Margaret Jones knew she would win that townhouse, knew it with a certainty that was as clear and cool as the tapwater running from the faucets in the kitchen that would soon be hers. "Sometimes I think I was meant to have it," she said as she waited for the moment when she would receive the keys to her kingdom. "It was meant to be. I think it was just my time." t
And no one could have been more thrilled for her than the smiling representatives of Ryan Homes, which built the house, and the people from radio station Q107 who gave it away and the PR people who nightmare it was that it would not be a sweet, shy 31-year-old $17,000-a-year supervising account clerk with the Montgomery County School system who won the house but someone, well someone for whom the hearts and minds of the local radio audience would be loathe to open. "I was convinced, absolutely convinced, it would be an Iranian student," said one of the PR types. "But Margaret, why, Margaret's perfect!"
Margaret smiled in modest confusion as she heard herself being talked about in her mother's living room, caught unshakeably in the intricate electronic web that the great PR machine and dizzy destiny had contrived to weave that day out of the media and the American Dream.
She had dressed carefully that morning in a blue dress with a lace collar and tiny tucks down the front that she smoothed nervously as she waited for the television crew to arrive. A syndicated television show, "The World of People," had decided Margaret was perfect too, and soon their cameras and microphones filled the small living room of the home in Rockville where she lives, apartment rents being what they are, with her mother, four brothers and a platoon of pets. The cameras were rolling when she answered the door and led everybody upstairs where the interviewer, Steve Edelman, ambushed her mother, sister and 5-year-old niece in the kitchen where they had run for cover. "Hey, Margaret," he said, when the cameras were ready to roll. "Could you come in here and relate to your mother a bit?"
Margaret related, Edelman relented, and soon the cameras followed her downstairs and out the door to the gleaming black limousine parked near a battered Chevy. She was just beginning to get comfortable with the cold eye of the television camera trained on her from the front seat, when the limousine glided off the Beltway and onto the exit ramp under the slatey Gaithersburg skies. She chatted with assurance about the merits of the many fast food restaurants in the neighborhood, particularly of the MdDoanld's where she had picked up the ticket that bore the magic number that had won her the house on a Q107 promotional contest. ("The biggest ever!" trilled one station flack.) You have to go to the right McDonald's," she said. "You have to go to the ones that cook 'em good and serve 'em hot. You have to know which ones are which when you only have an hour for lunch and the traffic is bad."
She reflected on the strange machinations of fate. "I've always wanted a house," she said. "But I knew I'd never be able to afford one. I need it. hMaybe someone with two kids living in an apartment shoudl have it more than me. But I got it, and now it's mine."
And she thought about the future. "There really isn't much more that I want," she said. "I've got my family and my friends, I've got a job, and I've got my health. Other than getting married, I guess I've got it all now. Getting married -- that would be the icing on the cake."
By now the nervousness had nearly disappeared from Margaret's pale blue eyes, and the limo had rounded the bend in one of those infant Gaithersburg subdivisions that seems to cling tentatively to the rolling hills whose red earth still bears the bulldozer's scars. Suddenly, there it was -- her $75,000 Ryan home, with the tan facade and the brown trim and the beleaguered little sapling out front, just as it had been all the times she had come to see it since it became hers last Friday.
But Margaret's eyes grew wide and her face pale when she saw the throngs waiting to her receive her on her small front lawn. There were microphones and cameras, sleek-suited salesmen, voracious photographers, mellow-voiced disc jockeys, and a whole choir of general managers, regional managers and marketing managers, all waiting to shake Margaret's hand and ask her how she felt and record for posterity her every move. "Gosh," said Margaret, in nervous laughter. "This is really wild."
Her hand shook as Ryan representative Bryan Thorpe gave her the keys. Janet Mitchell, the model attendant, began to show her around with the thundering herd close on her heels. Mitchell showed her the living room and the "formal" dining room, the built-in bookcase, and the wall-to-wall carpeting. She showed her the kitchen, the GE range and the double sink in the kitchen, ("Wow," said Margaret, "that's what I was hoping I'd get"), the no-wax floor and the pantry. Then they went upstairs. "Now Margaret," said Mitchell, "from your master bedroom you can walk into your dressing room and your walk-in closet and from your bedroom window you can see your own back yard. "Perfect," said Margaret dazedly. "It's just perfect."
Soon she was back downstairs, drinking California champagne in plastic champagne glasses and telling the story of the day she won, the day she knew they would be drawing the winning ticket for the house: how she woke up that fateful morning at 6 o'clock and how she worried over how she could walk the dog and listen to the radio at the same time; how they called one number over the air and it was not her number and how, when no one called the station back they called another number and it was her number, 2461984, and how she yelled and screamed and woke up her brothers and her mother and how in her excitement she misdialed the number and was sure she wouldn't get through in the allotted 15 minutes and how she went down to the station after they said that yes, she had won and how a man who won a Datsun 280ZX in the same contest called her up to congratulate her, and how it was strange driving to the hockey game the other night and hearing her name and the glad tidings announced yet again over the air. "It was my lucky day," said Margaret. "It was my day, and it was really wild."
In her daughter's kitchen Mary Jones, mother of seven sons and two daughters, thought about her first home. The one in Hyattsville that she and her husband bought about 30 years ago for $9,000. How they had to scrape to make the $73 monthly payments. "She deserves to get something nice," said Mr. Jones. "It's probably the only way she'd ever get a house. It's not humongous, but it's a very nice house." She looked at the bookcase, where Margaret plans to house her collection of owls. "I told her, 'now just don't junk it up, Margaret.'"
Her daughter, of course, has no intention of junking it up, but, there are the taxes to worry about, and Margaret figures she'll feel the pinch in paying them for a while. The first drapes will be made of sheets bought at a white sale until she can afford better, and it will be a while before the unfinished basement can be made over into a rec room. These were not the sort of cavils likely to dampen such a day, and they didn't. Margaret hopes to move into her new home in March, with her brother David, who "does banquets" at the Pook's Hill Marriott, and with her dog, Zak a German Shepherd.
As the morning ended, Margaret posed for still more photographs, this time leaning out of one of the bedroom windows. She paused for a moment before going back down the stairs to face the crowd, and looked around the empty room while her niece, Julie, played on the carpet. Yes, Margaret said, she felt more grown-up now, more independent. "But I'm close to my family you know, and I want them to know it's for all of them. That's really important to me."
"Can we live here forever?" Julie wanted to know.
Margaret smiled and looked out the window.