IMG_0695A few weeks ago, I walked into the local pub the Tap on Main to discover all of my friends banded together at the end of the bar waving little American flags. “The Star Spangled Banner” was playing on the stereo. A little table had been decorated with gingham linen, white roses, Coca Cola, apple pie and patriotic cupcakes. And as I walked toward my friends, crying of course, I had to walk under a huge flag hanging from the ceiling.

It was the surprise of all surprises, one my friends had thrown me for passing my citizenship test, the last step before I can be naturalized as a citizen.

Admittedly, I had the feeling something was in the works before we got to Tap. This was largely because my husband was acting shifty before we left the house. We were supposed to meet our friends Sarah and Scott at the Tap by 7. But from 6:45 to 7:04, my husband’s phone kept vibrating, jumping around on the kitchen island like an alarmed bird.

“Work stuff,” he sniffed and started tapping on keys with his hand covering the screen.

“OK, it’s nearly 7. They’re going to be waiting on us,” I said.

“It’s fine.”

By 7:04, my husband had decided he: needed to change his shirt, use the bathroom, put more Saran wrap on food we weren’t going to eat, and check on a software update on his computer.

“Let’s gooooooo,” I said impatiently.

Finally, we reached the landing in the garage and his phone groaned again. He checked it.

“Wait, let me put your documents in the safe,” he said of the passport and green card I’d had to bring to the citizenship test earlier in the day.

It was the fact that he was suddenly worried a robber would come into our home and, of all things, choose to steal my passport, which bears the ugliest photo of a Canadian in the history of America, that made me suspicious.

At that point, I experienced that bubbly feeling — slightly nauseating, slightly tremendous — indicating a surprise might be afoot.

Admittedly, I was on high alert. Years ago, while covering a naturalization ceremony for The Sentinel at the federal courthouse in London, I remember watching one Lola Jean Miller leave the courthouse to discover 40 of her friends standing at the base of the steps all wearing flag paraphernalia.

“Surprise!” they yelled.

I remember the look on that Canadian woman’s face, her shock crumpling into tears, a shining smile emerging. I remember grasping the enormity of what it would mean to become a new citizen, but more importantly I remember thinking how wonderful her friends must be to gather for her in this way.

In many ways, wanting to become a citizen, being ready to do it, has been because of the friendships I have developed in the past few years. In an essential way, these friendships have established my sense of place, grounded me here, made me really fall in love with this Kentucky life. Obviously, my husband and my beautiful stepdaughter are my foundation, but these friendships are a firm scaffolding surrounding it and having that to lean on is priceless.

And as we walked into Tap on Main on that snowy night, my friends were there standing for me. I tell you, I won’t forget it. Not because of the surprise. Not because of the test. But because of the sentiment. Because of the effort it took.

And after my tears had dried, we drank beer, we laughed and everyone stood chatting. Sarah, the master planner, hugged me. Tiffany played “I’m proud to be an American.” Dustie fluffed the roses she’d brought, as usual making everything beautiful. Julie beamed from her seat, always solid, always there. Jessica and I talked about good movies and great food. Becca and I mourned the fact that we hadn’t gotten together since Christmas. Amanda happily cracked jokes. Scott, Sean, Rick and Bjorn stood around the bar talking about guy stuff, having hurried from work to make it on time. Messages flew in from Kristen, Kathleen, Stephanie, Meredith, Andrea, Candice, Christie and Hailee congratulating me.

Something new had launched. And it felt great.

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