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Hats off to women

Females of the species share a solidarity that has always been a natural for them.

By NORMA WATKINS
Published October 27, 2005


Someone said that friends fill the space between lovers better than lovers can fill the space between friends. It's true, and women know how to make friends.

I once asked my husband if, after 37 years in business, he wouldn't miss his friends when he retired, and he said, "I didn't have friends; I had clients."

Not women. We find each other and hold on. Through divorce, distance and death, we're there.

Sue Ellen Cooper has turned women's friendships into a movement, the Red Hat Society, with over a million members. Cooper found her inspiration in Warning, a poem by Jenny Joseph, which begins:

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple

With a red hat which doesn't go, and doesn't suit me.

"We believe silliness is the comedy relief of life," Cooper has written. "Underneath the frivolity, we share a bond of affection, forged by common life experiences and a genuine enthusiasm for wherever life takes us next." Good for them.

We did it without the red hats. Stitch and Bitch started 15 years ago when our husbands were in woodworking school. Back then we called ourselves Wood Widows.

We met over tea to talk about our aspirations. Not about men, we said, but of course we talked about the men, who were either helping or hindering. We met while Betsy got her divorce and Liz had her second child, through Maude's migraines and the disintegration of Joyce's marriage. We celebrated when Betsy met someone new, lived through the relationship with her and were triumphant at the wedding. Joyce's too. Liz's newborn grew up, made the honor roll and tried marijuana. We cheered and commiserated.

And that's the difference. We women are always on your side. Husbands can come and go, children grow up and leave, but we're here, and we're encouraging. Try something new. Do the scary thing. Take that trip to India; raft the Grand Canyon; open a business; quit and get a better job. Don't iron his shirts. A baked potato makes an excellent meal.

We began with tea and talk. A few years later, we took up quilting, which some of us were good at and some not so much. It didn't matter. If you got married, we made you a wedding quilt. You picked the colors, and we made the squares.

When quilting dulled, we met at local bars and giggled over margaritas. Then we moved on to each other's houses for dinner, the resident man banished for the evening.

Lately, we're back to quilting. After 13 years, Maude and Glen went off to Las Vegas and got married at the Say I Do Drive Through. Didn't have to get out of the truck, though the woman behind the glass window did make them turn off the engine. "It's a drive-through," she said, "not a drive-by." Maude chose white for her quilt.

Between meetings, we are not idle. Joyce is a pharmacist; Betsy weaves and oversees the family business. Maude is a graphic artist who knits so well that the yarn shop sells her stuff. Liz runs a local charity, and I teach writing.

When we're together, we never run out of talk and, of course, we still talk about the men. How Joyce's new husband hasn't finished the master's he needs to keep his job secure and must ask for yet another extension. The sneaky way Betsy's Joe can turn an errand into a day's disappearance. His nickname is now Uncle Wiggly. The maddening way Maude's Glen converses, or doesn't. She goes on and on about the pitiful state of the world and when she's done, he says, "That's politics," or after the deer eat the lettuce, "That's gardening."

Once, when confidences drifted into the area of sex, we were awed into respectful silence by Liz's description of her Dan: "He's very thorough." We've never looked at the man in quite the same way.

We talk a lot about politics, and Joyce, who's Presbyterian and Republican, gets quiet. We make room for the differences because we love each other.

No one has died yet. No serious illnesses. But when there are, when we do, our friends will be there, on our side, encouraging.

Women cherish friendship. Maybe because we've always had less money and less power than the men. We come together and stick because we know there's strength in numbers.

"Gather round. I've got something to tell you." We smile and move closer. This will be good.

-- Norma Watkins, who divides her time between California and Florida, is a frequent contributor to the Times.

AT A GLANCE

Sue Ellen Cooper, author of The Red Hat Society's Laugh Lines, appears at 10 a.m. at the Campus Activities Center. She will sign books at 10:45 in Authors Alley North.