The Baxters’ new house was furnished with the help of the Red Cross and FEMA, so the Tulane women decided that one of their priorities would be maintaining the family’s truck, which is a lifeline for them: On a typical day, Baxter drives to work at city hall, picks up the boys for tutoring after school, drives Dominique to her job, brings the boys home, and then gets her daughter at 11 p.m. or later. When all four tires on the truck went bald, the group bought four new steel-belted radials. Then, a week before Dominique was due to give birth, the truck’s motor gave out. “I was hysterical,” says Baxter. “The hospital was 30 minutes away.” The Tulane group arranged for a monthlong car rental and recently helped finance a gently used smoky-gray Volkswagen Passat.
The Dirty Dozen have their own share of middle-aged problems, but for one week a year, they put aside personal concerns to do whatever is asked of them in New Orleans. “Most of the women in our group are currently in or have been in leadership roles,” says Linda Lewis-Moors, a hospital administrator from Norwich, New York. “But they are all willing followers and strong team members when that’s what is called for.”
For Carolyn Macow Leatherwood, a former CPA from Houston, it’s the work itself that becomes more meaningful each year. “We moan and groan about minor issues in our lives, but seeing people struggling here, and then seeing an opportunity to fix things, is amazing.”
For all 12 of the Dirty Dozen, the annual pilgrimage has become something of a magical time machine. “We were girls together, meeting the world for the first time,” says Smythe. “And here we are 40-plus years later, women who have lived those lives with triumphs and tragedies. No one has been spared, and I’m not sure any of it turned out quite as we’d planned. But when we reunite, we are those girls again.”