I always thought the term “Friendsgiving” was clever – until it became my reality, that is. On this first Thanksgiving without my kids (in 23 years!), I could have spent the day sad, lonely, and curled up pouting on my couch. To top it off, this year my birthday fell on Thanksgiving Eve, so it could have been a depressing double header, making a full-blown pity party a real option. Instead, with an invitation from my friend Lisa, I packed my bags for Charlottesville, Virginia.
It was only six short months ago that we met at a writers’ retreat in Santa Fe and became fast friends, along with our third partner in crime, Sally. I’ll never forget what Lisa said when I called her soon after the retreat, “I just got back from shooting a commercial in LA, where are we going next?” Her zest for living was infectious and brimming with gratitude, even after losing her husband to cancer less than two years ago. So when she invited me to her home in Virginia for Thanksgiving and mentioned she had a “fun day planned,” I knew I was in for a memorable first Friendsgiving/birthday.
The adventure actually began the day before my birthday when I bought us matching Burberry-style scarves. “I’m buying an extra one and will mail it to Sally,” I said. We then snapped a photo of us wearing our new scarves and texted it to our missing trio member. Sally surprised us with her reply, “I’m still in Boston packing the car. I need to get on the road to Sedona!” I turned to Lisa and asked, “Isn’t Virginia on her way?” We pulled up Mapquest and responded to our frazzled friend, “Hey, Sal, stop here for Thanksgiving!”
The next day started with a bang – literally. Lisa’s birthday gift was a skeet shooting lesson at Lanier Shooting Sports outside of Richmond. I had never even picked up a gun, but was ready for a new adventure and figured I could work out any remaining Thanksgiving angst on the range. From the moment of our introduction, instructor/founder of GRITS, Girls Really Into Shooting, Elizabeth Lanier had a no-nonsense approach laced with dry humor. “So you’re a virgin shooter,” she said as she took one look at my stylish healed boots and fashionable shooting couture, complete with birthday crown. “Don’t worry, we’ll make you into a shooting b-tch!”
Surprisingly, I was a pretty good shot and began blasting skeets into pieces that disappeared into the blue sky. “This feels pretty good,” I said. “This could have saved me thousands of dollars in therapy!” By the end of the lesson, I was officially declared a shooting you-know-what, with birthday crown still secured on my head.
While shooting skeets was one of the most entertaining birthday presents I’d ever received, an even better gift arrived at 5 a.m. the next morning – Sally. She survived gridlock holiday East Coast traffic, driving 12 hours straight to reach us. In the early morning darkness, we enthusiastically danced in the driveway in our pajamas as she pulled in. Completely exhausted as she headed to her room, Sally discovered a present on her pillow. And before dozing off, she softly draped her new gift around her neck – the matching Burberry scarf.
The trip could have ended there, but Thanksgiving was just beginning. With only a few hours of sleep Sally got up and joined us for the local Hunt Club “Blessing of the Hounds” tradition, complete with pristine garb and all the pomp and circumstance dating back to 8th century France. After the ceremony, Lisa’s curiosity and adventurous spirit got the best of her as we drove by a party in the parking lot, “Wow, what a tailgate!” she declared to the partiers through the car window.
Within minutes, we were enjoying tasty bourbon toddys served in antique sterling silver cups, honey-glazed ham, homemade biscuits, and gourmet side dishes served on fine china. On this beautiful 65-degree day the warmth of the sunshine was surpassed only by that of the people surrounding me – strangers who had become friends, some over months and others after just a few minutes.
In the end, Friendsgiving exceeded all expectations, and in many ways birthed a new season for me as an empty nester. And with Christmas on the horizon and my kids with their dad, I sense that another adventure may be around the corner. With new friends awaiting wherever I go, it’s sure to be a blast!