MooMoo Meets the Mayor
by Mary Duggan
When the request to host Chicago’s Mayor Lori Lightfoot at our home arrived a few weeks ago, I was an enthusiastic yes - with one very serious reservation. Two months earlier we had received the devastating news that our darling dog, Boomer, was suffering from advanced liver cancer and had at best a few weeks to live. The vet sent him home following extensive and expensive testing with instructions to love him up until a series of horrific symptoms would inevitably and suddenly appear - at which time we would have to let him go.
And so we grieved and we cleared the decks - Boomer, for whatever time we had left together would be our top priority and our greatest joy. Boomer looked as sick as he was, with blister-like sores on his legs and encircling his soulful eyes, his gut had been an unpredictable and unmanageable mess for months and he smelled, well, like death. His weakened body was no longer able to generate his beautiful thick wintry white wavy coat - even his signature orange polka dots were fading. His digestion was wrecked; he was tired, easily stressed and overwhelmed being with anyone but us. We canceled every social engagement, and centered every day around Boomer, never leaving him alone from the minute we got the diagnosis.
The vets had opposed any sort of extreme intervention like chemo or radiation and we were glad of that - it is not anything we would have asked of him. What we did instead was call in the extraordinary veterinary specialist who had stepped in a year earlier when Boomer had been attacked by a massive dog and shredded to within an inch of his life. When he was finally released by our local vet he walked with a painful limp, had lost the ability to turn his head and suffered daily from anxiety-induced vomiting. None of which was acceptable to Dr. Kim Curtis, an extraordinary woman and vet who we consider a combination of both genius and saint. Dr. Kim stayed with Boomer’s terrible injuries, while patiently guiding us through the exhaustive court battle involved, until he was fully restored and victorious in court. Boomer adores Dr. Kim and that pretty much sums up our feelings too.
As soon as we got Boomer’s diagnosis we consulted with Dr. Curtis and we’re SO glad we did. So was Boomer, who greeted her at the door as she arrived for his first appointment with such Cirque du Soleil-levels of jumping (previously frowned upon but now allowed) pirouetting, barking (again, not usually allowed) and tail wagging, that we were all surprised and delighted. Having reviewed his tests Dr. Kim had expected to be greeted by a very different dog. If Boomer’s language could be transcribed into ours I think the translation would have been: “I’m so glad they called you. I’m really sick and I need your help again! I know that you know just what I need.”
And she did.
For all his incredible bad luck, Boomer is blessed with a very loyal and loving fan club. Plenty of folks who probably only tolerate us truly love Boomer. Those neighbors shared in our sadness a year ago when he was attacked. They cheered him on while he fought back from all the surgeries and the drugs and the horrific pain. They shared our anger and our grief then and now those same neighbors are supporting us again through the sad update that all of that medical intervention bought us another year of Boomer but weakened his liver in the process and likely opened the door to cancer.
We know Boomer is very, very sick, and the cancer might very well take him sooner than we can bear, but the improvement in his health under Dr. Kim’s care has been extraordinary. His winter fur has returned, the sores have healed, he smells puppy sweet and none of the catastrophic - we’d have to let him go - symptoms have appeared. Basically, he is healthier than he was when he was sent home to die. That being said, 35 folks arriving at our wee cottage for an afternoon of conversation, wine and charcuterie was a no-can-do for our patient. So we’re blessed that kind, dog-loving neighbors allowed Boomer to nap at their house while we entertained the Mayor and a small selection of her constituents for a conversation about her vision and our dreams for our beloved city. Step one in the larger effort of reviewing a number of exceptional candidates vying to replace her, culminating in a Town Hall in January. If you haven’t figured it out by now, civic engagement ranks high on the Duggan Sister list of priorities.
Our neighbors made up a cozy polar fleece bed on the floor for Boomer who proceeded to jump right over it and onto their antique, cream brocade settee where he proceeded to stretch out and nap for hours. Luckily for us, it didn’t bother our sweet neighbors one little bit.
