About two years ago, one of our wholesale vendors announced an essay contest. The requirements were simply to describe why you should win $1,000 of their merchandise and a day of the owners of the company setting up a display in your store.
My first thoughts upon reading about the contest were that I'd never win. I was sure there would be hundreds of entries and mine wouldn't even be read. The more I thought about it though, the more I realized that we have an incredible story. We have been through a lot to get to where we are now and I felt that if anything, for my mom, I needed to put our journey on paper. I needed to write our story, not just for the contest but for us.
This was my entry:
Certain lucky people find one true passion in life that drives them in everything they do. My mom, Angie, has always had a passion for hunting for the unusual, mixing old and new in her decorating, and making the spaces around her feel warm and comfortable. She has focused this passion into a store that means absolutely everything to her. For this reason, 2008 was the toughest year of her life and one that left me feeling completely helpless to make it better for her.
In April of last year, a routine mammogram revealed that my mom had ductal carcinoma in her right breast. I remember sitting with her in the office looking directly into the face of our doctor as the words came out of her mouth. It didn't feel real. I was devastated and panicked but my mom was angry. The first thing she said to the doctor was, "Well, I don't have time for this. I own a store!"
Despite her hesitation to leave the store for a while, she was immediately thrust into a painful mastectomy and later, a reconstruction that was done incorrectly and subsequently re-reconstructed, causing much physical discomfort and lots of time away from her dreams at our shop. I was working as much as I could to hold things together for her, but in reality, there just wasn't much I could do. I came home from the store every night to find her lying in bed covered in decorating magazines and books, drawing ideas, and talking about getting back to work. She got better and better each day, and finally, when the time had almost come for her to get back to her life and the store she loved, it happened...
On Sunday morning, September 15th, we received a frantic call from our landlord. It had been raining all night from the storms that came with hurricane Ike. A creek near our store had been completely overwhelmed and had flooded the entire neighborhood. We didn't even know there was a creek anywhere near our store. We had never even heard of that area flooding in the past. Our landlord didn't know whether our store had been affected, but he wanted us to go see what had happened.
My mom insisted that she ride with my dad and me to see the devastation despite the fact that she still had drains form surgery. We thought, maybe it's just a couple of inches. Maybe the water didn't come up far enough to do any damage. It couldn't have.
I will never forget the sight that came upon us after reaching the top of the hill that overlooked our store. The area was filled with police and fire trucks. The street was closed because the water was so high that it was impassible. People were being rescued by boat out of the building next to ours.
After explaining several times to officers that we owned a store on the street, we made our way on foot to the front of our building. It was there that we stood, silent and motionless for a very long time, literally watching mud and debris flowing out of our once beautiful home away from home. My mom started to cry and I realized that she hadn't cried once throughout her diagnosis or treatments. Standing there, seeing all of our vintage furniture knocked over from the force of the water and all of our little display items floating in brown, smelly floodwater was just too much for her. She was grieving the loss of so many things in that moment and my dad and I felt completely helpless.
We spent several weeks cleaning up the mess that was left behind, documenting the damages, and worrying about all the money we would owe. We had gotten our holiday merchandise on terms from our vendors which means that you pay for it after you've sold it. Unfortunately, our storage shelving had all collapsed into the water and destroyed every last piece of it. We were given temporary hope when FEMA declared the site a national disaster area, but quickly found out that the only aid we'd be offered was a loan requiring my parent's house as collateral.
My mom and I have come a long way since that September morning. We have moved into a new building and are still slowly recovering from the devastating financial and emotional impact of last year. Our customers are thrilled that we didn't give up after cancer and a flood and they couldn't be more supportive. We have been so lucky that our new location is working out and we are busier than ever. Best of all though, my mom is healthy and cancer free.
After everything that she has been through, I think my mom deserves to win this contest because she has been so determined to keep doing what she loves. Instead of feeling sorry for herself, she has picked right up where she left off. Two thousand eight was a tough year for her and although I felt helpless throughout her struggles, I want to do everything I can to make 2009 a new start for her. She loves the vintage, natural look of Park Hill's collection and absolutely raved about the showroom in Atlanta. It would be so wonderful to win this opportunity for her because it would be a way for me to start her new year with some good news and give her a little help in getting back to doing what she loves and was absolutely meant to do.
I got a call from the owner of the company that was holding the contest the next day. He told me, while getting choked up on his words, that they were coming to St. Louis. He said that he completely related to the passion that my mom has for all things vintage and cannot imagine being taken away from what he was meant to do for any amount of time.
I will never forget being able to tell my mom that I'd won an essay contest on behalf of her. I know it was just a contest, but for us, it really did represent a new start. It all seems like a blur now, but every once in a while, I get to reminisce about the time we were visited by the sweetest owners of one of our wholesale companies and given a whole display of their amazing merchandise. It really was a wonderful start to 2009.