Thursday, November 28, 2013

Miss Ruby's Retirement

On the Occasion of Ruby's Retirement

I typed the text because it wasn't readable in my shot.

Well Miss Ruby, the big day is here
An event you've cherished all through the year
But when you start setting your lamp on fire,
We all think it's time for you to retire.

You've brightened our mornings with a cheery Hello,
Except when the weather threatens to snow.
And without the least hesitation
You told us all of your operation.

Through the years you have given your all
Driven some of your bosses right up the wall.
But we'll all miss your thoughtful ways,
and wish you were back in the coming days.

Ah yes, when the debits and credits don't settle
It will surely test our mettle.
And when all those reports are overdue
We will simply blame it on you.

Oh Miss Ruby if you'd only been here,
We could have dumped it on your desk to clear.
And you'd have grinned and straightened your back
And gotten it done before your mid-morning snack.

We'll miss all the flowers you'd always bring
The lovely bouquets at the first sign of Spring.
But we know that this is a SPECIAL DAY
And then there'll be no tars as we sincerely say —  

Now you can travel and garden and cook
And once in a while read a good book.
All of your friends send you love and best wishes
But please help Kermit sometime with the dishes!

Now let us be clear: I do not know Miss Ruby.  
I know nothing about her but now, I guess I know a bit about her.

She was hard-working, well-respected.
Her job had to do with numbers.  She loved flowers.
Her colleagues relied on her.  She stood her ground.
She had health issues.  She deserved her retirement.    
Apparently, she didn't care for doing dishes.

I was searching for a particular sized frame when I found this one, with its faded testament.  I wasn't crazy about the walnut but that could be changed.  The size was almost exactly right.  The green dot price tag said $2.00.  I took it home.

But when I started to dismantle the frame, I had to stop.  I felt bad.  I felt bad for Miss Ruby.  Here I was, ready to discard the culminating document of her professional life.  I  read through the lovingly hand-drawn now-faint calligraphy, tenderly composed, and delicately embellished.  How sad this honor to her ended up on my living room floor.

Who was Ruby?  Where did she work?  When did she retire?  What did she do after her party?  Why was this affectionate tribute left in a thrift store?  Was she still alive?  Would I ever know the answers to any of my questions?

It took a couple of days for me to grieve Miss Ruby's loss.  The loss that comes when one leaves one's home for a place with greater care.  The loss that comes when one leaves this world for the next. Whatever the transition, Miss Ruby no longer needed this written celebration from her colleagues.

I spray-painted the frame in a black matte finish and had my wonderful framers insert this silk-screened individual page  one-twelfth from a talented artist's rendition of the calendar.  I only bought this one page (for a dollar or two) because  for some reason  it spoke to me.  I love the way John (tiny signature-with-no-last-name upper-right of the "R" in November) made his letters with a comb-effect and the way he fashioned the zeroes.  Of all the other single pages of his calendar, only this one spoke to me  even though I have no associations with combs or November.

I love the way it came out.

I hope Miss Ruby would approve.
As the last recipient of the thanks honoring Miss Ruby, let me share my thanks for each of you...wishing all my readers a very Happy Thanksgiving and Happy Hanukkah!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Most Important Word?

" 'Freedom' is the most important word in the entire dictionary. You know about it when you lose it and then you have a completely different idea and perspective of the whole thing," said Arturo Sandoval, recent recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom and Cuban jazz trumpeter who yearned for freedom from an early age. 

My father loved listening to Arturo Sandoval.  Though Middle Eastern music was his favorite, followed by the Mills Brothers and some other smoothies of the forties, late in life he discovered Sandoval and played his CDs.

Since the award, Sandoval was widely quoted about this "most important word" both in the title of the award and in the entire dictionary, and it got me to thinking.  What is the most important word to me?

Freedom is without a doubt a tremendous choice but it made me wonder, what about "love"?  Is freedom as meaningful when you're without love?  Is love enough to sustain someone when they lack freedom?  

If you ask someone in organizational development they'll say the most important word is "we" and others would say it's "why?" because it propels us.

So weigh in out there...what's the most important word to you?
HOW TO COMMENT: If you click on Comments, there should be a box to start typing...type your comment, then select and copy it in case something goes wrong! next you have a choice for Comment as: in the drop down, if you choose Name/URL, you can type just your name or initials or whatever (you don't need a URL).  Then you can choose to Preview or Publish...if you preview you can proof/edit.  When you hit Publish you need to scroll down to see the verification screen which has those wavy letters you type in..then you submit and VOILA!  

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Silk and Satin Crazy Quilt

In the 1970s, my boyfriend Andy was a good soul who was fun-loving and always looking for the next laugh while at the same time, being a worrywart  like me! So we planned this eight-day car trip driving straight through upstate New York and almost to Canada and then, just shy of the Canadian border, back down on the Vermont side to end in Connecticut to have Thanksgiving with his family. There were a great many memories from that trip   one picturesque town after another — Rhinebeck, Red Hook, Claverack, Malta, Mechanicsville, and (the mysterious sounding) Ausable Chasm.  Like me, Andy loved going in and out of every little antique shop, stopping at every yard sale, sifting through the contents of any barn with a hand-painted sign outside that said SALE.

