As the hostage families prepare for their pilgrimage to the East for the big reunion this weekend, the question has arisen: Who is family?

It wouldn't especially matter, except that U.S. commercial airlines are flying family members free of charge from anywhere in the country, and the State Department is springing for the hotel tab. Thus, a policy is required.

Immediate family -- parents, wives, children -- and "anybody within reason who the hostages say they want to see at the bottom of that ladder when they land" the government will pay for, according to a State Department official.

"We will not deliver Jane Pauley," he added, referring to one hostage's written request to be met by the hostess of NBC's "Today" show. "We'll have to break the news she got married while he was away."

Linda Kalp of Brockton, Mass., sister-in-law of hostage Malcolm Kalp, was upset to learn that her two children are not covered under the free air fare provisions. Kalp's two children by his first marriage will be allowed to fly free, but the State Department will not pay their hotel bill.

"I thought after all the hostage families have been through, they would have hired a hotel and put everybody in it," she said. "If every family could bring 10 relatives, I'd think that would be right. What if there were 520 of them? I think this would be reasonable."

Some of the hostages have been married more than once and their families are scattered around the country. Others have girlfriends they left behind.

The mother of a hostage in an eastern state was "deeply distressed," she said yesterday, when a State Department official told her she could not go to West Point, N.Y. That is where the immediate families will be gathered for their first reunion with the ex-hostages in private. The mother, who asked not to be identified, was to fly to Washington and remain there awaiting public festivities beginning Tuesday. The wife and children only would be taken to West Point.

"I said to the man, 'How can you do this? I'm a mother. I bore him. But he told me those were the rules. . . . I was so upset that I cried and I couldn't sleep that night.

"Then the State Department people spoke to my other two sons and they convinced me that if I made a scene it would just upset" her son.

Hostage wife Dorethea Morefield in San Diego, after taking a call from a second cousin in Texas recently, said she'd been hearing from relatives she didn't even know she had, not to ask for freebies but to wish her well.

While the families break out the new clothes bought months ago for this occasion, and bake special treats to take as welcome-home offerings on their pilgrimage, a continuing counterpoint of grim details emerges about the hostages' life in captivity.

Mixed in among the horror stories of clicking guns, beatings, solitary confinement and poor rations, the families can report small victories.

Susan Cooke of Memphis, mother of ex-hostage Donald Cooke, told of a special code he invented in his letters. He asked his parents to send him some "Curtis LeMay stoneware."

The letter, written on Christmas Day 1979, was a reference to Gen. LaMay's famous recipe for victory over the enemy in the Vietnam War -- "bomb them back to the Stone Age."

Cooke, 25, was vice consul at the U.S. embassy in Tehran.

"My daughter and daughter-in-law both sent him letters referring to the stoneware," Mrs. Cooke said. "My daugther [Becky, 19] said, 'We sent you the stoneware. Eight pieces got broken.'"

Cooke was able to figure out from the code that there had been an attempted rescue, she said.

Cooke told his family by phone that he was not physically tortured or beaten, but that he was bound and gagged, blindfolded, kept tied in chairs for long periods. "They kept accusing him of being a spy," his mother said. "He told them, 'All I know how to do is stamp visas.'"

Clair Cortlandt Barnes of Falls Church was blindfolded and bound every time he left his room during his entire 14-month captivity, he told his sister in San Diego by phone from his hospital quarters in Wiesbaden. And he was the victim of what he called "tricky little games," like putting an empty gun behind his ear and pulling the trigger.

Barnes, 35, a communications intelligence expert, was photographed by his captors in the early days of the embassy takeover, his sister said, but his family did not see him again until his release. "He told us he refused to be photographed by them and that's why we didn't see him in the Christmas photographs . . . he hates them."

Don Hohman, 39, of West Sacramento, told his family he survived mostly on sardines and vegetables, and fasted "whenever I was mad about something." Whenever he fasted, he said, he was thrown into solitary confinement.

After the American rescue attempt failed in April, he said, guards told his group they would be shot. "The guards kept gloating over the failure of the rescue team. I thought to myself for a while, 'Oh, boy, it's all over.'"

Toward the end, he said, he met a guard he liked, who "seemed fairly well-educated, a more compassionate person, who treated us like people."

Hohman was the first ex-hostage to meet with members of his family at the hospital in Wiesbaden. His German-born wife, Anna, works there as a nurse, and lives with their three children in Frankfurt, about 25 miles away.

Hohman's brother, Lew, a bus driver in Sacramento, was sent to visit him by the Sacramento Bee.

"I couldn't take my eyes off his drawn cheekbones," his brother said. "I tell you, if I'd passed him on the street, I would have needed a second glance to recognize him."

Charles Jones, the only black among the ex-hostages, didn't find out for over two months that 13 women and blacks had been released by the Iranians soon after the embassy seizure. His wife, Mattie, in Detroit, said he told her he was kept isolated for a time and learned about the release in a brief exchange with another hostage. Jones felt he was not released with the other blacks because he was caught burning and shredding embassy papers when the militants stormed the embassy, she said.

Kevin Hermening, at 21 the youngest ex-hostage, phone his home town newspaper, the Milwaukee Sentinel, to thank the folks who had written cards and letters.

After so many disappointments, he said, the day of liberation came as a real surprise. "Just the other day, before we left, they put us in this room. . . . There was an Iranian there, and he said, 'You are a candidate for possible release and now we want an interview.'

"I just took it with a grain of salt. I let it ride by. Then Tuesday morning it was the same thing. We were really surprised Tuesday afternoon when it really happened."

Hermening and Marine Gregory Persinger, 23, of Seaford, Del., were paraded before Iranian television cameras the day before their release. In those interviews, which were provided to CBS and broadcast Thursday, the two hostages said they had not been physically abused.

U.S. officials discounted the tapes as propaganda and said the statements obviously were made under duress. The ex-hostages in West Germany issued a statement saying essentially the same thing.

In the interview, conducted by the Iranian militant known as "Mary," Persinger said at one point, "Mentally it gets on your nerves but that's about all I can say. I don't believe that it's made my mind go haywire or something."

Persinger's brother spoke with him by phone yesterday, and reported that Gregory has the same thing on his mind now that he had when he left for his assignment in Iran: "Women."

"I'd say he's as close as he's ever going to get to normal, because that's all he ever thought about before," said Air Force Sgt. Lawrence Persinger of his brother. "If it's not guns, it's women."