Story and Photographs by Deb Peterson
If you love cute little trailers and can think of a million ways to decorate them, inside and out, and if you love fly fishing or horseback riding or camping or just hanging out with lots of fun women, no husbands or kids or dogs allowed, you just might be a sister.
This spring, sisters from all over the country hitched their painted trailers to trucks, and pulled them to Branson for the 2012 Sisters on the Fly Giddy Up. They spent an entire week camping, fly fishing, relaxing, shopping, talking, partying, whatever their hearts desired. They opened their trailers to the public. They made new friends. They signed up a few new sisters.
Sometimes they ride horses. Sometimes they shoot guns.
“These women are so in sync with what women really want and need,” says Suzanne Stewart, Sister #2387.
“The greatest gift is the independence learned here,” one woman said.
“I found out more about me,” said another.
Some have recently divorced and are looking to mend the holes in their hearts. Some are looking for a break from a too-full life. Others have sent their last child off into the world and want a new adventure. It doesn’t matter why they join, they’re all welcome.
“I hope it lasts forever on its own legacy,” says Maurrie Sussman, Sister #1, who started the whole thing with her sister, Becky, years ago. “It’s not about me. It’s about fun, and it’s sometimes about raising money for women and kids.”
The sisters have a motto: We have more fun than anyone.
Take a walk through Giddy Up and you’ll see that’s absolutely true.
Wranglers help new women join the sisters. Find out if you could be one at sistersonthefly.com.
Meet some sisters, sister!
Carolyn Hellmuth, Sister #875, Arkansas
Carolyn’s ’72 Shasta Compact is famous for being the brown trout in the Cowgirl Caravan. When sisters told her she needed a little more glam, she added sparkly paint and old photos of women fly fishing in skirts.
Her trailer “yard” includes an awning held up with trees and a collection of signs:
• Life is short, dance often.
• The fish don’t care.
• A woman only needs a fly rod and chocolate.
• The sisterhood of wine.
She also displays the badges she has earned at various Sister events. “It’s like Girl Scouts with alcohol,” she laughs.
Christi Partee, Sister #687, Arkansas
“There aren’t that many women who have the courage to hook up a trailer and pull it across the country by themselves,” Christi says. “It’s empowering. I started out white-knuckled, started to relax, and thought, ‘I can do this.’ It’s freeing.”
Christi loves the vintage aspect of the trailers in the caravan, especially the older “canned hams” with the birch interiors and old ice boxes, and she loves helping sisters find trailers and refurbish them. Her sleuthing has earned her the nicknames “Trailer Magnet” and “Trailer Whisperer.” She has five trailers of her own, two finished and three in the restoration process.
More importantly, Christi loves the friendships she’s made with other sisters.
Joi Ball, Sister #1314, Arkansas
“This is one of the best things I’ve ever done in my life,” Joi says. “It’s very empowering.”
She doesn’t do vintage. Instead, Joi travels in a brand new Airstream decorated with local art. “I meet people from all over the U.S. who I never would have met otherwise,” Joi says. “It’s an extended family.”
Terry Dykstra, Sister #113, Kansas, Helen Elston, Sister #99, Missouri, and Pam Willcott, Sister #113, Kansas
Terry and Pam are known as the Cowgirls in Paradise. At this Giddy Up, they strolled the grounds selling Sister-ritas, their special brand of margarita. They also loaded their little red wagon with jello shots made with vodka and cherry Coke. They’re known for meeting family and friends at the airport dressed up as one thing or another. These sisters know how to have fun.
Dawn Bybee, Sister #2085, Florida, and Tina Leach, Sister on the Try, Ohio
Dawn and Tina have been best friends for 17 years. Sisters are allowed to bring a guest one time as a ‘sister on the try.’ “I’m gonna be a Fly,” Tina says.
They’re sitting on a vintage sofa Dawn sawed down the middle, cut 14 inches out of, and reupholstered so it would fit in her trailer.
Lariann Hinton, Sister #252, Texas, and Linda Brede, Sister #250, Texas
A mother-daughter team, Linda and Lariann say Sisters on the Fly isn’t just about camping, it’s a “whole way of life.” Lariann and her husband use her trailer to wrap Christmas presents on the sly, wine and cheese included, and she and her son often curl up inside to read, even when the trailer is parked in the backyard.
They lost Sister #251, “Margie in the Middle,” to ovarian cancer, and Linda is planning a remodel in her memory.
Karen Reichart, Sister #831, Illinois
“Life’s a Hoot” around Karen, whose trailer is decorated with an owl theme.
“I love the comaraderie of women at this age embracing life,” Karen says. “It’s so much fun.
Karen missed the great outdoors when her daughters outgrew Girl Scouts. Now she takes one or two big trips a year with the sisters. “I feel like I’ve found my place,” she says.
Suzanne Stewart, Sister #2387, Indiana
Suzanne’s husband, John, gave her “the gift of freedom” for her 45th birthday, presenting her with a fully decorated trailer, her sister membership hanging on the wall. She manages the family’s hobby farm while John is on the road.
“I do it wearing pink boots and nice jewelry,” she says. This is her getaway.
Glenda Stone, Sister #62, Missouri
Miss Giddy Up 2012 planned the Branson event and got to wear a pink sash and crown for the week.
“Girls who don’t have sisters have sisters here,” she says. “My own sister is nothing like me. All of these sisters love being outside.”
Finding Sisters on the Fly hits you at a time in your life when you need it, Glenda says.
Maurrie Sussman, Sister #1, Arizona
“You already know you want to change your life,” Maurrie says, “or you wouldn’t be seeking.” It’s one of the things she loves about Sisters on the Fly, an idea she hatched with her own sister, Becky, when they wished other women could have as much fun outdoors as their mother showed them how to have. “When you’re all together, you try new things,” she says. “Our mother and her sister took us places. We hiked and pitched tents and laughed so hard we wet our pants.”
“It doesn’t matter how old you are,” Maurrie says. “Age doesn’t matter. It’s about whatever you have courage enough to try.”
M! August/September 2012