The Mary Kays: Part Two – Curl Up and Dye

Just joining us?  Don’t miss The Mary Kays: Part One – The Land of the Midnight Sun


By Mary Duggan

Mary Duggan

From the vantage point of age sixty, I look back on the summers Mary Kay figured so prominently in my world and I have to marvel. I have met so many interesting people in those years from 16 to 60. I  have worked at more jobs and careers than I like to admit and been shaped and inspired by too many bosses and co-workers. I have lived all over the U.S and traveled all over the world. But my memories of Mary Kay have never dimmed and her importance in my life has never diminished or been taken over by anyone else. I know now that when you are so young and the world is such a terrifying and exciting unknown a person who has gone before and successfully navigated change and is willing to share and open a window into the future for you is a gift. I treasure my simple memories of Mary Kay and wonder if she had any idea what a Godsend she was for me.

My home and family life were changing quickly and not for the better. My earliest memories of high school all include the horrific fights that were beginning to erupt regularly between my parents. My beloved father was changing into someone who at times frightened me and I could feel him pulling away. His insomnia became my insomnia as I stayed up too late at night talking to him and worrying about him and reading whatever he was reading in my desperate attempt to try and figure out what the hell he was thinking. The political discussions that had made our home interesting were now very real and scary as the draft threatened my older brothers’ futures and my eldest sister’s involvement with the civil rights movement often placed her in real jeopardy. It was draft card debates and talk of Canada and civil rights tragedies and before my freshman year of high school was over I would deeply experience two assassinations that changed forever how I felt about my world. I was not experiencing the 60s as fun and liberating and wild and exciting. It was just out of control. It felt like things were ending. Things that I loved – like my family.

mary freshman longwd

Here I am – freshman year photo from the Academy of Our Lady. With my own Swedish blond hairdo and a weary smile hiding a mouth full of braces and a heart full of worries. Innocence meets weariness.

Things even looked differently as the avocado and gold 60s were fading into the mauve and blue 70s and it was all just duck bordered awful. Until I stepped into Mary Kay’s home for the first time and there it was – Danish Modern. I had never seen anything like it; and as two of my aunts were interior designers, I thought I’d seen quite a bit. What I had never beheld was real live Danish modern – until then. I have never recovered.  Spartan and sensually curved, lean and solid, free of pattern and extraneous anything. Tightly upholstered in clean solid woolen color blocks and set off by light teak tables and chairs and a teak wall unit jam packed with books on art and architecture and the complete works of Mozart with enormous head phones for listening. No swag and no jabot. No cornice or chintz. No shag or floral or wallpaper with border. No Wedgewood. No Belleek. And Lord knows no Lladro. Danish. Modern. Design.

blog danish chair


As I arrived at Mary Kay’s with my box of hair dye and my hair styling tools and stained towels and the latest in hair curlers, Mary Kay explained to me that she and her husband had selected everything in their beautiful home from showrooms in Scandinavia and had it shipped to Chicago. Newly engaged they’d agreed to all the wedding hoopla their parents had required and then promptly returned every item they could following the wedding. Their bridal registry had become seed money for a once-in-a-lifetime extended travel through Europe. On their many months-long honeymoon they’d purchased all the things they actually wanted. The story got told as I washed Mary Kay’s hair in the kitchen sink, mixed the dye and applied it, tested for timing and color changes, rinsed at the critical moment, shampooed, conditioned and combed it out. Even soaking wet she loved her new Swedish blonde hair. I suggested that I trim up her cut just a bit and once that was completed I got her into curlers and under the domed bonnet of her home dryer. I was 14-years-old and completely unaware that I had just become a personal assistant extraordinaire. I was simply doing what I knew how to do and I didn’t care in the least what I got paid. Years later I would attend design school and eventually open my own design firm. But I never learned as much in school as I learned from working in Mary Kay’s world.

Our friendship, for lack of a better term, began day one. Mary Kay was decisive that way, sure-footed and certain in who she was, what she wanted, and who she liked. And she let me know and feel that she liked me. Mary Kay’s two kids were around for all the salon time and so I was getting to know them before their parents left for their night at the symphony. My eyes began to take in the look of their modern home as I followed Erica and little Dickie on their tour of the condo while Mommy baked under the dome. I monitored the hair do, always cognizant of the my husband must never see me in curlers deadline, while I listened as Mary Kay began to share with me the first of many stories of her married life. It was so different from the knee deep in diapers – marital disillusionment that I saw each day at home.

blog vintage dryer

Under the dome. No salon-hating woman was without a home dryer bonnet.

Mary Kay and Dick had begun their married life in Germany just weeks following their wedding. They’d promptly purchased a VW bug – their new home away from home as they packed in as much Europe as they could before Dick had to return to Chicago and his job as an architect at his father’s architectural firm. Mary Kay had become almost instantly pregnant following their wedding and told me that her most vivid memories of Europe always included vomiting out the open window of their always moving VW bug. Her husband was not one to waste time – in any sense of the word – so Mary Kay was expected to do her morning sickness routine out the open window of a still moving car.

This anecdote was my first insight into the frequently eccentric Dick; I was to experience many more of them myself first hand. But first I had to make sure to not irritate him. I had to get Mary Kay out from under the dome, combed out, teased and sprayed before he got home. Which I did. Her cut and color and curl were phenomenal. I was thrilled and so was she. She changed clothes, did up her makeup and was waiting for Dick when he flew through the door in his red gym shoes and gingham checked red shirt with just enough time to grab Mary Kay, kiss the kids, and jump in the bug for a race to the symphony. But not before he met me. I could hear Mary Kay, as they left the condo, saying Dick, this kid’s a treasure – a real keeper and just what I’ve been looking for.

During the too few years I spent in her employ, Mary Kay always talked to me like a grown up girlfriend; and her vivid descriptions of her pregnancy and scary difficult child birth were thrilling for a girl from a home filled with children but with reproductive knowledge focused more on mortal sin than information. For all practical purposes my knowledge of human sexuality and reproduction was one step away from the stork – the Catholic stork. It was that way for us from the very beginning. Mary Kay was my perfect big sister, just enough years ahead of me to be knowledgeable about the scary future looming ahead of me. And because she had navigated things so beautifully, having so much fun while she secured a spouse, children and Danish modern furniture, I grew more and more hopeful with each encounter that I too could create a wonderful adventure-filled life for myself.

Continue on to Part Three of the Mary Kays.

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About the author: Mary Duggan is Co-Founder and President of the Duggan Sisters

The Duggan Sisters cracked the code and created a natural deodorant that actually works: lifestinks. And that was just the beginning. We hope you will spend a few minutes exploring to experience their spirited approach to wellness through their natural products and healing stories.

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