Adventures, misadventures, and fun shared by four widowed RVers determined to continue motorhoming.
By Delores Holloway, F278472
Four widows gathered at the funeral of Norma Hamel’s husband, Ray, in February 2013. The other three had lost spouses also — Delores Holloway’s husband, Duane, in September 2011; Peggy Weygandt’s husband, Jerry, in September 2012; and June Guess’ husband, Jim, in January 2013. The Holloways and Hamels were charter members of FMCA’s Red River Rovers chapter, which was established in 2001. The Weygandts and Guesses joined the group several years later.
After the service, the ladies chatted about the RV rallies they had enjoyed with their husbands.
“I don’t want to give up this lifestyle. I love motorhoming,” Delores said.
“Well, I love the RV rallies and playing cards each evening,” Norma added.
Peggy chimed in: “We sold our RV when Jerry became so bad with ALS. I’ve driven all over the United States with Jerry as my copilot.”
“If only Jim hadn’t fallen and hit his head; I encouraged him to go to the emergency room, but he thought he’d be all right,” June said.
“Duane gave it a good fight, too, but his immune system gave out,” Delores commented.
“Let’s talk about a solution to our dilemma,” Norma suggested. They tossed around ideas — everything from learning to drive their diesel pushers, which the husbands had handled with ease, to putting them up for sale.
The ladies made a pact. They would try to find a way to attend all Red River Rovers rallies.
The first rally of the year was a March gathering in Santo, Texas. “We can do that one,” June said. “I’ve been there, and they have cabins.”
A cabin reservation was made, and the planning began. Unsure what the cabins had to offer, they packed dish towels, pans, paper plates, etc. Delores decided to bring her old percolator for coffee. Next question: What about food? They decided that each woman would bring her own breakfasts and take turns providing lunch for everyone.
Finally, it was rally time. Peggy and Delores rode together; Norma traveled with other rally-goers; and June drove alone. Things would have been easier if they lived closer to one another. Peggy is from Plano, Texas; June lives in Ardmore, Oklahoma; Norma resides in Wichita Falls, Texas; and Delores comes from Wylie, Texas.
Norma met Peggy and Delores at the campground, and they all went to the office to check in. The clerk said, “A lady dropped off a package for the four of you with instructions that you are not supposed to open it until you are all here together.” They could hardly wait for June to arrive.
Once their gear was carried in and put away, they looked around the cabin. It had a kitchen, a table and chairs, a double bed, a sofa bed, and one bathroom. (Yes, one bathroom and four women.) The package sat in the middle of the table while they speculated what was inside.
June finally arrived. It was time to open the package!
Inside were four individual packages, which were quickly chosen and opened. Jeannette Idell, a Red River Rovers member, had made each lady a crystal bead heart, which hung on a chain. A missing bead on each side of the hearts symbolized the women’s broken hearts that needed mending. This thoughtful gesture brought them to tears. They decided to become “The Mending Hearts Club.”
“Who gets the bed, and who gets the couch?” June asked. To determine sleeping arrangements, the women made four tickets, placed them in a bowl, and took turns drawing. Norma and June got the couch tickets. Next, they picked 15-minute intervals for the bathroom.
In the morning, Delores got up first to make coffee. Knowing the noise her percolator made, she took it in the bathroom, set it on a folded towel, and closed the door. Soon the racket woke her roommates. “What is that horrible noise?” one exclaimed.
June celebrated her birthday during the rally, so the other three organized a party for all attendees. Rita Landrum, another friend, gave each an insulated glass with a flower design to honor their return to the rallies. The tremendous support from Red River Rovers members helped the women’s confidence.
Each woman had brought 1950s clothing to go along with the rally theme. That evening, dressed in poodle skirts or jeans, they entered the clubhouse and were surprised by a standing ovation. They had wondered how chapter members would react to four single ladies joining with the couples, and they had misgivings about attending a rally without their men. Soon, however, the women were laughing and talking and enjoying themselves.
Their second shared rally was at the Texas Motor Speedway, north of Fort Worth. Delores and June borrowed a Type C motorhome from Billy and Jeannette Idell. Jeannette drove it to the rally site, and Billy set it up. Peggy volunteered to drive Norma’s coach to the rally so she and Norma could stay in it. But first, they had to get Norma’s coach from Wichita Falls to Forth Worth, since Norma didn’t drive. Their solution: Peggy and Delores would drive 2 1/2 hours from Plano to Wichita Falls to pick up Norma and the coach and then drive it to the rally. It was a little crazy, but they practiced their new motto: “Whatever it Takes.”
In Wichita Falls, the women prepared to connect Norma’s car to the tow bar. No one was well-versed with the process. “Let’s go out to eat first, to get strength for the task,” one of them said. Unfortunately, it was getting dark when they returned.
“Look at that tow bar,” Peggy said. “I’ve never seen one like it.”
“These metal rods go somewhere,” Delores said.
“I think these pins go in those little holes in the rods,” Norma offered.
“You’re right,” Delores replied. “I think Duane called those cotter pins.”
Peggy asked Norma, “I can’t get the rods to slide into place; do you have a hammer?” The process went well after that, although Norma’s neighbors were likely curious about the racket and the laughter that filled the air.
