Mother’s Day 2008:
Media and Miracles Descend on the Rose Cottage
By Mary Duggan
Young Ponce thrust the NBC Channel 5 News microphone into my face. Okay, not exactly. Holding the microphone respectfully in front of me, young Ponce asked me to describe the morning’s storm. College educated, a writer for god’s sake, an articulate and erudite soul who loves to craft words, all I could think about was the likelihood of food in my teeth, the need to powder my nose and how lots of people would be seeing this when I hadn’t even showered. What in the world was I thinking not putting on at least a bit of lipstick. “Water,” I mumbled, frowning unattractively, not remembering to smile which always helps to ease the strain of a plain face, “water was everywhere.” That night on the 10 o’clock news and again the next morning at half-hour intervals, there I stood, on camera, in the downed majesty of my neighbors’ tree, looking and sounding like some half-drowned Tsunami survivor stuttering “water, water everywhere.” Nothing humorous, nothing engaging, nothing informative, not even truthful, truth be told.
Tell us about the storm, he’d said. What was it like? Everyone is going to see me was all I could think. Oh my God, all those estranged relatives, all those former classmates, why was I wearing this sweat suit, why did I even own it. I lost all poise, all confidence — I lost the ability to form sentences. I lost the ability to tell my story: about how I was so worried about finances that I didn’t know how I’d ever save enough money for a new roof and gutters; about how the rain had created such a magical and peaceful ambience that I was thinking about skipping mass on Mother’s Day; about how I was still in my jammies at noon watching a movie about Eloise on the Disney channel while my sister knitted beside me and my cat was cozy in my lap and my dog was aging rapidly at my feet. Water, water everywhere I stuttered, needing more than a powdered nose to stand up to the cameraman’s lights.
My sister and I are at the time and place in life where simple pleasures have to suffice. She is knee deep in a divorce and I am trying to maintain some semblance of dignity and cool in the face of menopause. We are on such a tight budget struggling to build our business that we fancy entertainment that goes something like yeah, it’s Sunday and Masterpiece Theatre is on. I’ll meet you in the living room at eight for Cranford. And then we retreat to our respective work stations to build the business — six days a week, 10 hours a day. It looked to be a cozy relaxing Sunday of rain and Cranford when suddenly it was crash, boom, celebrity for the Rose Cottage in Beverly.
Rose Cottage in Beverly is the name we have given our home-based business. It sounds a lot better, don’t you think, than desperate to survive healing center with a staggering mortgage and mounting debt. We live here at the Rose Cottage and we work here at the Rose Cottage and we heal here at the Rose Cottage, ourselves and others, and on Mother’s Day 2008 we had our first close encounter with the media here at the Rose Cottage.
Lord, it had rained biblically for hours, so overwhelming my old gutters that the rain was clinging to the screens and blocking all visibility. The winds were high and there was just enough crack and shudder of thunder that the dog was holding her water, graciously extending our jammie time. And then it fell. The sound was extraordinary, unfamiliar, terrifying. The tearing asunder and then the BOOM CRASH threw the four of us from our seats and set us running. My sister Annie, who has the stayin’ alive reflexes of a seasoned law enforcement officer, called out “A tree’s falling — on this room!” and so we ran — three steps to be precise to the safety of the living room where we were able to reassess. Our neighbor’s massive tree had uprooted, blocking the street and our driveway, narrowly missing our car. Neighbors were spilling from their homes, the quiet private ambience of the storm was over and it was off with the jammies and onto the street for the Duggan sisters. The tone of the day had been reset by Mother Nature, the original herself.
And so it went Mother’s Day, 2008, bras off, bras on, in and out of the yard, up and down the street chatting with neighbors, then nervous vigilance at the living room window as neighborhood kids came to play as they ought. With us shouting from the porch, as we ought, “Be careful there kids! There’s a live wire there!” thinking “Don’t make me put my bra on and come out there!” The hours passed with the dog getting walked as we caught up with neighbors, and yet, as Mother’s Day roasts were coming out of the oven, the street was still blocked and the wire still down when a neighbor suggested another call — this time to the Electric Company. Now how a rat fink connection gets made between someone at the electric company and the media I can’t imagine but it happened and the media did descend — bringing the neighbors back outdoors, our bras back on and my first close encounter with the Media.
