I once had a client at Coke who would sigh in our Monday meetings explaining she’d left her soul back in Blue Ridge, Ga., where she’d spend weekends. Her comment made me want to go there, discover for myself what she was pining for and now missing. Today I’m just back from my own weekend in Blue Ridge, a girls’ trip, and like my client, I’m missing it.
Even though I managed to time the drive at the height of Atlanta rush hour and it took me nearly twice as long, I didn’t care since it was just me, Sirius XM and the open road. With the same excited anticipation I get wrapping Christmas presents, I carefully packed a cooler full of good things — wine and guacamole, marinated artichoke hearts the size of a child’s fist, and breakfast custard with nutmeg for the morning. The town next to mine makes really good maple and molasses bacon, dry rubbed and Applewood smoked, so I got a few packs of those too. All these little gifts were wrapped up and packed up, and I couldn’t wait for them to be opened and enjoyed.
The day I left was ridiculously full of house and pet and family stuff to do, so I didn’t carve out time to make the glazed carrots. Certainly, girlfriends won’t judge and I’ll just bring all the ingredients and make them there, I told myself. But part of me worried I should have done it before leaving, as I would appear hurried and unprepared, which of course I am, but I didn’t want to look the part. This strain of unnecessary dialog didn’t stick around thankfully, and I must have realized that the mountains, good food and wine just don’t pair well with negative self-talk, and so I surprised myself by dropping it.
The getaway required that I assume a heightened comfort level with leaving it all behind. There was the teenage son with a roaring cold who also tends to ignore curfew, pets who might not consistently get fed without my reminders, and carpools I’d help drive to soccer games, and the husband with all of it now on his shoulders who I might find a tad grouchy on my return. All this, so I could disappear for 40+ hours in search of fall color, fires, good food and fun. My sister and a few girlfriends sent me off with sweet text messages reminding me what a great time I’d have, which nudged me to relish the weekend even more.
While on route I messaged my friends, who had already arrived, as to my eta, and the stream of messages back floored me, made me feel so welcome and appreciated. Things like “we are so excited to see you!” and “can’t wait until you’re here!” and “drive safely” were in stark contrast to the kind of reception I get at my own home, which I guess is normal when you’re so used to seeing each other, but not nearly as rewarding. Rushing around with sick kids and a husband (who like me can be snappy) and sick pets (who are sweet), and a rental house with a critter issue and, and, and…. just plain stresses you out and keeps you in high gear, over-reactive and desperately in need of TLC. I’ll admit there was a little pressure on this trip to fill the void that had grown wider since my last girls’ outing at the start of summer. I couldn’t imagine what my arrival might feel like — almost too good to be true — but I pressed on excited for it to unfold.
I pulled up at the house and it was like family — those people who are expecting you and can’t wait to see you, all dropping whatever they’re doing to rush out of the house, arms outstretched with big bear hugs for you and real smiles across their faces. I can’t remember the last time I saw this. Maybe when I came home from college and my mom ran out to greet me and help me unpack my car. Whenever it was, that feeling came back all over again, and it is as sweet as it gets.
Each girl there I knew at some level — some were good friends, and some just acquaintances. Yet in no time, a couple of them swarmed in and unpacked my car without being asked, and were quick to usher me inside so I could waste no time joining the party. After climbing north along highways and driving down the steep driveway, it was all downhill from here (the easy definition). The food was what I imagine a cruise’s to be like. Constant good nibbles appeared and of course there were meals too, big and homemade, the collective work of good cooks and shoppers who made a real effort. There were appetizers, wine, booze, anything you wanted, and TVs on enormous screened porches, trails to hike and loads of laughter. And of course, tequila. The fall color had peaked a week or two earlier, but it looked beautiful, as did we against this backdrop.
There was spotty Wi-Fi at the house, and on the first day I kept borrowing a friend’s phone to connect with my husband and kids. I eventually weaned myself off of the messaging and began to separate from home. The not knowing, not being reachable gnawed at me, but proved just how dependent I am on needing to be indispensable. Hanging out with friends out of town was not some forbidden time I stole; it was planned and public and I could just go and experience it without one foot back at my house and without my phone connecting me to it all. After all, there was another parent in place, and I began to actually realize this and settle into being away.
The dinner Saturday night was like one of those fun Thanksgivings you remember, when the turkey wasn’t dry and your mom didn’t nag you to try the pearl onions or oyster stuffing, and you were first in line for dessert and got seconds too. It was one of those rare Thanksgivings when no one got on each other’s nerves, and people all rallied around the kitchen to pull off a celebratory, delicious feast. I kept my phone handy, not to keep tabs on home, but to make notes of recipes, songs I heard I liked, and other tips girlfriends have no shortage of for one another.
The day I left was efficient and I packed up in record time, ate a quick breakfast and headed back up the steep hill to caravan to Ellijay for apples. We wandered around the store soaking it all up – the huge varieties of apples, apple butter, veggies and cider – and I got in the long line for fried pies, which were disappointingly gelatinous, pale and soft, as if they weren’t actually fried. But the apples were fantastic. There was a tasting station so we could decide which ones we liked best, and I came away with several half pecks plus sweet potatoes and cider.
Now home, I’m back with Wi-Fi, but it’s different now that I’ve had this experience. I’ve stopped to see the fall leaves, shared homemade meals with fun women and laughed for two straight days. In short, I let myself relax enough to grab a few days of fall while I could and they were some of the best. There have been countless autumns where I never did celebrate the season in any way, or look up at the impressive color, but just unremarkably lived out the season until the next one showed up. The seasons can all bleed together if you don’t stop and take notice, and then you miss the chance to extract the best from each. Don’t do this.
My younger son is all over the apples I brought home and the other was safe and at home and starting on antibiotics for his sinus infection. My husband and I did our typical logistics dance, catching up on kids and bills and syncing our calendars. But me? I’m filled up with fall and have no room left to be fed up with anything. We all should find ourselves a few days each season to plunge into whatever it is we need. You never know where it might take you.