The Hostess. In my family we refer to her as “Stefanie”, and boy is she a chump. She’s hosted Thanksgiving for the past I-don’t-know-how-many years. For her birthday I gave her a gravy ladle, which is just like your husband giving you a broom. It’s a gift that says “you can feel free to keep doing the thing you’ve been doing for me.” She takes a good ribbing when her turkey is over brined and always says yes to a straggler. We revere her as the MVP of my extended family.
The Newlyweds. Boy are they shiny. The rings, the youth, the tales of a honeymoon they haven’t quite unpacked from. They represent hope at the table: a bright future, a new generation and maybe someone else to start hosting someday. The bride doesn’t know it, but she’s got a ladle in her future.
The Straggler. You’re not sure why he’s there or to whom he belongs, but, in the spirit of inclusion, no one wants to ask too many questions. Seems like maybe missed his flight somewhere else? There were complications due to the weather, he mentions under a clear blue sky. You never get the whole story, but wherever he was headed, he definitely didn’t pack a collared shirt.
The Does This Have Onions In It Lady. This lady doesn’t eat onions, and she makes it clear when offered her first martini. She wants to tell you why she doesn’t eat onions, but it sounds largely intestinal right out of the gate, so you demur to the kitchen to see if anyone needs help. This lady brings her spectacles to the buffet to inspect the stuffing. She mostly just eats dessert.
The Senior. This poor kid. He’s 17 years old and people are just trying to make conversation. What more lively topic to bring up than college admissions? This kid smiles a lot and says “We’ll see.” You try to keep the conversation going by telling him he’s more likely to get struck by lightening than he is to be admitted to his first choice college. He secretly hopes for a lightning bolt to end this conversation.
The Mysterious Cousin. This guy graduated from college with an interest in the CIA. This was fascinating Thanksgiving talk over the past few years, maybe the best ever. Now he returns, having moved to Virginia, and will not discuss his job at all. He uses phrases like “government related” and “hard to explain” a lot. You consider following him home.
The Bachelor. This guy shows up in better clothes than the rest of the men, mostly because he’s still trying. He’s brought a date, a blonde, who looks a lot like the woman he brought last year. This is tricky because you can’t remember well enough to be able to tell if it’s her. You decide to ask open-ended questions and look for context clues to find out, but honestly you don’t get too vested.
The Trouble Maker. He likes to say things like “I think women use the term ‘sexual assault’ for things that are really just misunderstandings.” He doesn’t believe this; he says it because he’s bored or drunk or both. Depending how bored or drunk you are, you decide to take the bait or not.
The Grand Dame. She’s made this meal 1,000 times. She’s paid her dues. She had her hair done today. She loves The Hostess.
The Rememberer. This lady wants to know if you’ve finished that book you were saying you were going to finish last Thanksgiving. No. Why not, she’d like to know. Because I got a dog? Why’d you get a dog? Because I went on a cleanse and lost my mind? Clearly this woman came to Thanksgiving to nag you, and clearly she doesn’t read your column. You excuse yourself to the dining room to audit the place cards to make sure you won’t have to suffer through this interrogation all throughout your meal. This is the sole occasion where it is permissible to switch place cards when The Hostess isn’t looking.
The Old Guy. If you’re going to switch, you opt for The Old Guy. This is the best guy at the table. He’s got stories to tell, and they must be told. He doesn’t want to impress you or sell you anything. He just wants you to know what air travel to Europe was like in the 70s. He wants you to know what the real problem was with his first wife. He doesn’t care who he tells these stories to; you’ll do. Besides the pie and the wine, this is the reason you showed up.