The GABS, circa 2014: Back row, left to right: Gen Brophy, Fran Lamm, Marilyn Anderson, Kate Krueger, Arla Olive, Pat Manion. Second row: Florence Hughes, Jean Hare, Anne Bowen-Olson, Gerry Hoch, Jane Jaeger. Third row: Ann Walsh, Mary Delehanty, Marge Hergott, Ann Cook, Mary Helen Kaszynski, Sally Gleason, Jeanne Swift Fitzsimons, Miriam Murphy. Not pictured: Betty Nell Dolan. (Photo courtesy of The GABS).
Ann Hanna Walsh is a mother of six, grandmother of 12, and a retired super insurance saleswoman who now spends much of her time caring for her Alzheimer’s-stricken husband. She is my mother, she is a very wise and warm woman, and she has some very sound advice for young and middle-aged mothers:
“I want to tell all these young women to do this, to start a regular group like we did when we were their age, a group the like GABS,” said Ann, sitting with her fellow GABS [Golf and Bridge Sodality] last week at the group’s monthly meeting. “We’ve gone through so much together. Weddings of children, and deaths of husbands, and deaths of children, so that although what we do best is laugh together, we are also very serious about things.”
Laugh they do. And it’s an intoxicating sound to be around, even for just an afternoon. The group of 22 women has been meeting monthly and going on weekend getaways together since 1976, when they were in their 40s and 50s. Now in their 70s, 80s and 90s, most of the women have ties to Annunciation parish, where they raised huge Catholic families together and had to carve out social time.
They were exhausted a lot of the time, but they loved golf and bridge, so they called a few friends and made it happen. They started discussing books long before book clubs were all the rage, and as a result they are a smart, soulful, exacting bunch. There is no gossip, no tearing down of husbands, and no end to their enthusiasm for life. They affectionately call themselves The GABS, the acronym for which has been disparagingly reworked by some of their loved ones into “Bags” and “Gripe and Bitch Session,” but which Marge Hergott recently quietly dubbed, “Girls Aging Beautifully.”
“One of the things I’ve requested of my children is that this group, the GABS group, carries my coffin up to the front of the altar when I’m dead,” said Gerry Hoch, who also suggests that the photo accompanying this column be used as the photo for all The GABS’ obituary notices (gallows humor is rampant in the valley of the GABS). “I told somebody that last month, and they didn’t think it was an honor. They got worried: ‘They’re not going to be able to handle it, Gerry.’”
“Is it gonna be an urn or a coffin?” asked Jeanne Swift Fitzsimons, sizing up her friend from across the room.
“Will it have wheels? We can just scoot you down the aisle,” cracked Miriam Murphy, pantomiming a push.
Along with laughter, support, and wisdom, one GABS hallmark is their good-natured ribbing of one another. Formed at a time when women were primarily homemakers, their decades-old friendship offers a template of camaraderie for the rest of us, not to mention an inspiring and historic slice of feminism. As Kim Ode wrote in a 2000 Star Tribune column on The GABS, “These are the pioneers of a different sort of women’s liberation movement. One in which they kept their bras on, but burned the midnight oil in long gab sessions away from husbands, children and housewifely responsibility.”
“We have worked. We have put in our time. We were full-time employees, but we didn’t get paid,” said Kate Krueger last week. “I think it’s important to have something like this, because as the years go by you need this more and more.”
Florence Hughes: “This book club, which was started in honor of Marge Sutton (one of three deceased GABS, along with Mary Theurer and Delores Trombley) has brought out a lot of different things in our personalities and how we interpret different writings. I wouldn’t give this group up for the world. They’ve helped me through some real difficult times.”
Ask The GABS to sum up what that help has meant to them as individuals, and the responses range from, “We’re all there for each other and we love each other dearly” (Hughes) to “We love each other, we tolerate each other, and we laugh together (Murphy) to “We’ve lost some of the golfers but we still do what we can do, we still use what we can use, and we continue to grow in our friendship” (Hergott).
“I’ve enjoyed every minute of it,” said Krueger. “Everybody has been very kind to me, especially with my vision problem, and it’s been great to be around people who know what you need and what you like without even asking. I enjoy everyone here and I love them very much.”
“I’ve always wondered why I received the call from Ann to join this group,” said Hoch. “I was surprised, and through the years I’ve thought about how lucky I am. I think one of the wonderful things about it is that we all have such different personalities, and yet we’re able to stay together and to put up with each other, so to speak. For example, everyone accepts my snoring. They may put me in a room way down the hall all by myself, but they still let me come. And it’s been wonderful to watch us — except me — age.”
Then Hoch went into a story about a red robe and a Northern Minnesota resort that got cut off by a chorus of “Nos” before it got going.
“What happens with the group stays with the group,” said Krueger, at which the rest of The GABS laughed long and hard, and passed around a box of Kleenex to wipe away their happy tears.