Pantyhose, Polaroids and Pivots: Part Two

Mary DugganBy Mary Duggan

I have just one more thing to say about my time right out of high school spent working at a bank. Okay, maybe two or three things. Yes, I WAS miserable; but from the distance of four decades I can see that even at the worst times in your life – and working at a bank was so that for me – there is always so much going on, as well, that is magical and worth remembering. I think this is one of the gifts of maturing. I will not be saying aging for another decade, at least. The gift of seeing that the world, if you can just let it, or better yet work with it, is always trying to heal you. Three co-workers at Beverly Bank taught me that.

One of them looked like a rock star. One of them looked like a movie star. And one of them was related to a movie star. I will begin with the related one. And I will try to not say this again –  I was miserable working at the bank. But it was not all the bank’s fault; and Nancy helped me to address that and get on with my life. But, I have to talk about looked like a rock star first.

My boss in Loan Operations looked like my favorite Beatle – Paul McCartney. Paul McCartney through and through with delicate features, shiny black hair, lovely creamy-pale British skin and a darling wife who made all his ties for him. I was not the only girl at the bank with a crush on Bill Smith; but I was lucky to be one who worked for him. In addition to being rock star swooningly adorable, he was just the absolutely nicest guy. Which leads to my end of the first year review with Beatle Bill and the question that propelled me out of the bank, thank God, and into my real life, at last.

Reviews were handled in the afore-mentioned cafeteria when the lunch crowd had subsided and I was as nervous as any just out of high school employee would be. But Bill set me quickly at ease with a glowing assessment of all I had brought to my job and how lucky he felt to have hired me. I was glad to see that he felt he’d had a voice in the whole affair, knowing how my brother had pulled out the frat brother connection to get me the gig. I was young and naive enough to be assuming Mob-like consequences for any manager declining my brother’s friend’s referral of me. I digress. Because right there in the middle of the review is when he rattled my cage just enough to set me free.

“Now I might regret saying this,” he began. “Because you might just take my suggestion and then I’ll be left needing to hire somebody new and I don’t know where I’ll find anyone half as good as you are; but Mary, why the hell aren’t you in college?” There it had been said and I probably would have been in tears and embarrassed the hell out of both of us if he’d allowed me to answer him and tell him the whole wretched story about my Dad walking out the door one Sunday and not coming back and the shame of it all and the unpaid bills and the devastation for my Mom and the end of my dream of going to Northwestern and all my little brothers and sisters still so needy… But thank God, the question was rhetorical. And on he went with his own answer, which was a lot less embarrassing and potentially tearful.

So, he continued, saying “It’s none of my business; but Jesus you are way too smart to not go to college I assume you need to work or something. So, I’ve been thinking. On your next day off I want you to walk right into admissions at the University of Chicago and tell them you want to go to night school. I know they’ll accept you and then you march right into the office of Arthur Baer (the famed U of C graduate and bank President) and tell him you’ve been accepted at the U of C and I just betcha he’ll give you a scholarship. And you can work days here and go to school nights and Mary you just have to do it. It won’t be easy; but you are way too smart to be hampered for the rest of your life by not going to college.” And the review was over and my head was spinning and I returned to my desk and that’s where the related to a movie star person comes in.

Now Arthur Baer was a big deal in our neighborhood, not only for building Beverly Bank into a financial giant, but for building an art center for the community, as well, and filling galleries with his astounding personal art collection and for so much more. But Beverly was soon to produce a resident of even bigger fame; once the TV show Cheers came on the air and George Wendt became everyone’s favorite character as the always warmly greeted “NORM!” George Wendt had grown up in Beverly, his folks were much-loved and admired, his Dad ran an insurance agency, his Mom was funnier than he was, my Mom was his Cub Scout den mother and his sister, Nancy, had just been hired to clock in a summer working in Loan Operations at the bank. George and I were technically way closer than seven degrees of separation by the time Nancy came to the bank. But that concept did not even exist then and George was yet to achieve fame; but I thank God that Nancy chose Beverly Bank for her summer job site.

Nancy was the absolute opposite of me in every way. She was on summer break from Georgetown, which she absolutely loved, and had just completed a year of study abroad in Rome, which she absolutely loved, and she had just the most enormous dark wavy pony tail and the cutest boyfriend who she absolutely loved and the biggest smile and the sunniest disposition ever. In addition to all of those differences, Nancy had been blessed to grow up in the most exclusive section of our neighborhood, known as North Beverly. While my family lived in East Beverly, which was way “down the hill” as we said in Beverly. And of course her father had not walked out on his family and left them damn near destitute and completely heartbroken. And of course she didn’t know mine had either because my mother had forbidden us to speak to anyone about this great shame on our family. Irish. Catholic. Culture.