The first station sent a cameraman, but no reporter — hardly worth the effort of putting a bra on to find that out. So I cozied up in the bay window of my living room, gossiping with neighbors who’d stopped by, when a second news truck arrived and this time it appeared to be a twosome: cameraman and reporter. My sister let out a screech, “It’s a Ponce!” and we ran, to put our bras on, that is, and then out onto the street where Anthony, that’s what we call him now, met us with a friendly wave and that winning Ponce grin. It had begun; the media — the miraculous.
Young Ponce was relaxed, inquisitive, and professional: job well done Papa Ponce, or should I say Mama Ponce in deference to the day and the more likely true circumstance of most child rearing. Why I was such a wreck hardly deserves exploration: suffice it to say that there is something unsettling about realizing that you are likely to be on television before millions of critical eyes. But there I was, just like Lindsay, Brittany and Hillary, nestled in the shattered remains of one mighty oak, with a TV cameraman, Anthony Ponce, and my sister Annie while my neighbors looked on delighted with a bit of action in our beloved sleepyville. Annie and I stumbled through our little story, when suddenly Annie was responding to young Ponce’s final question: if the tree wasn’t removed by morning would we be inconvenienced trying to get to work. No way, she said, we work from home and as the lights on the camera went out, the light inside my head went on BIG TIME. “Annie!” I screeched. “Go get the deodorant!” Now this is when Annie gave me a sort of what in the world glance. Banana, I whispered, the hand of God done knocked down this here tree, or something of that nature. In her defense, Annie is the financial genius behind our business — I work the creative side and marketing. Nonetheless, Annie quickly got my drift and went running for deodorant. LIFE STINKS: We Make Deodorant, that is, the bread and butter product, keep the utilities paid, save the world deodorant we hand make right here in the Rose Cottage in Beverly — our health enhancing, environmentally sound, botanically pure and awesomely effective deodorant desperately in need of a celebrity endorsement. When we met with patent, trademark, copyright types they all said the same thing: this is a great little product you gals have here, all you need is a celebrity endorsement. Granted, we’d been hoping for Julia Roberts’ armpits, or Oprah’s, or in a real desperate pinch Eckhart Tolle’s armpits, right here, right NOW. But right in front of me, right NOW, I had a member of a Chicago media dynasty and in an Ah Hah moment that would have made Oprah proud, it all began to come together for me. One sleepy Mother’s day, a sick and rotting tree comes down with a resounding thud in the front yard of a struggling little healing center in Beverly, narrowly missing the car, not taking out so much as a tulip, harming neither person nor pet nor pocketbook. Yet into this benign and sleepy drama comes the full force of the Media — what is one to think?
A bit of a biographical footnote here is required to understand how my wheels were spinning. Ten months ago, our 84 year old mother passed away in her home in Beverly surrounded by a respectable 6 of her 11 children. In the final year before her death she had taken great pleasure in knowing that one of her own, that would be me, had purchased a home on the very street where she had raised us all. A Duggan had returned to 104th Place, the very street where she had experienced some of her greatest moments and survived some of her greatest hurdles. Among those hurdles were two successful encounters with cancer, one of them cancer of the breast. As Annie and I kept her informed of the daily struggles and victories of our fledgling business, sharing with her everything we were learning about breast health, she would marvel and encourage and advise — no one knows you exist, you have to get advertising. Our Mom was a big fan of our work, worried sick about all the young moms in Beverly with cancer, imploring us to widen our circle of influence, ordering us with all the strength an oxygen tank and a failing heart could muster to educate people about what we knew. I didn’t know what a lymphatic system was, or the risks of deodorant, or the hazards of under wire bras she would wheeze. Give me my purse, she said just days before her death, I’m writing a check. I’m buying you an ad in the Beverly Review. A wise and generous offer that we quickly deferred saying, let’s take care of that tomorrow Mom, today you need to rest. To which she responded, Mary, I’m dying. There is no tomorrow. Get me my purse.
