The Company You Keep Can Exceed the Destination
Women bond, whether it’s sitting in the stands watching their kids at a swim meet or as co-workers escaping the office for lunch. It’s been like that through the ages, from Old Testament times to our great-grandmothers’ quilting bees. Today’s girl getaways can entail Broadway shows, shopping sprees or afternoons on a beach, but the common thread is the chance to catch up, laugh and sometimes cry with the people who are as important to you as family.
“Really, friends are the family that you choose,” says Kimberly Doyle, the ringleader for a group of women in their late 30s and early 40s who reside in the same Frederick neighborhood and get together once a month for anything from dinner to a night of games. Recently they took it on the road for a weekend in New York City. “We ate and drank our way through New York—and we shopped,” Doyle says. The experience was such a hit that the gang of seven is talking about a beach trip or Las Vegas.
“We have so much fun together,” Doyle says. “At our age we’re over the drama and we want people in our lives that are true-blue. I recently went through a break-up and they were there for me with a bottle of wine and a bag of peanut M&Ms.”
Sometimes the places you go with your BFFs are as comfortable and familiar as the women in your entourage. Joan Lapera of Frederick uses her time shares to host friends, frequently going to the National Harbor outside of Washington. D.C., for a get-together that’s practically in the neighborhood, yet still gives the feeling of being far away from daily stresses.
The weekend starts with shopping in Alexandria, Va., followed by a long, leisurely lunch at one of Old Town’s many restaurants. Afterwards, “we check in and start happy hour,” she says, when they kick back and catch up on what’s happening in their lives. Those with family woes or health concerns get a chance to unload. “As women, we are always doing for our husbands or the children” and we end up being the last person receiving care. “The best thing about getting away is gabbing with our friends,” Lapera says.
In 2014, when many in the group turned 60, they were at National Harbor marking the milestone with reservations to Cirque du Soleil as an added treat. “We had a blast,” Lapera says, but even if the weekend had been absent any special activities, there’s always the value of laughter that constantly erupts between kindred spirits. “It’s the only thing you need,” she says.
In the early 1990s Downtown Frederick was the stomping grounds for a group of women who were young, single and enjoying life. Although weekends were “mainly for the boys,” as Melinda Donegan puts it, “Wednesday night was your girl time.” Gradually they started taking trips together and the group expanded with some women having ties going back to high school. Sue Thomas, for instance, got to know the women because she worked at the old Griff’s Landing, one of their favorite haunts.
Others were welcomed into the fold through the men they dated or eventually married. The first time Donegan laid eyes on her future husband was at a girls’ weekend when he came over to the table and started flirting with everyone. A year later she saw him again and decided that if he had the nerve to come up to a large group of strange women he would be worth getting to know.
“At our age we’re over the drama and we want people in our lives that are true-blue.” —Kimberly Doyle
Many of the weekend trips for the group that started calling itself the “G-Luvs” were to Erin Guyton’s three-bedroom condo on the Chesapeake Bay. For about a decade they have gone in the winter and then again in the summer. Roommate assignments were decided with the first getaways and remain the same today. The group loves cooking together, with Guyton usually in the role as chef and Brenda Brendle—who for years has baked everyone’s birthday cake—serving as her assistant. On one trip Donegan organized a cooking competition patterned after the Food Network’s Chopped. A constant on the G-Luv’s dinner menu is crème brulee for dessert.
Recently the group, which also contains Sarah Godwin, Suzanne Hackler, Cathy Burdette, Nicole Orr, Heather Estey, Debra Santeufemio and Frazier Hoff Pelton, got together to talk about their friendship and girls’ weekends that have included the Virgin Islands and overnights in Washington.
“With age came better incomes and we started going to nicer hotels,” Donegan says. Have they ever considered camping? “No!” they say in unison. “The beach is the only outdoorsy thing we agree on,” Guyton says and everyone laughs. This rather diverse group agrees that it’s their similar humor that’s the glue to the collective friendship.
Another agreement is that they won’t take on any new women. “We’re not hiring,” Guyton says with a laugh. Orr adds that “this chemistry is just right.” Besides, says Guyton, “no one would want to come … we have our own shorthand” to the point that if someone utters just one word, they all crack up because there’s a back story only they know. They also know that Thomas is in charge of figuring out the restaurant bill, that Guyton keeps the group activities straight with a spreadsheet and is always the last one ready when they go out.
These days when they go out on the town during their trips it’s not unusual to call it a night after leaving the restaurant. “A food coma kicks in at 9 p.m. and we’re back in our room getting on our sweats,” one of them says. Orr offers that, “We like our alone girl time. We just want to be together.”
In January the friends gathered to say goodbye to Jennie Waltrip who died unexpectedly—just days before an upcoming trip she had discussed. She had been Donegan’s roommate back in the early days and was a much-beloved part of the group. It was this deep connection and happy memories that got them through this difficult time, the women say. Gathering photos for the memorial service and sharing stories they were able to laugh. One story that brought smiles was about the time Jennie packed along her husband’s giant, heavy-duty torch to finish off the obligatory crème brulee.
“This bond is a strong one,” says Orr, one that goes beyond traveling to fun destinations. “We have this unspoken love for one another.” Godwin agrees, saying “We’re always thinking about each other. It’s like we’re sisters.”