“Actually, we’re the Hot Springs Ladies,” said Dolly Parttime.
“Ah, we’re the Hot Springs Hotties,” said Sexy Sara Shortlegs. “When you’re hot, you’re hot.”
The pair, along with Rita Haystack, Estee Laudee and Mae East, put on an hour-long variety show that was admittedly short on talent but long on enthusiasm. They sang and told jokes, and they danced enough to get thorough aerobic workouts.
Throughout the good-hearted, tacky spectacle, they mingled with the audience, held hands, hollered “Whoo! Whoo!” and kissed men on the head.
Clifford Crabb, a resident at Rosewood, had big red lip marks on his forehead when the show finished.
“Yeah, yeah, I sure do,” he said, making no move to wipe it off.
Rita Haystack said, “Some of the men say, ‘I’m not washing my head any more.’”
Of course, her name’s not Rita Haystack. In everyday life, she’s Dona Wise. Sexy Sara is Sara Palmer, Estee Laudee is Thelma Davis, Mae East is Coleen Roberts and Dolly Parttime is Joanna Carter.
They’re all retired, and most of them are from Okolona. Roberts lives in Shannon, but she goes to First Baptist Church of Okolona with the rest.
The Rev. Eric Boykin might not have wanted you to know that.
“He said, ‘When you go, don’t tell them what church you go to,’” Wise said.
That could be a joke, but it’s hard to tell with the Hotties. They said Carter actually wants to change the name to the Hot Springs Ladies because her husband was named a deacon, but ‘Hotties’ persists.
Their outlandish adventure began about nine years ago, after Roberts saw a group of conservatively dressed women perform a variety show at East Heights Baptist Church in Tupelo.
“We started like them, then we elevated up this thing,” she said.
“You call this elevated?” Carter said.
The Hotties wear sparkly shoes, funky gloves and fancy dresses, along with enough rings, bracelets, bangles and necklaces to send an airport security agent running for the hills.
Big attitudes go with the clothes. They’re all about “Hey, y’all!” and “Don’t we look good and trashy?”
Their mission is to spread joy at hospice centers and nursing homes. They get gas money sometimes, but mostly the payment comes in smiles, and a few of those smiles have been impressive.
“We’ve been at the state mental hospital,” Davis said.
“They didn’t keep us,” Wise added.
The Hotties learned that one patient hadn’t talked since he was admitted. Maybe it was their goofy hair or goofier jokes, but something got through to him.
“He laughed, he clapped and he thoroughly enjoyed it,” Wise said. “You think you’ll never make much difference, then you hear that.”
It’s not always easy to inhabit the characters they’ve created. Palmer is still trying to get her energy back after breast cancer treatment. The others have their own lives, and an appointment made months ago can seem more trouble than it’s worth.
“Sometimes, we can think we’re too tired to come. You know how it is,” Wise said, “but when we get here, we’re ready.”
“We love nursing homes because you can see it on their faces,” Carter said.
“We go out to speak to them and touch them,” Palmer said.
“Just touching them means so much,” Wise said. “They appreciate the contact.”
The Hotties aren’t for everyone. They’ve been heckled, and one man made a point to turn his back to them during a show. Grouchy people have folded their arms and practically snarled.
Then there’s Luna Brigman, a Rosewood resident who tapped her feet from start to finish and said all of the “girls’ outfits were cute.”
At first, Shirley Shettles, another resident, sounded like she might be a heckler, but it became clear she was ready for a good time.
“I like to have a ball,” she said, “and I like them.”
Break it all down – the clothes, the music, the jokes, the attitudes – and there’s nothing special about what the Hot Springs Hotties do.
What’s special is they actually go out and do it.
“We have a lot of fun with this,” Palmer said. “We all love the Lord. He doesn’t want us sitting around being mopey all the time. I think he wants us to have a good time. That’s what we’re doing.”