Summer pokes holes in the calendar to fill with girls’ trips to the beach, the mountains and sometimes, Waco, Texas.
In July 2016, Kathy Autrey drove the 700 miles from her home in Auburn to Texas with her sister and a friend. They went in search of their favorite reality stars, Chip and Joanna Gaines of Waco, Texas, who began their retail venture in 2003 with the Little Shop on Bosque, but closed the store when they began their family. But with the explosion of the HGTV show, “Fixer Upper,” the couple decided to re-open the Little Shop on Bosque and Magnolia Market to draw in crowds from all over the country including the ladies from Alabama.
“The show is all about family and good Christian values. They don’t even have a television in the house, and Joanna says she often leaves her phone in the car. That’s what we need to get back to with families. That’s what this trip was all about. Ten hours in the car with my sister and her friend, cutting up and laughing the entire way,” says Kathy.
Little did Kathy realize they’d end up expanding the girl trip by eight more women from California.
After a day of stalking the Gaines family (Kathy says every store they visited gave them a different address of Joanna’s home), the ladies stopped by a restaurant for lunch. Kathy ventured into a restroom where she noticed a t-shirt she’d seen earlier in the day which read “#fixerupperfanatic.”
“I asked the lady about her shirt, and she said her group had them made specifically for their girl trip. We talked for the longest time in the bathroom. So long, in fact, my sister Kim (Northington of Pike Road, Ala.) came to look for me. We found out the other group was staying at Chip and Joanna’s rental home, and they invited us to dinner. I went outside to tell Kim and Denise (Pierce also of Pike Road), and we all three started jumping around and crying.” The ladies then realized they stood in front of the restaurant window with their new friends watching and laughing from the other side.
As no good Southern guests would dare arrive without provisions, the Alabama girls stopped at Wal-Mart for grapes and cheese.
“As soon as we arrived, one of the ladies told us to go ahead into every room and take pictures.” That’s exactly what the ladies did. Following the tour, the ladies paired into conversation groups, bonding over loss, illness, common traits and stories. Kathy says she looked over and saw Kim and Denise crying with one of the California ladies named Terri. “They discovered each of them had lost a child at the same age. Terri had also lost her husband shortly after her child like Denise did. The whole encounter was such a God thing. Even as we joined hands to pray before our meal, I knew God’s hand was in our gathering.”
Another story involved a Monday morning while drinking coffee on the porch. They noticed a woman who opened the gate with a key and walked around the back of the house to the caretaker’s house.
“They discovered it was Joanna’s mother. She comes every Monday morning to pray for those inside the house. We were so impressed with the whole environment. Everything was so real,” says Kathy. “I was so excited to share the experience with my friends and to make new ones.”
When Kathy returned to Auburn, one of the California girls named Jennifer called and asked for her address. “Next thing I know, she had sent me one of the t-shirts their group had worn during the trip. She said she knew how much I loved it and wanted me to remember our time together. I’ll never forget this time with my sister and all my new friends. We plan to go back sooner and stay longer. It was the best girl trip ever.”