cards right, I can do this again next year. But that's the catch — you have to play your cards right. And I have to assume that, maybe a bit giddy with free time and a clean kitchen, I didn't play them right, because I have never been invited to the same house twice.
I have, on the other hand, hosted a lot of times. We have very little local family, so I always invite friends for Thanksgiving. I spend the first half of the year compiling a mental list of friends who may not have big Thanksgiving plans, and then I determine which ones I would like to spend two weeks cooking dinner for. If you've been to my house for Thanksgiving dinner you know two things: what's it's like to eat a mediocre meal and that I really, really like you. I have, after all, given you the golden ticket.
So if it happens to you this year, if you are one of the lucky ones who is invited to someone's house for Thanksgiving, please benefit from my mistakes and consider these suggestions to improve your odds of winning again next year:
1. Go to any length necessary to conceal the fact that you purchased the ONE thing you were asked to bring to dinner. If you have to bring your own pie plate to the bakery and pay the guy extra to bake the apple pie in it, do so. If your savvy hostess suspects you, claim that he gave you his recipe and that you have been peeling the apples (that you picked yourself) all day. To be on the safe side, make a small incision in your left hand as proof.
2. Do not regale your hostess with stories of what you and your family did all day. Do not mention how Timmy enjoyed the parade, do not comment on how beautiful the leaves were when you went for a run and, (I shouldn't have to say this) under no circumstances are you to mention a nap. Your hostess woke up at 3 a.m. to get the turkey in the oven and was on her hands and knees cleaning up the brine she spilled all over the hardwood floor until four. She did not get a nap. She has spent two weeks dusting, polishing, and ironing her grandmother's good things. She's made multiple trips to Costco, Whole Foods, Stop n Shop, and Fairway and has tweaked her back from all the hauling. If you've had a manicure in the past 10 days, keep it to yourself.
3. If you endured any traffic on your way to dinner, don't complain about it. When you mention the word "traffic," all your hostess hears is that you were sitting and listening to music for a couple of hours. Because she has been either standing or scrubbing since 3 a.m., she has no sympathy. And may well be holding a knife.
4. Wear sensible shoes that suggest you plan to stand in front of the sink for a few hours after dinner. Your red-soled Louboutins will play like a cape in a bullring if they are kicked up after dinner.
Ticket holders, take this advice to heart. And if you still end up hosting next year, carefully consider the worthiness of your invitees. Or just to be sure, invite me. I'll bring a pie.