Our friends S and P live in Germany but spend enough time in New York so that they keep a small apartment here. They are fascinated by all things USian, and in past years we have been delighted to receive photos of the elaborate traditional Thanksgiving feasts they prepare and serve for their family and friends at home.
They came in a few weeks ago, planning to fly home in time for their usual celebration. But then P had a bout of what he at first thought was indigestion. He landed in the hospital with stents inserted into all 3 coronary arteries. He was released last week but forbidden to fly for at least another week. S's daughter, E, flew in to be with them.
As previously posted here, our exhausted and burned out family had planned to spend the day in our pajamas eating takeout and watching movies. But as happens in a worrisome situation, I went into fight or flight mode, the adrenaline raced through my system and my executive functions returned, at least partially. So when S suggested that we spend Thanksgiving together, I was able to respond, "Sure! Whatever is easiest for you—you can come here, we can bring food to you, anything." And I meant it. We were all so relieved that P was all right I would have happily catered a meal for 30 if that was what they wanted.
P was feeling much better and had cabin fever; he requested a nice restaurant outing. Finding a restaurant wasn't easy, because the ones that were open on Thanksgiving tended to fall into at least one of 3 categories: 1. Unable to accommodate 6 people at this late date; 2. Diner-type places (which would have been fine for my family, but we wanted something nicer for our friends); or 3. Upscale boîtes with a mandatory prix-fixe turkey dinner (Ben and I are vegetarians and E is vegan). I finally found a lovely restaurant I had passed on the street numerous times and always intended to investigate further. There was something for everyone on the menu, and they took our reservation with no problem.
Until Tuesday night, when I received an apologetic voicemail from the restaurant's proprietor. There had been a terrible mistake; the restaurant was closed on Thanksgiving; he was so sorry.
The Internet yielded what looked like a solution: an Italian restaurant in an unfamiliar neighborhood; the ambiance looked elegant and festive, and the menu was extensive. We grabbed it.
On Thursday evening, we set out, and promptly got lost trying to transfer trains in a maze-like subway hub. Then, when we found the right platform, the train we needed wasn't running. I started to worry that we would lose our reservation and have to wander around in the cold looking for another place to eat, but we ad-libbed and made it to the restaurant just a few minutes late.
The restaurant must have stolen its photos from some other website. It was small and cramped, with Formica tables and linoleum floors. We were the only ones not wearing jeans or track suits. Their concession to the holiday was to have a guy with a guitar "serenading" the tables with cheesy holiday songs interspersed with Dean Martin classics.
I felt sick. I had made poor P walk in circles for miles, for this?
We ordered a bottle of chianti. They brought a bread basket. The wine was excellent, and the bread was homemade. After a glass or so, the musician didn't sound so bad.
The waiter was amused by the variety of dietary requirements at our table, and ended up offering to have the chef make up a vegan feast that we could all share, family style, with meat dishes on the side. It was all fabulous.
By the end of the evening, we were singing along to "That's Amore," laughing at the waiter's stories about going dancing with his mother (I couldn't do them justice but truly, he should have his own standup spot), and complaining that we were stuffed but couldn't stop eating, just like everyone has done at every Thanksgiving dinner I can remember. It was great.
Years ago, I described a life plan to an older friend. He smiled and commented, "There's an old saying—if you want to make the gods laugh, tell them your plans."
My life has turned out to be very different from the one I outlined so many years ago—like this dinner, it has been much stranger and more engaging than anything I could have planned. And if this has provided some amusement for the gods, well, I'm thankful for that, too.