Welcome to Ya-Ya land, where friends are appreciated

Women inspired by book and movie find sisterhood among the talk and tiaras

July 07, 2002|By Nancy Churnin | By Nancy Churnin,Knight Ridder / Tribune

Kitty Chatelain drove 5 1/2 hours with her mother to see a movie she had already seen.

She arrived wearing a tiara, with a feather boa wrapped over her long, flowing dress and with Rich Girl Red nail polish on her fingers and toes.

Princess Cat's Pajamas -- as she calls herself -- wasn't just getting dolled up to see Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. She was dressing up for a party thrown by nearly 50 of her fellow Ya-Yas in Plano, Texas: women inspired by Rebecca Wells' book about four lifelong friends and how one of their daughters learns to understand her mother.

"It's a story about learning more about your parents and the joy of having girlfriends," Chatelain, 18, says.

These are joys Chatelain doesn't take lightly. She has Asperger's syndrome, a form of autism. "I have trouble making friends," she says. "But I've already made so many friends on the [Ya-Ya] Internet site. We talk about what's in fashion. We talk about when we need help or prayers. We talk about what we are thankful for. We talk about everything."

And that seems appropriate because being a Ya-Ya affects everything. To these women, it's not just a book and movie. It involves social clubs, Internet sites, a flamboyant way of dressing and a special vocabulary. It's a way of getting in touch with one's dreams and uninhibited feelings, its members say.

And in an era when women often feel too busy to form close friendships, it's a bonding group that cuts across social, geographical and age lines.

Michelle Johnson of Rockwall, Texas, also known as the Belle from Texas or Miss Understood, says she's grown closer to her mother by reading her comments to others on the "porch," the discussion area of the Ga-Ga for Ya-Yas Web site, http: / / www.ya-ya.com.

"I get to see her opinions on everything. I always thought she was funny. But she's just funnier when she's on there because she's not holding anything back. It's hard to explain, but I've seen what I consider the younger side of her."

Her mom, Pam Malone (nickname: Necie-cakes) of Greenville, Texas, says she has found it liberating.

"You're not always allowed to speak your mind, especially as a woman in this society," she says. "But when you wear that Rich Girl Red nail polish and strut, you can speak your mind, do what you want, show your true personality."

Johnson was the driving force behind the elaborate Ya-Ya party and screening in Plano, Texas, where the rhinestones glittered, the beads sparkled and the Bloody Marys and mimosas flowed at the lavish buffet that started at 10 a.m.

"Isn't 10 a.m. a little early to be drinking alcohol?" someone asked.

"Not for Ya-Yas!" came the quick response.

You don't have to be rich to be a Ya-Ya, but you should dress and feel like a goddess or a princess, Johnson says. Costume jewelry and little-girl rather than expensive fashions are more the rule here: Many women reported getting their finery from Learning Express, Target and their 4-year-old daughters and nieces.

Still, a limousine brought Deanna Smith ("Miss Outer Banks") who flew in from Oregon. She had "a fabulous time" joining her daughter, Tonja Bridges ("Miss Cotton Patch") in matching capri pants.

A table was piled high with Kleenex for the movie weepers and extra necklaces and tiaras.

Meanwhile, other Ya-Yas also have thrown parties.

Ann-Marie Pope of Flower Mound, Texas, aka Grand Empress Ma Belle (because, she says, she "lives" on her cell phone), planned a Ya-Ya surprise for her friends several weeks ago.

But she had a little surprise herself when on the morning of the party, her 2-year-old son, Harrison, jumped off the couch and split his head on the coffee table, requiring five stitches. That didn't dampen her Ya-Ya spirit, she said on her cell phone on the way to the hospital.

That same evening, with her son recovering and in good spirits and her husband baby-sitting, she invited the group to her house for Bloody Marys.

When they arrived, she had hats decorated to suit each woman's personality (hers had a cell phone and a picture of the accident-prone Harrison attached). And then, with the help of some of the husbands, she whisked them all off to the movie.

The evening concluded at a friend's spa, surrounded by little sparkler candles, where they talked until 2 a.m.

"Ya-Ya to me is the camaraderie between really good friends," Pope says.

Pope's friendships date back only to last April, when she moved to the area. But that's why discovering the Ya-Yas has been so important to her. The frankness and the exuberance of the group have helped her and the other women -- also new to her area -- to forge a closeness that usually takes years to build.

"We help each other in different ways," she says. "We notice if someone hasn't been out much or if something is going on. It's definitely bonding."

Check it out

The http: / / www.ya-ya.com Web site lists more than 40 chapters across the country and three in England and Canada. (There isn't a Maryland chapter listed, but there is one in Virginia.)

Talking the talk

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