I don’t know what Nancy saw in me; but she saw something and we instantly became as thick as thieves for the summer, working days at the bank, grabbing quick lunches at places in Beverly that I knew nothing about, sometimes taking Chinese take out to the back room of her father’s office to share Moo Goo Gai Pan with her brother George. We even took a photography class one night a week  at the Beverly Art Center – funded, of course, by Mr. Arthur Baer. I know, it’s beginning to sound like I grew up in a company town.

I went straight to Nancy following my performance review with the feedback I’d gotten from our Paul McCartney look-a-like boss and she said, “Mary, he is soooo right. You have to do that. You’ll rot to death in this bank. You have to go to college. It is sooooo much fun.” Remember, she was a student at Georgetown and not to be in any way derogatory about Georgetown,  I was being directed to the University of Chicago, so I knew fun was not going to be part of the equation. But I knew my new friend Nancy wanted the absolute best for me. And so on the very next Wednesday, my day off  because I also worked Saturdays, I called the University of Chicago and spoke to a very lovely lady on the phone about my interest in applying for night school. If you could come here this afternoon, she said, we could chat about that today. The lovely lady just happened to be Dean Margaret Perry, Associate Director of Admissions. And so I was off to Hyde Park, to talk about going to night school at the University of Chicago, and I had my then 3-year-old sister Clare in tow because on my Wednesdays off I was her baby sitter. I had taken Bill Smith and Nancy Wendt’s advice; but my Paul McCartney plan fell apart there.

I couldn’t believe I had ever been intimidated by the University of Chicago. But I had. Everyone was in my high school class and very few had even applied. But now there I was in the Dean’s office and they were fussing over my adorable and precocious little sister and Dean Margaret Perry asked Clare if she would be happy to be left in the adjoining waiting area with the caged birds and the massive groupings of coleus and the coloring books, while she and I were in just the next room having a chat. And, of course, she was welcome to come in and join us anytime she wanted. Clare was completely agreeable and off I went to the much-dreaded interview stage of the application process; but I did not realize that was what was in fact going on and so I felt no dread at all. Instead I found myself entirely comfortably engaged in the most sweeping conversation about my large and complicated family and the natural relationship between Marxism and Christianity and the frustration of my older brothers and sister not sharing my love of Dickens and a quick review of what was on my summer reading list and there you have it an hour had passed – more than pleasantly. It was phenomenal, free flowing, wide ranging conversation – just the way I knew and liked. And then the Dean filled me in on who was who and what was what and I was even more amazed.

She was the Associate Dean of Admissions. The lovely little chat we’d had, with Clare strolling in and out at intervals, had been the much feared and dreaded interview. But the question of me going to night school at the University of Chicago was entirely out of the question. You are much too young, Dean Perry advised, and I would not recommend it at all. We are doing a final review of the applicants for next Fall, for a myriad of reasons, and we, in the process, have created a few more openings. So, and here she handed me the thick and intimidating application for admissions form, I would like  you to take this home with you today and complete it and get it back to me within 15 days. I would very much like our applications committee to consider you for admissions in the Fall.

To say I was thunderstruck and flabbergasted and amazed and excited out of my skin was not enough. I could only think of one thing to say and that was, “Dean Perry, even if I were to be accepted, and that is I think a BIG IF, there is no way I could EVER afford to go the the University of Chicago” which even back in the early 70s was one of the most expensive schools in the nation. And that is when Dean Perry smiled her most dear and all-knowing smile and taught me a lesson I will never forget. “Mary,” she said, “if you are accepted into the University of Chicago, and I think that is a very real possibility, then the University of Chicago will make certain that you can afford it.” Writing that sentence now, some forty years later, still leaves me emotional and humbled and awestruck. Dean Perry and the University of Chicago (viewed at that time as a den of heathen and socialist views by any decent Catholic family) taught me that at at any time in your life there can be a miracle waiting just around the corner.

As I got up to leave, gathering up Clare and my baby sitting accessories, Dean Perry gave me another valuable lesson that I spent decades coming to understand. “Always remember, Mary, that getting an education is one of the most selfish enterprises you will ever engage in. And that, I think, will be your biggest challenge.” And it was.

And so I went home on my Wednesday off excited over the moon to get to work the next day and bring Nancy up to speed on what I’d discovered. But first there was the matter of my Mom and then the matter of the wildly intimidating application packet. I took my Mom on head first and then proceeded to procrastinate and agonize as I tried to find my voice and enough confidence to complete the packet.

