Fifty years ago, before the age of emails, text messages and social media, women staying at home to raise their children could often feel isolated.
A small group of these young mothers watched their husbands come home from work to turn around again and head off to the curling rink. As these women became friends at tournaments and games, they decided they deserved a night out, too.
In 1965, leaving their children with the men, these four women decided to meet for drinks and a night out once every two weeks. “Club,” as they often refer to it, was formed.
“No one worked outside of the home at the time,” says Colwood resident Lisa Gordon, a 42-year group member hosting current group members for a 50th anniversary celebration. “It just grew and grew.”
The Club has been as much about mental health as it was about socializing, she says. “It really is an oasis of sanity … It was years before email or the Internet could keep you up to date. There were no computers, cell phones or anything like that.”
Gail Balloch, a founding member, says Club was a place for the young women to talk about their troubles. “Sometimes really ugly things were happening. Whatever happened in the room stayed in the room.” Many of the women married quite young, she adds, and just needed a safe place to talk about their husbands over a glass of wine.
The women attribute some of their success to an unspoken rule of no gossiping about other members, even though copious amounts of wine have been consumed over the decades. Balloch admits the group was wilder in their younger years, as whispers of an escapade in the parking lot of the Empress Hotel are passed among other members.
“My stories can’t be repeated… The founders had the most fun.” She smiles a mischievous grin.
Over the years the group of like-minded women soon swelled to 13 members, a baker’s dozen, or as one member called it a “dirty dozen.” That name stuck, even as new members continued to join.
The group has fluctuated over the years, with some members passing on or moving away, but Gordon says some who have relocated still make it to meetings when they are back on the Island. There are 16 in the group now.
“It’s food, fun, friendship and the occasional glass of wine,” she said.
That level of friendship is a testament to their commitment to one another. Gordon says they know almost every detail of each other’s lives and have shared in a number of the big moments, from the birth of grandchildren, to the passing of spouses, to the addition of boyfriends.
Helena Ulrich says she’s been “married for 56 years: 28 to the first and 28 to the second.”
“They all came to my second wedding,” she says.
The Dirty Dozen initially met in the evenings, every two weeks, for 40 years before moving to monthly meetings about 10 years ago, then monthly luncheon gatherings five years ago, as some members no longer drive in the dark. They also take a break from meetings from January through March, when many members seek out the sun.
This week’s gathering was extra special for the ladies, with members travelling from all reaches of the Island and even as far as Vancouver. Dressed in their best and adorning hats, they convened at Gordon’s house to celebrate 50 years of friendship, laughter and tears.
A book was even self-published to mark the occasion and given to each member. In the introduction, a passage reads: “Can you believe all this got started by a group of guys?”
“It’s a very close friendship,” Gordon says. When the members were younger, they used to joke about buying a house and starting their own retirement home so they could all grow old together. “It’s not so funny any more,” she adds with a laugh.
The group has transitioned over the years. It no longer is a support group for young mothers needing a night off; its members have seen those children grow and have babies of their own. It has seen loss. The passing of children, spouses, and even group members are still mourned.
But the good times have also been cherished. Gordon says sometimes it can be the only time a member laughs during a tough week, and boy do they laugh, she says.
“You wouldn’t believe how fast it’s gone.”