Stefan Hard / Staff Photo
The Wild Women of Woodbury gather for dinner and revelry recently at the Woodbury home of member Susan Stitely. The women are all current or former Woodbury residents, and the group has been gathering regularly for 17 years. From left in front are Jan Brough, of Calais, and Susan Alexander, of Cabot; in back are Julie Morrison, of Peacham, Charlotte Brewer, of Berlin, Stitely, Carol Ray, of Woodbury, Robin Gouin, of Woodbury, Cacky Peltz, of Woodbury, and Nancy Oakes, of Woodbury.
They arrive at dusk wearing fanciful Victorian paper masks that cover the tops of their faces, give their eyes unblinking stares and lending their midwinter outfits a comically eccentric aura as though Lucille Ball had invaded Downton Abbey.
Some of their hands model Muppet-worthy sock puppets made at their most recent gathering.
Everyone is speaking at the same time. They are members of the Wild Women of Woodbury, and their laughter ricochets across the dining room of Susan Stitely’s gracious home — a joyful cacophony that bespeaks more than 17 years of shared jokes, pranks and adventure.
While as many as 28 women now attend their annual winter gathering, the genesis for the multigenerational group was the early efforts of a handful of young mothers to put together a preschool in town. The school is gone. But the women who helped start it are still hanging out, living proof that “girls just want to have fun,” even if some of the “girls” are now grandmas.
“A friend’s family had a house in Marlboro,” says Robin Gouin, an original Wild Woman. “It sits on 200 acres and is only used in the summer. So we thought it would be great to go down for a weekend and get away from the husbands and kids.”
That first weekend was a revelation. Sure there were 200 acres on which to cross-country ski. But there were also trunks of old clothes that were donned for impromptu theatrics.
“There was a dormitory area that had a puppet theater, and a trunk full of dress-up clothes,” says Gouin, displaying a photo of what appears to be a very pregnant woman in a maid’s costume.
“It is like the moment we walked in the door we couldn’t stop laughing,” recalls Cacky Peltz. “I don’t know what it was, but we just had so much fun.”
“A couple of years ago we all had prom dresses,” says Charlotte Brewer, who goes on to describe how a revealing dress can be made even more so with the aid of scissors and the shifting anatomy of late middle age.
As with many more formal organizations, the Wild Women’s weekends began to take shape, and traditions began to evolve. Since the early days in Marlboro the women have ventured far and wide, including a fog-bound weekend in Magog, Quebec. These days, Woodbury is the locus for the gathering.
“We always have some kind of games on Friday night,” says Gouin. “On Saturday there’s a hike, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. There’s always a fire and some outdoor cooking.”
But gather a large group of women anywhere and there is sometimes an uninvited guest: breast cancer. But even that failed to dampen their spirits and enthusiasm. Rather, it helped turn the group outward to the community at large.
“We’ve lost two members from cancer,” says Gouin, herself a survivor.
“It was Valentine’s Day a couple of years ago,” she says, talking about their hike. “We had a member who was going through chemotherapy. We had hung hearts and a couple of bras on the trees as decorations.”
The group christened the summit at the end of their journey “Bra Mountain,” and the next year everyone was asked to bring a decorated bra to the annual dinner.
“When we hung them up we realized these things are fabulous,” says Peltz. “We had a fashion show, and then we decided that we should share them.”
Twenty-seven women contributed to what has become known as “The Bra Project.” The garments, decorated in everything from sea shells to fragments of used computers, have been exhibited at the Vermont Breast Cancer Conference and the Weekend of Hope. Note cards and postcards were made and sold with the proceeds going to support breast cancer research.
“I think this is something that women could do everywhere,” says Peltz. “We’re just really lucky to have each other.”
As the women have aged some of their daughters have entered the fold. The women chuckle while talking about how one daughter and her roommates came up one year from Brooklyn. “The snow was up to our thighs,” recalls Gouin. “But there they were in their trench coats leading the way up the hill. They were carrying cast-iron pots and wood, and off they went.”
This year, in addition to their annual winter gathering, the Wild Women will hold their second triathlon. Unlike racers in a sanctioned athletic event, participants are required only to do something involving walking, water and wheels — something being anything. And residence in Woodbury is not required for membership. One only needs to be invited. But be careful what you wish for.
Member Susan Alexander recalls that when she held an open house at her new home in Cabot, the Wild Women showed up en masse.
“It was like a clown car,” she says. “They all piled out of this van. And they’re wearing leather and spikes and chains like they belonged to a motorcycle gang. My sister was there and after everyone went home she just looked at me and said, ‘Those are friends for life.”MORE IN Central Vermont
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