Sumler-Gale-2

WITH Thanksgiving dinner preparations no doubt already under way in households throughout the land, and with the season of dinner parties about to reach full flower, I am driven to wonder about thanks of a different nature. Not those offered up to Providence for the bounty before us, but those proffered to the givers of dinners. As soon as I am appointed to the Supreme Court, I am going to declare those thank-you-for-dinner gifts unconstitutional. They are the bane of our existence. Such gifts, which frequently turn our poor minds to oatmeal, are the unnecessary impedimenta of one of the most delightful of social situations. Nothing gives me a greater glow than being invited to dinner. The anticipation alone is warming and exciting. I sit back and think about the evening: The warm welcome at the door, the cozy living room (with a crackling fire adding to the conviviality), the trays of tasty tidbits offered by the hostess, a fragrant sherry in hand to give the final pique to my already mature appetite and a collection of friends, new and old, engaged in sparkling conversation. What could be more pleasant? But then the vision shrivels and turns to dust as I tackle the inevitable question: What shall I bring as a thank-you-for-dinner gift? A shattering question, but one that must be dealt with. Oh, certainly, it is easy enough to bring the de rigeur bottle of wine. But even that presents problems. Are my host and hostess connoisseurs, who will examine the label critically after Ive left? If so, I might have to spend my weeks salary on that bottle. If I choose poorly, or try to save a sou or two, my image in their eyes will drop considerably and this dinner party may be the last one to which Ill be invited. In fact, it doesnt seem too bright to even consider bringing wine to a home in which the wine cellar rivals that of the best French restaurant in town. However, if they are not among the cognoscenti, my efforts may all go for naught. For example, that bottle of Lafite Rothschild could end its life by being used in the next pot roast, or gulped in blissful ignorance. And so perhaps a more mundane wine is in order, the kind that is propped up in a wooden box near the cash register of the local wine merchant. But that is hardly a gift for a self-respecting dinner guest to offer for such a satisfying evening. So one searches for alternatives. A candy dish of French limoges? A fertility goddess carved in ebony from the Ivory Coast? A coffeetable book of Daumiers etchings? Perhaps a personalized leather book cover with the initials of mine hosts burned thereon? But where will I find the time to visit the smart Fifth Avenue shops and obtain these gems? As the days pass, and with the need for a gift hanging over my head like a scimitar, anxiety becomes tension, tension turns to panic and panic inevitably deteriorates into a constant migraine. Finally, on the morning of the dinner party, I open the door to the gift closet and examine the gifts that others have deposited on my table at my dinner parties. Wrapped packages all, they require careful reopening to avoid damaging the lovely paper and ribbon bows. If your house is like mine, you will find six bottles of assorted Rumanian chablis, two of Italian chianti, three of Asti and one square decanter of Manischewitz Malaga. On the next shelf, a set of Arabian camel bells, a Japanese sushi platter, a mother-of-pearl knickknack box from Spain, three Metropolitan Museum appointment books, a plastic recipe holder and a wooden figure of a Ukrainian peasant woman, complete with babushka. I attempt to select one of these as appropriate to the evening, but then another fear pierces my brain. Suppose I choose the very gift that my host and hostess brought to my house on their last visit? What a disaster! But even if I avoid such an awkward choice, or have been clever enough to label these unwanted and unneeded gifts just to avoid this problem, the danger is not eliminated. I know a couple who visited Kenya and bought a collection of wooden carvings, intending to use them as thank-you-for-dinner gifts. Upon their return, they were invited to a dinner party and wrapped, as a gift, a set of six lovely napkin rings, each in the form of a different animal (an elephant, a giraffe, an impala, etc.). Having a somewhat closed circle of friends, this couple attended quite a few such parties in the course of the season and finally issued invitations to their house. The evening arrived and was a grand success. The next day, examining the thank-you-for-dinner gifts left on the table in the entrance foyer, they discovered that all six napkin rings had been returned to them, one by each of their guests! The animals of Kenya had completed another migration. Sharp as a serpents tooth is an ungrateful host, you might say. I say nothing of the sort. I say it is surprising that this unfortunate trade and dodge does not occur more often. And why? Who invented this insidious custom? Let us join hands, raise our voices and mass our forces to destroy this outworn ritual. I, for one, propose to do my part. That is, as soon as I am appointed to the Supreme Court.

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