Trying to hook up the Brake Buddy was next. “Here’s some coiled wires with hooks on each end,” Delores said. “Do they go on top of the tow bar, or underneath?” Norma said she didn’t have a clue; Ray had done the outside part, and she always hooked it up on the inside of the car. They searched for the wiring harness, to no avail. Delores lay in the street with a flashlight, searching for loose wires. She could see Peggy’s face looking down at her from under the hood. After an hour, they gave up and went to bed.
The next morning, they found a switch under the hood that said “car” on one side and “motorhome” on the other. The wires were finally located in a crevice where Ray had tucked them. Soon, they were headed to the speedway, with Peggy behind the wheel of the motorhome.
The rally was held in the drivers’ parking lot. The ladies had heard that the only access to the lot was through a narrow tunnel that went down a hill. Soon, it appeared, with a scant few inches to spare on either side of the coach. Peggy sized it up and started forward; Norma and Delores, white-knuckled, wanted to close their eyes. The front of the coach fit; then the mirrors cleared. Suddenly, Peggy floored it. The other two screamed. It felt like a roller coaster ride as they flew out the other end.
“Why did you do that?” one of them asked Peggy.
“I wanted to get it over with quickly.”
Dumping the tanks after the rally was an experience. The gray-water tank valve got pulled first, which left no water to flush out the black tank. “What do we do now?” Norma asked.
“Close the gray tank, for starters,” Peggy said. They went back in the coach and ran a lot of water into the gray tank. It took them a long time to clean up; when they finally finished, they looked up to see eight motorhomes lined up behind them, waiting to dump. Men were outside their coaches, pacing and muttering.
Time came for the May rally, in Gladewater, Texas; Peggy was going to be out of town. “What should we do for this one?” Norma asked the other two.
“Well, I checked,” June said, “and they don’t have cabins at this park.”
They found a motel with several fast-food places nearby. “Let’s eat out at this rally and not take food for breakfast and lunch,” June said. That sounded good to the other two. They had hitched rides with other chapter members, leaving their cars at home. Different members showed up at the motel to chauffeur them back and forth to the clubhouse.
Each June, the Red River Rovers chapter members hold an anniversary rally. This time, the theme was Hawaii.
“Why don’t we dress Hawaiian in grass skirts; we could wear flesh-colored shorts and T-shirts for the anniversary dinner on Saturday night,” Delores suggested. June, the quietest one, expressed doubts at first. Norma commented that she had seen some coconut bras at a store near her home.
“Let’s get some flower leis, too, and a flower for our hair,” Peggy said. Norma volunteered to pick up the costume items.
This time, all four would stay in Norma’s coach. The rally was in Durant, Oklahoma, where the RV park has a large bath facility with multiple showers. Peggy and Delores repeated the process of driving to Norma’s home to get her and the coach, while June traveled by car.
At the RV park, motorhome setup did not go smoothly. The fresh-water hose was hooked to the wrong place; they stood there waiting for the noise of running water to quit, but it never did. Norma went inside to start setting up. Suddenly, loud screams emanated from the coach. “Turn off the water!” she shouted. Somehow it had filled the toilet and was flooding the coach. Panic set in as the women grabbed items off the floor and swept the water out the door with a broom.
“Boy, am I glad it’s early on Wednesday and not many Red River Rovers are here yet,” June said.
“Yes, because we would get the club’s D A award for sure when they saw all the things hanging outside to dry,” Peggy added. The D A (“Dumb A__”) award is given to chapter members who do something foolish. While the floor was drying, they went to Walmart. Buying sanitizer would make the coach smell better.
Peggy and Norma got the bed this time, and June had the couch. Delores brought a blow-up mattress to sleep on the floor each night. The first night was fine. The second night, half of the air seeped out, leaving Delores’ feet and head up in the air. Each night the women listened to its noisy battery-powered pump.
Finally, it was Saturday and time to dress Hawaiian. They couldn’t quit laughing as they put on their grass skirts over their shorts and tied on the coconuts. They waited until everyone was at the clubhouse. Then, with leis in place, they climbed out of the coach and headed across the parking lot. Though they planned a surprise entrance, someone saw them coming. People rushed out the clubhouse door. Soon, they were surrounded by people with cameras. Chapter members thanked them for brightening their day.
By the September rally, Delores had worked out a trade with Snoopy and Susan Campbell — her diesel coach in exchange for their 30-foot Type C. Without a coach of her own, Peggy travels with Delores. June sold her motorhome and bought a brand-new 25-foot diesel Type A. Norma sold her coach and now travels with June. They held an “open house” at the rally to show off the newly acquired vehicles.
The women have gotten very experienced at hooking up cars, sewer hoses, electric, and water; in fact, each woman has a task, and everything is completed in five to 10 minutes. Then the chairs come out and the stories and laughter follow.
When stopping for fuel, they enjoy it when people come up to ask whether they really are driving that motorhome and towing a car. When one of the ladies went shopping for a new car, she told the salesman she needed a model that she could tow. The young salesman looked at her gray hair and lovely wrinkles and asked, “What are you going to tow it with?”
“My motorhome,” she replied, and laughed at his shocked look.
This experience has helped them through the loss of the men in their lives, and belonging to an FMCA chapter is the icing on the cake. Chapter members are right there, at a rally, if something goes wrong. If the men see them outside trying to work on something, soon three or four will show up to help. The women’s laughter each evening while playing cards is so uplifting and wonderful. They’ve proved to themselves that they are capable of meeting challenges and learning. The best part? They can continue to do something they love, with the best friends ever.