Our courageous and much loved Mother was dead within two days of that marketing offer, and in the months following her death, we found a certain comfort and meaning in staying focused on our work. The loss of a mother at any age is a staggering event and we both felt the weight of the loss. Grief left us with little interest in socializing and we had lots of extra time that used to be spent just hanging out with our Mom and taking care of her as the need arose. During those quiet and diligent months of grief and work, Annie and I both could hear our Mom’s voice repeating over and over: get the word out. With thousands of dollars invested in a website set to launch in November 2007, we looked forward to the conclusion of months of hard work and finally having a sophisticated vehicle to do just that. When the website guy e-mailed us casually one Sunday evening that he had “lost” our website, including the online video we’d had made, just one week before our Big Marketing Launch, we laughed and then cried in frustration and resignation. The hand of God is at work here too became our new mantra as we struggled to pay the bills, keep our vision of our healing center alive and get the word out. Then one night as I was sleeping, a week or so after the web guy dropped his bomb, my Mom got a message through to me. I jumped from bed and woke up Annie — we’re doing the parish fair! Way past participation deadlines, we put out calls to all our local parishes. As fair organizers returned our desperate phone calls, we explained that we met the criteria of being artists as we worked in the healing arts and we had a homemade product — our deodorant!
With only days to prepare, we frantically produced deodorants, changed our product name to reflect our frustrated circumstances (LIFE STINKS: we make deodorant) updated our labels, had a sign made, selected clothing to match our business brand colors, and made a sizeable splash among the jewelry and ornaments and other fair standards — WE SOLD OUT! And perhaps more importantly we had gotten the word out about our healing center and the work we were trying so hard to do! On the Monday following our first fair, our phones rang off the proverbial hook with requests for more deodorant, requests for lymphatic massages, requests for speaking engagements, requests to participate in other fairs, and even requests to sell our deodorant. It was a heady and joyous experience and we wished like hell our Mom was still here to hear about it. It was just the kind of comeback kid story that she would have loved. She would also have loved to hear about a Ponce in the front yard and a fortuitously downed tree. She would have loved the whole thing, taking notes the entire time we relayed the events to her so she wouldn’t miss a beat in the retelling of the story for days and even weeks to come. As a matter of fact she would have loved the whole thing enough to make it happen from heaven above! I could hear her coaching now, get the word out, tell him about your work as I screeched, “Annie, get the deodorant!”
And so I crawled from the branches of the shattered tree felled on Mom’s beloved 104th Place, while I frantically began to tell Anthony Ponce about the work we do: explaining the damage done to the lymphatic system and breasts by under wire bras; the relationship between healthy armpits and healthy breasts; the importance to breast health of the deodorants we hand make each and every day here at the Rose Cottage in Beverly. My God, the poor kid, I thought. He could be covering a gruesome crime scene, not stuck here in the rain with a crazy boob lady. But politely did he listen. All rushing was totally self-imposed, as I assumed he would be hurtling off to the next news event, when in fact he moved with tremendous grace and leisure through our little drama.
In a moment, Annie was at my side with our traveling sales kit, and he was graciously accepting our gift of deodorant, making repeated assurances that he would give it a try. “You ladies have a great story here. You need to do Art Norman’s Chicago show. This is just the kind of thing he loves.” Eureka!!! Or whatever the word is you are supposed to use when you are in the presence of a miracle. “We would love to be interviewed by Art Norman!” I replied, and in that moment city workers arrived in an enormous truck and in very short order and with tremendous efficiency the tree was cut into pieces and hauled away. As the city truck began to finish, all of the media outlets packed up as well, and I saw young Ponce getting into the Channel 5 van. I broke away from the neighborly chat I was having and ran to him. Please Anthony, I implored, if you can get me some time with Art Norman I will be your permanent lifetime provider of free deodorant. He smiled that winning Ponce grin, promised to do his best and was gone.
The clusters of neighbors sauntered away, the block party ambience had ended and Annie and I were back inside, bras off, transitioning from the holiday drama of our own sleepy little village to the village of Cranford at the dawn of the industrial revolution. I turned to Annie and said, “If a tree falls on 104th Place and nobody is listening…” Trust me Mom, we’re listening. Art Norman, we look forward to your call. And young Mr. Ponce, if reporters are allowed to make celebrity endorsement, I can see it now. Move over Smythe Brothers, it’s PIT POWDER PONCES: Two Generations of Chicago Journalism Dynasty say LIFE STINKS: BUT WE DON’T in Rose Cottage Deodorant.
Mothers are powerful people. Our mother was as determined a soul as they come, truly a force of nature. Who’s to say that from heaven above a Mother’s Day miracle wasn’t orchestrated to get the word out — certainly not I.