It was official, with Boomer squared away, the Mayor was truly coming to the cottage - let the vacuuming (and dusting, and polishing, and furniture rearranging commence.) But, before the chores could begin we had to draw up our guest list. The Mayor’s reelection campaign suggested a gathering of fifteen and clarified that they would pop for some catered snacks. Predictably our carefully curated list immediately exceeded 50 possible invitees so we carefully whittled away to a compromise list of 30 with a waiting list of 15 others. It is after all cold and flu season - or as we’re all calling it this year the tri-demic - and last minute substitutions were to be expected.
The only way to possibly sit (squeeze) that many folks in our 1,000 sq ft cottage was to hold off on putting up our Christmas tree. But all other holiday decor was taken down from the attic and displayed around the cottage. In all the ways that matter, the weeks surrounding Thanksgiving and Christmas are some of the busiest in our work calendar. Between Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday and Giving Tuesday, we work virtually around the clock. Holiday decorating always takes second place to the 4th quarter demands of the business. But we’re proof of the old expression, if you want something done, ask a busy woman to do it; or in our case 3 busy women who said let’s do this.
In checking out the cost of catering ( $50 for a cheese ball?!?!!), we decided to maximize the campaign’s dollars with our own culinary efforts. Once the menu planning, shopping, and cleaning was done, all that was left the morning of the big event was to assemble the charcuterie boards, arrange the sliced baguettes with tapenade, pick up the Danish Kringle coffee cakes, fill Grandma’s cut crystal dishes with salted nuts, cornichons and olives stuffed with blue cheese. We’d made up our block club’s favorite HELLO DOLLY bars and had Mom’s sweet and sour chicken wings marinating overnight and only needing to be popped in the oven for an hour. As soon as they came out we’d insert the enormous wheel of Brie with apricot jam and sliced almonds.
We’d tried so hard to think of everything and be truly prepared and present to the party. But years of COVID, preceded by years of our lives being in boxes with our home under repair, left us a bit rusty in the entertaining department. We were rusty and our serving platters were dusty but we worked hard to have a smooth event. And we asked our dear friend, Storey, to arrive early and help with one kitchen task after another, slicing and dicing and arranging as enthusiastic attendees began to arrive. Red and white wine, assorted pops and bubble water were arranged on a “bar” we’d set up in Annie’s bedroom. And, of course, on a busy Saturday afternoon at the holidays - a pot of strong coffee graced a dessert bar on the kitchen island. We were party ready.
The cottage filled quickly and fully and excitement was high. As folks milled around the buffet, the Mayor’s security detail “swept” the cottage and then escorted the Mayor onto our porch where Annie greeted her with a warm hug while the Mayor presented her with a lovely bouquet of holiday flowers. Mayor Lori was warmly greeted by robust applause and in no time at all the conversation was underway, with the Mayor sharing her vision for the city and then answering constituent questions. We were so proud of our gracious guests and their well-prepared questions regarding the schools, crime, transportation and more. The Mayor blew everyone away with in-depth, layered, nuanced answers and all too quickly the hour and ten minutes we had been allotted were up. And then she delighted us even further by extending her visit with an additional hour of conversation before she made her way to our business-in-the-basement for a quick tour of our truly cottage industry before she headed to her next event.
We were determined for this precious civic opportunity to assemble a diverse and representative group of attendees. Living in Chicago’s famed 19th Ward - the largest and most active voting block in the city - we carefully balanced First Responders with retirees, and schoolteachers with entrepreneurs, while we mixed race, gender and religions, asking only that all participants were open to the Mayor’s message and willing to engage in a fair, respectful and conscientious discussion. We had all endured the difficult, often deadly years of Covid, civil unrest that accompanied a profound national reckoning, balancing the tragedy of funerals postponed and grief deferred with the daily aggravations of supply chain disruptions - only recently reaching past the horrible isolation we all endured and returning cautiously to an all squished together event this meet and greet provided. Some were masked, most were not, but everyone was thrilled to be offered this privileged access to the brilliant and busy woman governing the 3rd largest city in the US.
