Smartmom would not be Smartmom without her Beautiful Smile. And she doesn’t mean that orifice between her nose and her chin.
She’s talking about Rose Duggins, a.k.a. Beautiful Smile, her babysitter and so much more, who for more than 15 years has subwayed from her apartment in Coney Island to Park Slope to take care of Teen Spirit and the Oh So Feisty One.
But more importantly, she takes care of Smartmom. She’s the unconditional mother everyone needs, the nurturing grandmother who soothes you when you’re feeling down. The spirit of love and kindness that infuses the apartment like a Buddhist air freshener.
And it doesn’t hurt that she helps with the housework and the cooking. She’s the domestic goddess that Smartmom appreciates more than words or a weekly salary (plus vacation pay, sick days, and bonuses) can say.
And, did she mention, her smile lights up whatever room she is in.
In fact, when Beautiful Smile arrives at the apartment on Third Street (she always rings the door bell even though she doesn’t need to), Smartmom breathes a sigh of relief and says to herself, “All is right with the world.”
Born in South Carolina, Beautiful Smile was the third of seven children. Her father was a butcher and her mother was a housewife and doting mother.
When Beautiful Smile was 15, she moved to East New York to live with her aunt and uncle. She married young and worked as a cutter in a clothing factory.
She and her husband settled in Coney Island and had five children, who are now ages 30 to 40. She stayed home to take care of them, but in 1972, after he husband was murdered, she started working as a caregiver in Park Slope.
One of her first jobs was taking care of the children of PS 321’s esteemed principal, Elizabeth Phillips, who was a teacher at the time.
Since then, Beautiful Smile has worked for numerous Park Slope families. She traveled the world with one of them. Staying in the best hotels “with chocolates on the pillows,” she remembers, Beautiful Smile has traveled to Paris, Rome, and even Pittsburgh.
But she always loved the Slope.
“The area has changed, but I always felt very safe here. The people in the area have always been friendly and nice. Even the ones I don’t know.”
In 1991, when Smartmom, Hepcat and Teen Spirit first moved to Park Slope from the East Village by way of the Upper West Side, they met Beautiful Smile at the brownstone of the family she was working for at the time. Their children were growing up and they were trying to find a new family for Beautiful Smile.
“Smartmom brought Teen Spirit over when he was 3 months old. I got a chance to hold him and seems like we got attached right away,” Beautiful Smile remembered. “I’ve been loving him for going on 16 years.”
BS never complained climbing up the stairs to their fourth-floor walk-up on Fifth Street. When the family moved to Third Street, Beautiful Smile had the kitchen set up even before the movers were done.
When Smartmom told Beautiful Smile that she was pregnant in 1996, “I was surprised and happy to have a little girl come into the family,” BS says. She met OSFO when she was just a couple of days old and they’ve been very close ever since.
Smartmom wonders if BS realizes how important she is not just to Teen Spirit and OSFO, but also to the adults in the family.
“I work hard so that Smartmom can go out to work,” she said. “Wherever she wants to go, she knows the children are being well taken care of. She has nothing to worry about at all.”
After 15 years together, Smartmom and Beautiful Smile are close friends. “I can say anything to Smartmom,” she said. “This is my second family. I feel like I’m going visiting instead of going to work.”
It hasn’t always been easy for Smartmom and Hepcat to afford the services of a top-notch caregiver and housekeeper, but they are committed to employing Beautiful Smile for as long as they can.
“Whatever happens, we always work it out,” Beautiful Smile said.
She ought to know. For 15 years, Beautiful Smile has endured physical pain, anxiety and heartache, thanks to her high blood pressure and arthritis. Not only was her husband killed, but her youngest son died.
Her children and her nine grandchildren have been through a Cyclone ride of circumstances, as well. In the face of all this, she stayed strong.
Smartmom wanted to know the secret.
“I’ve been hard working all my life — loving and taking care of my children and the children I work with. I try, if things get really hard, to think that the next day will be better. It won’t be bad. Always, I thank God, too. That helps me get through the bad times and the good.”
Being around children, she says, also helps to keep the sad feelings at bay. And kids just love being around Beautiful Smile.
“The most important thing is to be there for them and hope for the best,” she said. “Be loving and listen to what they have to say.
“Children go through so much stuff. On the streets, at school, at home. You have to be strong and be there with them. Good or bad. They have to be able to come to you and let you know what’s going on.”
So listening is the thing. Smartmom should try that sometime.
Like Smartmom and most of her friends, Beautiful Smile has unfulfilled dreams: “The only thing I regret is not finishing school in South Carolina. I wish I was able to do more for the children. And I always wanted to be a nurse or an interior designer. I have a feeling for the way things should look.”
Smartmom knows all about Beautiful Smile’s artistic eye and penchant for moving things around. Whenever they go on vacation, Beautiful Smile rearranges the furniture. It can be a bit of a shock when they get back. But usually Smartmom is impressed with what she’s done.
But how does she do it? Teen Spirit asks, “Like, does she have a crew come in to help?”
Nobody knows. Beautiful Smile is kind of magic that way.
©2007 Community News Group
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