My Mom’s concerns were predictable. U of C was as far from a Catholic college as one could get and so, of course, I had to agree to a visit to my mother’s alma mater, Rosary College in River Forest, Illinois before I could receive her blessing. Not only had my Mom attended Rosary, she had adored her time there; and to further establish the legacy factor, my oldest sister had gone there as well. I dreaded our visit the campus day and would have done anything to not hurt my Mom in any way when she was already hurting so badly from my Dad’s humiliating, heartbreaking and devastating departure. But there was no way I was going to spend four years in an all-girls Catholic College. Just no way.

Fortunately, the nun who was Director of Admissions at Rosary and a much-loved friend to my Mom made it all so easy. We sat down for a formal appointment after a full day of being shown the oh so familiar sights of charming campus, and chapel, and Mother Mary grotto. I’d had the considerable advantages explained to me while my Mom looked on hopefully; after 4 years at Rosary I would leave with a Masters degree, not just a BA. And like the U of C, they were offering me a full scholarship. At the very end of the meeting, when Mom was beaming, and certain that she had “won” and I was so miserable that I could have puked, the sweet sister asked me what other options I was considering in addition to Rosary. I told her about my possibilities at the U of C. She turned immediately to my Mom and said, “Oh dear Mary Jane, if she can go the University of Chicago, then she must go to the University of Chicago. It will open so many more doors for her for the rest of her life.” I don’t even remember that nun’s name; but she remains my favorite nun of all time. So, with Mom deeply disappointed (not to mention oh-so-betrayed by the whose side are you on anyways nun) but willing to concede a fair fight, I had beaten back the cloister and had only the U of C application to complete.

Of course I was immobilized with fear and let it run on dangerously right down to the wire. The application was essay upon essay and I had thought them through but I had not actually completed to the application itself. On the morning it was due I arrived at work a train wreck of self-loathing and despair. Not to worry, nothing I wrote in those essays was as trite and overused as that expression. I told Nancy immediately that it was deadline day and that I had failed to complete the application. I was distraught.

Well Nancy would have none of that and so she enlisted another friend within the department and all day they covered for me while I sorted through my pile of rough notes and actually completed the application form. My sister Joanie was back home from a stint in Italy as a nanny and we got her on board, as well, to drive the application the half hour to Hyde Park to meet the absolute 5 PM deadline with Admissions. Joanie was sitting in the parking lot in Mom’s car, waiting for the packet as we handed it off to her just minutes after 4 PM and wished her God’s speed on her assignment. God apparently was not listening and she got delayed by a freight train and the complexity of parking on Hyde Park’s Midway Plaisance. When she got to the door of Admissions it was a few minutes past 5 PM and the door was already locked. But nothing was going to stop Joanie from giving her all to get my application package delivered. And that is when she crawled up onto a fairly high ledge, clinging to some insubstantial landscaping, and began to bang on a closed window. Thank God for ivy covered walls. A kindly lady came to the window, heard Joanie’s breathless and teary story and accepted my application packet. As she stood at the window and watched Joanie’s treacherous descent, Joanie looked up cautiously and say “Wait, who are you? Mary will want to know.” And of course she said, “Tell Mary that her application packet has been received by Margaret Perry in just enough time.” As I type that sentence now some 40 years later I find myself dissolving in tears. And so the 15-day wait began.

Of course once I knew there was this possibility of escape from my life of dreams deferred I could not bear the thought of not being accepted – even as I prepared myself for the very real possibility that I wouldn’t be. As the acceptance date drew nearer I made sure to go home each day for lunch and the mail delivery. And sure enough, some 10 days later, almost a full week in advance of the time frame I had been told, there was a small note card in the mailbox addressed to me. I knew it could only be the worst of news because all of my friends who had preceded me to college had warned that refusal was a thin letter of we regret to inform you, while acceptance was a fat packet of congratulations and information. I did not want my Mom to witness my failure and disappointment and I didn’t know how I would tell my friends at the bank who had so stepped it up for me and had made the whole process possible. I took my note to the back steps of our house and opened it, braced for the worst. The handwritten note inside read, as follows:


Dear Mary,

I thought you’d like to know that you have been admitted to the College and that you will be hearing officially and formally shortly.

This is just a note of congratulations and good wishes. Be sure to call me if I can be of any assistance.

Sincerely yours,

Margaret E. Perry

Associate Director

And again, I weep at the memory, astounded that some 40 years have passed and Dean Perry is quite possibly no longer on this Earth. If she is not here, I am certain she has gone to join other angels.


This is one of my most treasured possessions. I have carried it with me through some 35 moves. My first critical life pivot and the woman who showed me the way.

