Avery Harden wasn’t expecting a big birthday celebration this past weekend. She was supposed to be in Myrtle Beach for a cheerleading competition. That was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, so the options to commemorate turning 14 appeared even more limited with Avery’s family staying home to abide by social distancing guidelines.
But around 3:15 p.m. on Saturday, Avery’s dad called her to come out to the front yard. To her right, Avery saw a parade of cars approaching the Harden home in south Forsyth.
One by one, friends and family drove by to celebrate Avery’s birthday. They honked and shook noisemakers. They tossed candy and dropped off gifts. They brought balloons. They made signs: “HAPPY 14TH BIRTHDAY AVERY!”
“She was super surprised,” Amy Harden, Avery’s mom, said.
Amy was the mastermind behind the operation. She’s a planner, and she usually orchestrates “epic birthday parties” for Avery, she said. That wasn’t possible this time, but Amy tried the best she could with a series of small surprises in the days leading up to March 28.
Avery’s big gift this year was re-decorating her room, so Amy took her to get paint from Sherwin Williams (by curbside pick-up), had new furniture delivered and ordered several do-it-yourself wall art kits from a company in Milton.
All the while, Amy was scheming to pull off something more dramatic. During a conversation with friends (via the video teleconferencing app Zoom), she heard that some families around the country were throwing “drive-by birthdays” for their loved ones amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Amy loved the idea. She created a digital invitation for family and friends to RSVP through text messages and on Facebook and explained the plan: at 3 p.m., vehicles would begin lining up at the neighborhood clubhouse behind Amy and her son, Drew, in the family’s golf cart. Just before 3:15 p.m., the parade would start. Amy would text her husband when the parade was nearing the family’s home, at which point he would call for Avery to come outside.
“He just told her, ‘Hey, can you help me with something?’” Amy said.
The cars passed with a who’s-who of Avery’s closest family and friends: grandparents, cousins, fellow cheerleaders, classmates from DeSana Middle School. Some drove by a second time -- a few did it a third time.
The Harden family has been doing pretty well since self-quarantining. They’re sleeping in and watching a lot of movies but also try to get outside. Avery has kept up with school through online learning. She also plays lacrosse, so they ordered her a goal to practice with.
Still, life feels like the “Twilight Zone,” Amy said.
“It’s just different,” she said. “It’s almost like a dream, but it’s not, it’s reality.”
The moment provided a nice diversion from the element of “doom and gloom” that has come with the COVID-19 pandemic, Amy said.
No one enjoyed it more than Avery.
“She had a blast,” Amy said. “It really made her birthday special.”