It’s hard to believe it’s already been thirty years since Steel Magnolias was first released in movie theaters. I remember seeing it for the first time while I was still in high school. I’m showing my age, now – aren’t I?
To this day, it’s probably my most favorite movie. Filled with a stunning cast of Academy Award winning actresses, it is laugh-out-loud funny. Of course, every time I watch the funeral scene, I do the ugly cry. We all do. And can we talk about the witty quotes?
“I can spot a bottle job at 20 paces!” (Truvy)
“You know I love you more than my luggage.” (Clairee)
“Pink is my signature color.” (Shelby)
I can tell you that the wood-paneled church where Shelby gets married, the pot-luck dinners and socials are all very Southern; in fact, it reminds me of the small-town church that my in-laws attend.
Needless to say, when I found out from a church friend of my mother-in-law that there was an official Steel Magnolias 30th Anniversary Tour in Natchitoches, Louisiana – I made reservations immediately! Put on by Preserve Louisiana, it seemed to be a weekend full of good food, fun and entertainment.
I have to admit, I am a complete nerd when it comes to travel, and LOVE taking tours. Good tour companies will hire locals or knowledgeable folks who can give you access to places and people you wouldn’t be able to find on your own. It doesn’t bother me one bit that my husband and I are usually the youngest people on the tour. We’ve befriended unique people on the different tours we’ve taken over the years and am still in touch with many of them.
I invited two besties, Melissa and Stacy to come along with me to Natchitoches. We spend almost every holiday together (along with our children and our husbands) and have a profound bond and deep love for one another. They were my pillars of strength during my infertility crisis and held my hand when I grieved the loss of each of my seven pregnancies.
So, what is a Steel Magnolia, anyway? It is a woman who is the essence of strength, combined with femininity. A Steel Magnolia is a resilient woman; unflinching in character, who exemplifies an uncommon fortitude. Most of all, she is always there for her friends and family in times of need.
Melissa and Stacy love the movie too and were intrigued by the tour. Once we coordinated our husbands, our kids and their schedules, we were off on our road trip to Natchitoches, Louisiana.
Our seven-hour drive was filled with 80’s music and girl talk. We had an overnight stay in Shreveport, where we sipped champs and caught some live music. We were in Louisiana, after all! While at the famous Noble Savage Tavern, I was invited to get up and sing with the band. Ok…well, in actuality, Melissa happened to casually mention to the band that I was a singer. The rest was history. Next thing I knew, I was on stage with the band and sang a bluesy version of Radiohead’s, “Creep” with seasoned jazz musicians who were in their 70’s and 80’s. It was crazy, ridiculous, and completely random fun.
The next morning we headed for Natchitoches. Just as I expected, we were the youngest people on the tour…by a few decades. The tour group was in complete disbelief that we would drive all the way from Oklahoma to join them.
I looked over at Stacy and Melissa after we took our seats on the bus and they both had a look of trepidation on their faces. I just smiled.
Within the first day, we had made lots of new friends who were intrigued by “The Oklahoma girls”. We met a twice-widowed woman who had signed up for the tour to help herself through the grieving process. We were so inspired by a sweet couple in their mid-80’s who could still do the Cajun Jitterbug and the Zydeco dance as if they were in their twenties. We watched another man in his 80’s struggle to find the balance of being a husband and caretaker to his wife of over 60 years. She had dementia and was in a wheelchair, and it was evident that it had become a strain on him – both emotionally and physically. Still, it was so touching to see the love he had for his wife. Traveling was clearly a favorite pastime for the two of them; I wondered if this would be their last trip.
It was such a scream to see the locations where the movie was shot. The owners of the Steel Magnolias house, which was the centerpiece of the movie, invited us over for mint juleps and appetizers. We were able to tour the inside, seeing the rooms of the famous wedding send-off scene of Jackson and Shelby and the kitchen where Shelby tells M’Lynn that she is pregnant. (Yes, we took photos!)
We also saw the homes of the real-life characters the story is based on. In actuality, it is a play written by Robert Harling, Jr., which was written just months after his sister died of complications from diabetes. She had wanted a child so much, that she literally sacrificed her own body in order to get one. In some ways, I could identify with her longing for a baby, and going to great lengths to have one.
Visiting the St. Augustine Catholic church, where Shelby’s blush and bashful wedding was filmed was a highlight for me. Of course being a singer, I couldn’t resist breaking into my own hilarious a cappella version of the solo performed during Shelby’s wedding procession “Because God made thee mine….I cherish thee…….” (sung in the movie by soprano Gale Odom).
At each location we visited, we had fun re-enacting scenes from the movie, especially the zingers between Ouiser and Clairee. In fact, Stacy filmed me and Melissa as we re-created the scene of the two of them walking home after the wedding. No doubt, our new friends on the tour thought we were completely nuts.
At the end of the night at the farewell reception hosted by Preserve Louisiana, a fabulous red velvet Armadillo cake was served! The three of us were asked to re-enact the scene from the wedding reception between Drum, Aunt Fern and Ouiser; when Ouiser serves him a piece of cake from the hind end of the armadillo. The entire room of fifty people erupted when I said Drum’s famous line, “Nothing like a good piece of ass.”
We also visited two historic plantations near Natchitoches. It was a very moving glimpse of our country’s antebellum past. We were very touched by hearing the heart wrenching stories of the enslaved and even meeting some of their descendants. The three of us never expected to be so moved.
Our “girls trip” ended up being more than just a respite. It was incredibly fun but was our hearts were touched in a way we didn’t expect. We learned even more about each other and I didn’t think it was possible, but it brought the three of us that much closer.
Travelling is all about deepening the meaning of life. I am so grateful to have had this experience with my besties who are always there for me. They truly are my Steel Magnolias.
It is my hope that you will be inspired to go on a girls’ trip with your own group of Steel Magnolias – those that help you through the highs and lows of life. It is the best way to celebrate the healing nature of friendship! As Shelby says “Go skinny dippin’ and do things that frighten fish!”