oprah and i go way back.
years ago, gosh, i guess it must have been 34 years? i’ve lost track of time, but i can set the scene and then someone can google or fact check and tell me when this might have happened.
the first time i came across ms. winfrey was when i was perched on the 151 bus heading from my lincoln park apartment to the school of the art institute where i was taking some graduate school classes. major traffic jam in front of the john hancock building, and as i stared out of the bus window, i saw a woman in a beige overcoat dashing bravely through traffic on michigan avenue, clutching a manila envelope in her gloved hands. i recognized her immediately as that friendly gal who had just taken over the am chicago morning talk show.
yes, oprah winfrey was jaywalking!
fast forward to years later, when i was in the midst of an ugly custody battle. (they only come ugly, btw). i had a crazy dream one night: i was in a high drama courtroom scene being crushed alive in a sort of anne boleyn condemnation, and in a grand entrance – that could only have been written for joan collins in a cheesy moment from ‘dynasty’ – BOOM, the big wooden doors swung open. all eyes turned to oprah winfrey (in a big floppy dramatic hat) as she marched into the room…arms raised to the judge, outraged by the injustice!! a big dream interpreter (i kind of make things up to suit my own interests), it clearly meant that oprah was going to save my children.
i promise there’s a point to this story.
fast forward: the custody battle ended, there was peace in the land, i was growing my little cottage industry and raising three very cute, very little children and also teaching myself marketing 101…spot mentions in town & country, house & garden, instyle…pretty cool!
one sunny autumn day, i was standing atop a teetering kitchen stool, festooning the house with crepe paper for my son’s 9th birthday party. i mean, imminent party…the guests were due within hours. of course, the phone rang, and i managed to reach it (this, children, was the time before the 24/7 use of a cellular telephone), thankfully the cord was so stretched out, i could continue the decorating at the same time.
it was oprah calling.
well, okay, it wasn’t oprah. but it was her people. one of her people. the funny thing was, i wasn’t surprised. others probably would have fallen off of the teeteringly tall stool, or dropped the phone, or some other calamitous activity that one does when shocked. instead, i remember thinking, “oh, it’s today that she’s calling.” remember: that dream convinced me that it was only a matter of time. guess it was now.
so, the producer, terribly nice gal, explained that they had spotted the piece about my notes in town & country and were interested in seeing some samples…might want to add them to the list of oprah’s favorite things of 1999. i thanked her for calling, explained, practically when the poor gal was in mid-sentence, that i just really had to finish what i was up to, “decorating for my son’s birthday party”, and would have to call her back tomorrow.
obviously, i called her back the next day, arranged to send some favorite illustrations of mine to the folks at harpo, and went back to whatever it was the week had in store. probably, cleaning up the party detrious!
the big call came, this time, when i wasn’t distracted by a mega-deadline, and good news, it made the cut, my notecards were chosen to be a part of that crazy big day in november as one of oprah’s favorite things. i admit: i was (and am) thrilled.
time for note taking. i grabbed a piece of scrap paper (probably the back of a bill that subsequently was never paid), and jotted down everything that the producer told me:
1. send us 250 boxes of boxed notes. okay.
2. do you have a 1-800 number? no? well, get one.
3. do you have a website? no? well, make one.
4. do you personalize all orders? yes? but you’d rather oprah not mention it, due to the potential horror of customizing tens of thousands of orders in an unbelievably short amount of time? okay, we’ll be sure to tell her.
and then came the near-deal breaker…
5. the taping is at 11 am on the 23rd. we’d really love for you to be there for it. pause. i can’t go. it’s my 4 year old daughter’s preschool thanksgiving feast. can’t you miss the feast? i’m afraid i can’t. well, what time is the feast? it starts at 9am. well, is there any way you can get to the feast and still get to our studio for the taping?
i could see that this producer was not going to take no for an answer.
so, i called my mom. i asked her to cover for me at the feast. she agreed. (later she told me that it’s a good thing she was at the feast: none of the young mothers knew how to cook a turkey or make gravy!).
that week, got a 1-800 number, designed a website, signed my life away with card service to accept all major credit cards (well, not discover, i never really got into that card)…and shipped 250 sets of boxed notes off to harpo.
and then: the day arrived. tons of excitement. what to wear??? what was clean??? free food in the green room. really nice digs. they rolled out groups of the ‘favorites’ per segment, and while waiting to dash in, kenny g and i had a moment. for real. well, not really a moment, but we did exchange a sentence or two.
in to the studio. seated in the front. watched oprah do her thing, which, by the way, she does really well. i had to laugh. remember the part about asking for her not to mention that each box of notes could be personalized with a name, in your choice of color?
well, an exhuberant oprah became so excited about these sweet little notecards, (as she held up the one named ‘our bad dog jack”), that she told the world that, of course, ‘they’ll even print your name on it!’ there were her adorable cocker spaniels on stage with her, and we all got caught up in the moment! i thought, oh, heck, i’ll personalize for these lovely people! how tricky could that be? the audience was shrieking in a concerted crescendo as more and more goodies were handed out to them. wow, what a fever pitch. i’m not sure why i assumed i could get my hands on some of the gimmes, but not so lucky. i consoled myself by thinking: who needs tennis shoes? i’m one of the favorite things!!!
after leaving the taping i got home just in time to pick the kids up from school and shh don’t tell, kept them home the morning that the show aired on tv.
fast forward: a terrific boon in business, and yes, 80% of the thousands of orders included personalization (in their very own choice of ink color), and the time flew by in a furious, frenzied, frenetic, fast hurricane! orders packed in the house, ups stickers flying off of the printer, with noel, hallie and corey counting envelopes in sets of ten (they got paid a quarter a carton, some good pin money). we worked our fingers silly and sent off the very last order on december 23.
and on the very same day that santa was filling his sleigh, our favorite ups man picked up the final pile of packages from the side door, giving me time to finally do my christmas shopping. a wild ride!
so, back to the dream interpretation.
you all see it, don’t you? single mom, start up small business, how to manage to raise three little kids, work from home (before it was the hip thing to do), , support my little family and manage to always be a step away from them? maybe this little business could really take care of us, if only we had just a little nudge?
the dream was right: oprah saved my children.