The temps were chilly in Greenwich on Monday, but the sky was blue as the extended families of five longtime Greenwich residents gathered at Byram Beach to celebrate their “ya-ya’s.”
The event was a surprise for the five women who had all immigrated from Scotland to the US and made Greenwich their home. The fast friends have been rendezvousing at Byram Park for about 65 years. Undaunted by heat or sub-zero temps, they meet at the beach almost daily, no matter the season.
“They are a staple at the beach,” said Elizabeth Frattaroli. “Everyone knows them.”
“This story is about friendship and how this beach has meant so much to them,” Frattaroli added. “They always said they never needed a therapist because they had each other and Byram Beach.”
On Monday the flag of Scotland was draped across a newly dedicated wooden park bench, a gift from their children purchased in their honor.
After about 50 family members strolled across the park lawn, there were remarks from Dorothy Crawford’s daughter Catherine Stoltenhoff, followed by dancing and singing to The Proclaimers’ hit, “I’m Gonna to Be (500 Miles)” and Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline.
The gathering was bittersweet as sadly, one of the ya-ya’s, Margaret McIllaney, died in 2021.
“We are here to celebrate 60-plus years of friendship. Six very strong-willed, independent young girls came to this country from Scotland – some of you for love, some for a new adventure. Some of you knew each other, and some didn’t,” said Stoltenhoff.
“Let’s fast forward. Aunt Ann, Aunt Agnes, Aunt Dorothy, Aunt Jean, Aunt Mary and Aunt Margaret – better known as our Scottish ya-ya’s. They have been inseparable ever since.”
Stoltenhoff said she regretted the families were unable to secure the bench while Aunt Margaret was still alive. “However, she was here to test drive the bench, and at that time she preferred the Adirondack chairs over there.”
Stoltenhoff said Byram Beach was more than a beach to the families.
“It represents a place of happiness, security and love,” Stoltenhoff said. “The laughter that came from this group of women echoed the beach every day. There were stories shared of their lives growing up in Scotland, or their day-to-day family joys and sorrows. These were their unpaid therapy sessions.”
“Ladies, your friendship cannot be duplicated,” Stoltenhoff added. “We, as the junior ya-ya’s, can only try and carry on your bond and strive to be like you all. To love life, laugh and live. What I can promise you ladies is that you gave us the foundation you created for this family – our Scottish family. We will always take care of each other.”
After the bench was unveiled, the group moved to the beach to release balloons in memory of Margaret McIllaney.
One of the children, Jack Beardsley, floated a wreath out onto Long Island Sound in her memory.
That was followed by some wise cracks to change the tone.
One of the ya-ya’s adult children joked to his ya-ya, “Can I have some money for the concession?”
Another joked about putting graffiti in the park. “For a good time, call Agnes!”
After peels of laughter, there was more music, and dancing and singing. And a group photo. Long live the ya-ya’s of Byram beach.