I discovered the first downside before we made it to dinner: I had to dress up (ugh). My black dress and suede high heels made me yearn for the fleece-lined brown slippers I usually wore. I spent the first hour nursing a Diet Coke, noshing on appetizers, and grasping for small talk with second cousins I rarely saw. “How’s school?” they would ask. “Got an internship for the summer yet? What will you do when you graduate?”
I ricocheted among family members. The interrogations seemed endless. There were never any banal questions at previous Thanksgivings because everyone there already knew the answers. This big dinner felt like a performance. I wished I were perched on a couch in my living room with my grandma, sipping the sparkling cider my aunt brought each year as an alcohol substitute for the under-21 crowd (which consisted entirely of me).
Finally, we approached the buffet. In addition to traditional fare such as turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sauce, there was smoked salmon and caviar, sushi, and at least 15 different cheeses. None of it was any good: The turkey was dry and rubbery. The mashed potatoes were tepid. (They weren’t part of the buffet but had to be ordered separately. My aunt was indignant.) Worst of all, I couldn’t eat my favorite dessert, apple pie, because it had nuts and I’m allergic to them.