And so I returned to the bank following that momentous lunch break and took my news immediately to my wonderful summer friend, Nancy. “It came.” I said, “I got accepted to the U of C!” And we jumped up and down and screeched in that little bank that frowned upon screeching just as much as any library. And then Nancy proceeded to advise me, just as she had been doing all summer, saying now go tell everyone. Tell Bill Smith (my Beatle boss) and tell Arthur Baer himself, and Mary, stop saying U of C. Say I’ve been accepted to the University of Chicago, it’s a big deal and you don’t want there to be any confusion. You are going to the University of Chicago! Good-bye, Beverly Bank!”

After that big change, I don’t remember too much more about the summer. I know I felt terribly sad when I had to say good-bye to Nancy as summer ended and it was time for her to return to Georgetown. We’d had a few final adventures. She’d turned me on to the famed Top Notch Burger joint – not able to believe that I had never been there. But there were big differences between growing up in East Beverly and North Beverly and any meals eaten outside the home was one of them. We had another lunch or two in the back of her Dad’s office. I saw the pictures behind her father’s desk of her coming out at a Cotillion and I was enthralled and delighted, and painfully aware of the distinct differences between us; most especially, she still had a Dad. I remembered a final fight between my parents when my mother had accused my father of not being proud of his children. Other men put pictures of their children in their office and you won’t, she said. How could you not be proud to be a father? What’s wrong with you. That is one of the many battles between my parents that I think I should have been shielded from, but wasn’t.

My tenure at the Bank was not to end with the start of college. I still managed to work some 15 hours a week while I went to the U of C and Loan Operations was never quite as fun again as it had been with Nancy there. We never kept in touch and it was many years before I ever saw her again, just for a brief moment, at a neighborhood event; and I can’t imagine that she ever realized how big a part she played in that summer of me saying yes to life again. I never kept in touch with my Beatle boss or anyone from the bank for that matter; but I think of them often and how much I hated it there in my polyester pants suit with my sad family and my dreams deferred. Until Bill and Nancy crossed my path and nudged me forward into a meeting with a Dean who saw a very young woman who desperately wanted an education and who, she decided, deserved a break and so she gave her one.

 Click here to read the Conclusion of  “Pantyhose, Polaroids and Pivots”

About the author:

Mary Duggan is Co-Founder and President of the Duggan Sisters.

TheDuggan Sisters cracked the code and created a natural deodorant that actually works: lifestinks.  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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5 Responses to “Pantyhose, Polaroids and Pivots: Part Two”

  1. Pat Clancy says:

    Mary, I love to read your stories! They bring back memories for me, even though I am about 10 years ahead of you but still “maturing” and not yet growing old. For a year between high school and college I worked at Evergreen S & L, the job being arranged by my Uncle Ed who was “on the board.” I was miserable, too! I worked as a teller and didn’t much like handling all that money because I hated math, though dealing with the customers was a hoot sometimes. It was a much smaller place. We didn’t have a cafeteria or a formal dress code. I remember wearing summer skirts and blouses and yes, probably nylons — did we have pantyhose yet in 1959? We ate our brown bag lunches in the back room, and the other tellers were really nice to me. My immediate boss, Mr. Nolan, was crabby and scared me to death. Mr. Hyland, the president, was a nice guy whom I didn’t see very often. There was an audit that summer and my “drawer” turned up $300 in the hole! After being questioned about the discrepancy, I was petrified for 2 weeks and finally got up my nerve to talk to Mr. Nolan about it. He said, “Oh, the auditors straightened that out. Nothing to worry about.” He had no idea what agony I’d been suffering. My dad and Uncle Ed expected me to go back and work there the following summer, but I couldn’t imagine that they’d really want me back. And I sure didn’t want to repeat the misery!

    • Mary Duggan says:

      Yay! You read it. Thank you so much. I have been out-of-touch with writing for years; so I am still rather intimidated with the whole blog thing. The girls encourage me endlessly, but I can’t be sure folks are connecting, if you know what I mean. I am a story teller and not really sure that I have a place in the blogosphere. I tell myself I am a macro-blogger; but I know length is an issue for folks. I just don’t think or write in blurps. Thank you for taking the time. Loved your banking experiences, though I would have stroked out over the missing funds. Luckily they never let me anywhere near money. Hugs, Mary PS: please continue the maturing not aging strategy. I love it.

  2. Pat Clancy says:

    Correction — not a year, a summer between high school and college.

  3. Pat Clancy says:

    I loved pant suits! Skirts kept getting shorter and shorter in the ’70s, by which time I was divorced with three little kids and living with my folks, working in medical records at LaGrange Hospital. The only way to resolve the rising hemline issue was to start wearing pants. I remember a news item about a society woman who was refused entry to an upscale restaurant because they didn’t allow women to wear pants. She went to the ladies room and took off the pants. Voila! She was wearing a short dress, which was perfectly acceptable. I guess her jacket passed the crotch test.

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