Our first Friendsgiving: Gathering old and new friends to celebrate Thanksgiving

A personal essay and photo by SALLY GRACE HOLTGRIEVE

I was a modern day pilgrim.

That’s what I fancied myself when I stuffed what would fit into my beat-up Toyota Corolla and took off for Texas in August 2015 from Washington, D.C.

My fiancé, Garrick, met me down here three months later and by Thanksgiving we had our own home (humongous by our former city standards), but no nearby family members to fill it and feast with.

Returning to the homeland for Thanksgiving was out of the question; we didn’t have enough time off work to make flying to D.C. and back worth it. Besides, we had just rescued a puppy that was afraid of puddles, depth change, the dark and our kitten.

“I’ll visit you,” our friend Marie announced on a whim, the year we moved. Originally from France, Marie’s family wasn’t terribly worried about adhering to a strict Thanksgiving tradition — those people eat elaborate meals with nice wine regularly. We picked Marie up from the airport early Thanksgiving morning 2015, took a hike to revel in the November Texas air, then passed the rest of the day in the kitchen.

We went all out. Garrick fussed over the turkey and gravy and baked his favorite rolls from childhood Thanksgiving. Marie made mashed potatoes, green beans, salad and other sides, and I was put in charge of pie and cocktails.

Typically, Garrick is the cook of our household and I am the entertainment. But I’m an American. I was born capable of making apple pie, right? Wrong. My pie turned out to be more of a strudel, and we had to slurp it with a spoon.

For the fancy, grown up (calling something grown up makes it more adult, right?) cocktail, I bought a large glass mason jar with a spigot and made a fizzy cranberry concoction. Tossing in a few handfuls of raw cranberries would make it pretty and festive, right? Wrong. The hard berries got stuck in the spout and blocked any liquid from coming out, so we just poured our champagne from the bottle.

We set the table, lit some candles, said cheers and behold, the first Friendsgiving was formed. It must have sounded fun enough, because in 2016 four more friends joined us.

Luke flew in from Los Angeles — as one of seven kids, he needed Friendsgiving before the wildness that was Christmas at home. Laura was dealing with legal drama and understood that sometimes friends are the family you select for yourself. Sam had recently moved back in with his parents and needed to go un-home for the holidays.

Marie liked Texas so much when she’d visited us the year before that she moved here, and was happily situated in Austin by the time Friendsgiving round two came about. Michael was a local, new friend quickly becoming a best friend. Oh, and we’d gained one more cat.

The chatter of seven people, clinking spoons, and background music filled my home and heart. Every inch of the table was covered by a plate or platter heaping with something delicious. More friends and more food — we wanted for naught.

Once again I was in charge of pie and cocktails. I remembered not to put anything solid in my mason jar, and then promptly shattered it right before everyone arrived. I dumped the contents into a Brita filter and served it that way. The pie — apple and pumpkin — was delicious, because I bought it from some high school students. But that’s a secret.

After dinner we had a bonfire in the backyard, played games, turned up the music and danced.

The same crew will return this year, along with the addition of at least two. I don’t have any more animals because Garrick has decreed three enough, but I’m working on it.

As millennials, our lives are fluid. Since last Thanksgiving, Sam moved to Pennsylvania, Luke moved to Washington state and Laura has changed jobs and apartments. Each Thanksgiving, three years in a row now, I have had a different job and Marie has been in love with someone new. We are in our mid-20s, and all we really know is that there is a lot we don’t know yet.

Perhaps 10 years from now I’ll have some kids and a gravy boat. Twenty years from now I’ll probably have an idea of what my next decade of Thanksgivings will look like. I’ll know what house I’ll be in and what job I’ll probably still have year after year, and I suspect I’ll be a bit nostalgic for the days when I had no idea what I was doing.

Friendsgiving started because one time, we had no family members to celebrate with.

Someday Garrick and I will live close to our parents again, and we’ll have started a family of our own, and my children will know the term Friendsgiving. Anyone in need of food and fellowship will be welcome at our table, whether they are the same friends or new friends.

Whatever our future gatherings hold, may we dance in the living room, late into the night, for the rest of them.

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