Teacups and Sticky Buns ­ Mom's Story

Winter 2003 CSANews Issue 49  |  Posted date : May 02, 2007.Back to list

As book reviewer for the CSA News, I was particularly gratified to hear from Tom Culligan, a member of our CSA family, who sent along a copy of his unique book Teacups and Sticky Buns ­ Mom's Story.

Tom Culligan, as co-founder of The Second Cup coffee chain, could truly qualify as a Canadian Horatio Alger. From a tiny kiosk specializing in gourmet coffee in 1975, this concept now includes over 500 retail stores throughout North America ­ a phenomenal success story for a poor boy from humble New Brunswick origins.

Teacups and Sticky Buns is a loving tribute to Tom's remarkable mother, Margaret Culligan. It is also a rivetting read. Margaret's indomitable can-do spirit and pure, joyful appreciation of life in the face of grinding poverty must have been just as inspirational to Tom as any MBA degree.

As a matter of fact, Culligan mentions that his mom always had a knack for getting things done. She even had the carrot-and-the-stick reward theory working in their own backyard: Tom stacked wood with his siblings "long before the Harvard crowd wrote about it." The reward was her famous Kick Cola homemade ice cream floats.

Margaret was born into a large Catholic family. Even though she was naturally full of fun, her stern mother psychically burdened her with the belief that life was only about hard work and prayer: "Fun was for the hereafter."

Therefore, this talented woman who could play the piano and organ, sing, write, paint, play poker all night and provide wonderful hospitality (including those sticky buns) lived with perpetual guilt all her life.

Margaret's main cross in life was her marriage to Charly Culligan, who was a violent, abusive drunk. Charly was never really a father but more of a sperm donor for her nine children.

Tom sadly comments, "I just cannot recall a single act that Dad performed to support us kids or to help Mom." He actually thanked his mother in a letter: "For the determination it took to separate from Dad when I was only six years old. Your courageous decision resulted in my having a violence-free environment for the rest of my years." Charly's rages were unpredictable ­ drunk or sober, "he would punch, slap, kick, shake or knock Mom off her feet."

What made that decision all the more courageous for Margaret was that the church and the community criticized not Charly but Margaret for the separation. They gave her no support, even though a court ruling charged Charly with abandonment. He left for Toronto immediately. Charly not only didn't help support those nine children but he also sold off hundreds of acres of Culligan land "so he could end up sleeping in the Don Jail or on Toronto's acreage of park benches."

Margaret's reaction to this community hostility was to hold her head high, care for her brood, continue to sell her Avon products door to door and eventually open her own beauty parlour.

Teacups and Sticky Buns has been compared to Frank McCourt's Angela's Ashes, but to me it has an additional inspirational and mystical quality. Along with the drudgery of a hardscrabble existence, Margaret made sure that her children had fun ­ and that they fully appreciated the beauty of the North Shore of New Brunswick. Tom tells of starry bonfires, shore dinners and moonlit swims in the Bay de Chaleur under northern lights.

Margaret was the Pied Piper and the storyteller for all her nieces, nephews, cousins and extended family. Tom has included their memories, as well as a collection of his mom's poetry.

The mysticism is evocatively described as Tom tells of his mom's lifelong relationship with nature and the moon. Margaret was also known to be the best tea-leaf reader in New Brunswick. There's a spooky tale of her advising her friend Earl Divine to change his travel plans. Earl believed her and bought a train ticket to Toronto, and thus was not a passenger on the only Air Canada flight to crash at the Toronto airport.

Twenty-four interesting Tom Culligan paintings are scattered throughout the book. On page 135, you'll find his mom's recipe for the sticky buns that are served at The Second Cup to this day. (This recipe is also available on the C.S.A. site. Read more...)

At the end of Teacups and Sticky Buns, Culligan has included Mom's 15 Rules, her recipe for happiness and prosperity. Number 6 is "Always err on the side of GENEROSITY," or, "Spread yourself around like manure on the field and then plenty will grow."

In that spirit, and in honour of his mother memory, Tom Culligan has established The Margaret Culligan Foundation, a national charitable foundation whose mandate is to feed the needy, especially children.

Margaret would be so pleased that all author and publisher profits from Teacups and Sticky Buns will go directly to that foundation. So read, enjoy and help a good cause!