05/08/2015 07:03 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

For Mom on Mother's Day 'Ode to Peggy Coyne'

Chef Rossi

To the Asbury Park Press, Peggy Coyne was a frequent writer whose letters to the editor often found their way to print. I think it was the naïve tone they took as they led the reader down a garden path to a sucker punch of wisdom.

"As a simple housewife, I don't know about these things but..." might end with "and so the ugly head of anti-Semitism rears itself once again!"

To the Kellogg's cereal company, Peggy Coyne was a thorn, a sticky, glue-covered thorn that embedded itself into them in the early '70s and whom they couldn't shake off into the early '90s. If a small bug crawled into a box of one of their millions of boxes of cereals, you could bet it would end up with Peggy Coyne. She would find it, tape it to a postcard and mail it back to them, demanding a year's supply of free cereal for the horror that she and her fragile child endured at the shock of finding this beast in their breakfast cereal. The beast, usually a fruit fly or a tiny beetle of some kind, would often survive the taping and land on the desk of some unfortunate Kellogg's customer service drone, still wiggling. Clearly, the drones had no stomach to protest; the free cereal coupons flowed like lava.

To several land developers in Florida, Peggy Coyne was the patsy, the fat lady with money and not much sense, who allowed them to provide a free luxury hotel for her family of five, free breakfast every day and passes to all the local sites; amusement parks, aquariums, museums and more. After several days of the free, fun-filled vacation, they would sit Peggy Coyne down for the daylong sales presentation about the plot of swampland she should buy.

"It's in a quiet stretch now, but soon will be right smack in the middle of a shopping mall" or it might be a condo. "Yes ma'am, this condominium will guarantee years of fun for you and your family until well after all the kids have grown up and your grandchildren will get to join you in the pool!'

Peggy Coyne would clap her hands and exclaim, "Oh how wonderful!" to the delight of the sales person as their commission alarm went off in their brain. Then she would say, "I need a couple of days to discuss this with my husband. Would you mind extending our complimentary hotel package until Tuesday?"

On Tuesday, Peggy Coyne would announce that she was 97% sure she would be purchasing, but she had to have a quick meeting with her accountant back home to see just what package she could purchase. Perhaps she might buy two.

The family, tanned, well-fed, funned out and filled with gifts, would load into the station wagon and head north.

When the sales reps would call asking for Peggy Coyne, they would be told by the sobbing woman on the phone that Peggy had died just that morning. It was a heart attack brought on by far too much excitement about something Peggy was very excited about, of which the sobbing woman knew nothing.

I learned a lot from Peggy Coyne: How to guilt a Fortune 500 company into submission, how to turn an unethical salesperson into your benefactor and, more miraculously, how to come back from the dead on a bi-weekly basis.

I guess its truthful to say that I'd known Peggy Coyne all my life, but it's just as truthful to say we'd never met. Because Peggy Coyne didn't exist.

She was created somewhere in the back of my mother's brain, and like a secret weapon, or in this case a secret identity, Mom would pull out Peggy whenever she needed to bring in the big guns.

When a matter needed attending to that was past what my mother felt she could dish out or that might result in retaliation of some sort, she would bring in Peggy Coyne. Peggy was the CIA of sample sales, the Lois Lane of letters -- small town, simple and lethal.

Her letters were short and to the point, almost always written on index cards.

"My dear Sirs, it was with great sadness that I read of your impending ending of senior citizen discounts. As the wife of a World War II veteran, it is painful to realize that in the winter of one's life, a company that you have grown to trust over many years would now abandon you. It will be with great regret that I write to the Better Business Bureau about some of the minor issues I have listed below regarding your policies. Should you wish to change your mind, please respond urgently. Sincerely, Peggy Coyne."

PS: I found this insect in your product recently and do believe I am entitled to a full refund.

Nobody fought Peggy Coyne and won.

By the age of 10, having graduated from Peggy Camp, I was hip to the drill. The phone would ring for Peggy. "May I ask who's calling?" already getting the breathy tone in my voice. "Sam from Golf Coast Limited." "Oh, hi, Sam, " I would say working on my first hippo sob, "Peggy is deadddddddddddd!"

I asked Mom once where the name Peggy Coyne came from, and she said she'd heard it somewhere in her distant past, maybe it was through one of the two pen pals she wrote to for 40 years or perhaps something she'd read it in the Reader's Digest, which she devoured like chocolate and kept by the stack in the bathroom, but something about this name resonated for her.

Sometime between my birth and my third birthday, Mom reached into the complex vortex of her mind and pulled out Peggy. There was some humor in the name of Peggy Coyne, pronounced "coin," because that's what Peggy was best at, saving or shall we say acquiring lots and lots of coin.

To some it probably seems odd to grow up with a mother, father, sister, brother and mother's alter ego, but to us the mysterious Peggy was part of the family, and she did bring home the bacon, or, well, the kosher beef bacon.

Peggy was a super-hero with no cape, a phantom with no face, but she was as real as we were, and after years of sharing our lives with her, I'd grown to understand exactly when she was in our midst. I would walk into the kitchen and find my mom at her throne, the dinette set in the kitchen with the plastic paisley tablecloth, writing on index cards. One look at the odd smile on her face and the focused glassy edge to her eyes and I understood: Mom had left the building. Peggy had arrived.

Only as an adult do I fully appreciate the poetry of Peggy Coyne. Harriet, my loud, sometimes, uncouth, rarely put-together fat Jewish mom riddled with handicaps had created her Golem, a brave, timeless, faceless warrior who could never be too old, too sick or too tired to fight. As the years wore away at Mom, they only added fuel to the fire of Ms. Peggy Coyne.

Dear Editor,

As a longtime reader of your wonderful publication, I knew that it could only be an oversight on your part that you have failed to mention the plight of Jews in Russia in your recent article on the Soviet Union. Allow me to fill in what little I know as a simple housewife and mother.


Peggy Coyne

While Mom spent hours daily in physical therapy recuperating from a stroke, Peggy Coyne reached out into the far reaches of New Jersey and beyond and made a mark for peace, justice and dollar-off coupons at McDonald's.

In one of my last visits to the family home in Rumson, New Jersey, I found a stack of index cards Mom had not gotten around to mailing. Peggy had probably written them weeks before, but for Harriet, going to the mailbox on the corner now required a walker and a companion.

"Mom," I yelled to her as she lay on the couch reading the latest Reader's Digest. "How 'bout I mail these for you!?"

"Oh!" she exclaimed in excitement, looking suddenly child-like and flushed. "Please do, and I may have more when you return!"

By the time I came back to the house, she was scribbling away, a dozen pink index cards fanned out before her.

"I'll be back in a little bit to mail the letters," I yelled to Peggy, instinctively leaving the room so she could concentrate.

"Will do," said Peggy.

"Bring back a carton of low fat milk..." whispered Harriet.

"There's a coupon on the counter," said Peggy.

How I miss them both.