I sat in the furthest corner of the dining room, my heart in my throat, so grateful that we were able to facilitate this important celebration of democracy. It was not that long ago that our humble cottage had been battered by two separate storms that left us living for months without heat or light, our roof dissolved, water pouring down our walls, our porch in collapse and our possessions in boxes for over two years as we were taken in and taken advantage of by a wily con artist who took our money, delayed our efforts and landed himself in the State Penitentiary for decades. What a journey it had been, with finally the many months-long efforts of honest - and masked - carpenters, roofers, painters, and electricians culminating in the Mayor of Chicago holding court in our newly refurbished cottage. Our beloved Congresswoman Marie Newman was there, as well, doubling the excitement as she introduced the Mayor with an in-depth, informative and rousing endorsement. And there sitting plump and confident before them, our sassy little cat, MooMoo, who had confidently made the rounds of the tightly-packed event, and landed finally and decisively in front of the Mayor where our smart little feline had easily identified the star of the show, and paid her respects before disappearing into the plant-filled bay window.
Again, I was feeling gratitude that our home was finally restored and also relieved. MooMoo had quite the reputation for presenting guests to our home with raggedy slippers, and other embarrassing laundry basket contraband like soiled panties, and stinking socks. But there she was sitting before the Mayor’s feet empty “handed”. Our event was going off without a glitch - and that is not always a given in our quirky little cottage. Just days before our hot water heater had resembled a volcanic eruption spraying hot water and doing a fair amount of damage before Annie discovered it and shut it down. I was grateful the hot water heater had not blown on Mayor Day.
As I sat reflecting on our good fortune and delighting that the Mayor’s wife had joined the event and was now standing directly beside me (she must have come up the rear stairwell, past my electric chair lift, and through the kitchen) I was aware of laughter erupting in the front of the room. MooMoo had taken up her position in the bay window, directly behind the Mayor, and was enthusiastically drinking directly from the Mayor’s water glass. She was clearly thirsty following the sweet and sour chicken wing Clare had recently removed from her jaws. The Mayor laughed at the discovery but never missed a beat of the serious debate that would be ending all too soon. That down-to-earth, good-humored quality I’d seen her exhibit on a number of occasions did not square with press reports to the contrary. And I was thrilled that our little gathering got to witness that moment of levity with all the shared humanity that feline moment revealed. You’re not going to get that kind of insight at the typical presser.
In the end, things moved very quickly. The Mayor stopped just outside my bedroom for a quick selfie with the sisters. Standing in my doorway she admired two paintings that hang beside my bed and wondered aloud where we had gotten the large whimsical renderings of deer that I love and knew I had to have the minute I saw them.
“From a very exclusive Swedish gallery, Madam Mayor” I replied. ‘IKEA, $50 bucks for the pair!”
And not missing a beat, her wife teased, “Hum, a possible Christmas present.” And we all laughed.
The Mayor, her wife and a few key aides made their way down the back stairwell, and toured our humble basement business, listening intently to our story of 3 sisters with serious health challenges who started a healing center in a desire to share all we’d learned on our road to full recovery. We explained our full product line of natural deodorants and DEET-free bug repellent - all manufactured front to back, from labeling to filling to shipping in our home-based business. While we live simply and happily above the shop, we highlighted the awards we’ve won (Metro Chicago Exports Xport Challenge), the goals we’ve met (870,056 plastics kept out of landfills - to date) and our dreams for the not too distant future (our 2.0 plastic-free packaging for both domestic and foreign markets) of our sister-owned business.
Finally, in a flurry of hugs and thank yous on both sides, our visit with the Mayor concluded. All that remained was to head back upstairs, to the buffet, and a well-deserved glass of wine. While I put my feet up and chatted with Storey, whose last minute kitchen intervention had guaranteed our event’s success, Annie went across the street to retrieve Boomer - always happy to be home and relaxed enough to enjoy hanging out briefly with the handful of attendees who’d gathered around the buffet, winding down in the warm glow of democracy done right - intimate, fair, respectful and scaled to cottage-sized perfection for a truly human connection.
A beautiful holiday floral bouquet from the mayor greeted us on Sunday morning; as did thank you texts from attendees and a letter of gratitude from a member of the Mayor’s team that reduced us to tears. It’s always lovely to bask in the glow of a successful gathering, sipping hot coffee and enjoying a lively rehash. It’s a gift to be savored when the effort proved worthwhile. Before a second cup of coffee it was on to finalizing plans for our Mayoral Town Hall, a gathering of the top candidates challenging the Mayor for a rigorous and respectful debate. But first, the holidays. Now we can put up the tree.