The Redding Six Vie for the Road Scholars Friendship Contest
By Kerri Regan
Love and LaughterMay 2015
By Kerri Regan
Photos: Kara Stewart
Laughter is the language spoken by the six retired women gathered at Redding’s Sun Oaks Tennis and Fitness, their home away from home. Each has lived in the North State for more than 30 years, and some of the friendships stretch back to high school.
Beyond the inside jokes and mile-a-minute conversation, though, each carries a “backpack full of bricks” – illnesses, family crises, life’s burdens that weigh you down. And when someone’s backpack gets too heavy, the others lighten the load.
“I don’t get to travel very much, since I’m the primary caregiver for my husband who has multiple sclerosis,” says Kathy Sublett of Redding. During a post-tennis lunch gathering one day in 2011, she declared that she was going to the Masters tennis tournament in Indian Wells. “I asked, ‘Anybody in?’ Did it take you guys 30 seconds to say yes?” She’s answered with a chorus of laughter.
Two thousand miles away in Kingwood, Texas, Pat Timpanaro knew a thing or two about bricks, as well. She had served as a fulltime nanny to four grandchildren for seven years while her son awaited a kidney transplant and his wife traveled for work. “I needed a break,” she says. Also an avid tennis player, Timpanaro wanted to take a trip with the nonprofit educational travel organization Road Scholars to Indian Wells, but her local friends couldn’t go.
So the Redding Six opened their arms and their hearts to a stranger, and in turn added a lifelong friend to their tight tribe. “They just sort of adopted me and took me under their wing,” Timpanaro says.
“Pat is a beautiful lady,” says Sallie Carmona, who has lived in Redding for more than 60 years. “It was easy to embrace a friendship with her.”
The following year, the whole crew went back to Indian Wells – and this time, Timpanaro’s son’s kidney transplant was in the rear view mirror. “They had become true companions who helped me weather one of my life’s most difficult storms,” she says.
In turn, Timpanaro nominated the Redding Six for the Road Scholars friendship contest. They’re among 13 worldwide finalists competing for a $5,000 Road Scholar gift certificate. People can view the nomination videos and vote online once a day through July 31, and the winner will be announced in September. The ladies have been drumming up votes via email, Facebook and text messaging, along with word of mouth – lots and lots of word of mouth. “People are going to start running from us,” Carmona says, pulling a “vote for us” flyer out of a plastic bag.
The Redding Six, wearing handmade “Pat’s Friend” shirts, include retired teachers Sublett, Carmona and Jackie Evans; retired banker and accountant Barbara Haley; retired accountant Marge Scott; and retired county schools librarian Norma Azevedo. They’ve played tennis together for decades at Sun Oaks Tennis and Fitness.
“We call Barbara the moving wall – she doesn’t slow down,” says Carmona, who bought her first tennis racket with S&H green stamps.
“Marge is a leftie so she zips,” Sublett says. “And Kathy has an old racquetball swing that puts an ol’ spinaroonie on it,” Carmona adds.
“That’s because I never took lessons,” Sublett replies. Tennis is more than a workout for this crew. “We’ve all had crisis in our lives, and at times I’ve thought about giving up Sun Oaks, but that’s where the people come out,” Azevedo says. “We laugh together, pray together, eat together – it’s a great support system and a family.” And Timpanaro fit in perfectly.
“Besides tennis, she loves photography, as does Norma. She loves travel, as does Marge,” Sublett says. “We spent five days sharing, sharing, eating, eating, watching shirtless guys. And on the last day, we were at a street fair in Palm Springs, and Pat says something about going to meet her partner. She said, ‘Oh, I’m in the Senior Olympics for ping pong and he’s flying in from Hong Kong.’ We said, ‘What? We can’t go home – we have more to learn.’”
Timpanaro was awed by the positivity and fun that the Redding Six brought to the table. “When you hang out with people like that, it is very life-giving. Even now I find myself smiling just thinking of them and some of their antics. My only regret is we live very far away from each other.
“So often you don’t let people know what they’ve meant to you,” Timpanaro says. “Someone once said that life is not measured in years but in moments. Marge, Kathy, Jackie, Barb, Norma and Sallie gave me moments I will treasure forever.”