Even though it was fraught with "incidents" (I have told you, I'm a tough customer) there were many wonderful things that I gathered along that trip, all the pieces I found during that car ride from town to town, place to place, while we drove along, playing at being married.  Filling the trunk of the car with one find after the next  including a metal shoe last similar to the one pictured here.  My grandfather was a shoemaker and the shoe would be put on the last upside down so the shoemaker could nail the nails in the sole. I had a metal last but this one was white and a child-sized last, so I was thrilled to uncover it.

It was in one of those barns that I found a pair of framed 19th century French magazine illustrations (similar to this one except they were in ornate gold frames) that I bought for my sister.  Along with that (in the attic of the barn) I also found a silk woven black & white portrait of Napoleon to add to Donna's enormous collection of all things Bonaparte.  I considered these three pieces the absolute best gifts for my sister and I couldn't wait to give them to her.  Years later when she had her things appraised, the framed pair of illustrations were valued at $500 and so was the Napoleon  a great return on the $60 I'd spent.  That night my sister called me and asked if I wanted them back!  (Sadly, years later the piece was re-appraised and the silk portrait turned out to be machine-made and was devalued.)

We'd bought a lot, time was running out and I was feeling we'd both spent more than we should.  Whenever I went on a trip like this, I'd record every penny spent in a little, tiny spiral notebook and then add it all up at the end to know what was expended.  So I knew we'd spent our money and we hadn't started back yet. Little things were starting to grate on either of us, I was starting to feel slightly uncomfortable about the upcoming holiday meeting all of Andy's family, being inspected as the possible daughter-in-law, knowing I'd bristle at having to be polite and inquiring and perhaps more than I'd want to be after this vacation.

So the ride south headed to Connecticut I was fussing about something I'd seen and left behind.  It was in a town south of Plattsburgh, maybe in Keeseville or Willsboro, but it was in a sweet shop on the first floor of someone's home where I'd found my child's shoe last.  There I'd seen and lovingly admired a magnificent crazy quilt.  I'd gotten into quilts in the early 70s and while I did have bear's claw, log cabin, sunshine and shadow, and Emma Randolph's wedding ring quilt, I had nothing as glorious as this quilt, made of silks and satins.  I couldn't get over the intricacies of this handmade quilt and the love that went into the hours and hours of stitching it required.  Who could envision such a puzzle of patterns?  Still it was $75 and too much to spend.  I rationalized that silk was a brittle fabric and this quilt had already been patched in a few places where the silk had worn away.  But now that we were driving further and further away, I couldn't stop thinking about it and talking about it.  

Crossing over into Connecticut with me still talking, Andy swerves the car off the road and to a screeching halt.

"That's it.  That's IT.  Not one more word about that quilt.  We're going back." he stated loudly and emphatically.

"WHAT?" I said looking at him like he was crazy.  "We can't go back  it's like two or three hundred miles away!  And then we have to come back!  Andy, we can't go back!"

"WE ARE GOING BACK AND GETTING THAT GODDAMNED QUILT!"  He was mad.  He was smokin' mad and it was all I could do to get him to stop from immediately driving in the opposite direction.  

I thought about my behavior and felt bad.  Tried to convince him we shouldn't got back, I'd get over it.

"NO you won't.  You'll just always remember this trip as the time you left that great quilt behind.  I'm NOT going to listen to that story my whole life.  We are GOING BACK RIGHT NOW."

"Well geez Andy, just let me call and make sure it's still there, that the place is open  it's the day before Thanksgiving, maybe they went away!" I implored him worrying that we'd drive all that way and find no one home.  Fortunately I had their card as I kept the cards from every place we'd been, in case I ever wanted to go back.  We went to a place where there was a pay phone and I made the call.  A man answered the phone.

"Well, she's not here right now.  The missus went up to Plattsburgh to see the sister but she'll be back and we'll be here.  I don't recall the quilt you're talkin' about, but no one's been here buyin' anything."

Three hours later (during the mostly silent drive) after fretting over the road map finally we pulled in to the place and I jumped out of the car, rang the bell and gratefully went inside as soon as she opened the door.

"Well hey there! I thought it might be you when my husband told me you someone called!  I thought it must be that cute little couple from New York!  Now what is it that you came back for sweetheart?" she said sweetly, in her checked dress covered in a white apron as the smell of her Thanksgiving preparations filtered through the room.

For all the incredible things I discovered on that car trip, none was more treasured than the silk and satin crazy quilt that Andy graciously bought for me and long after our lives went in separate directions, still hangs in my home to this day.


I wanted you to see the details, the beauty and variety of the stitches and the unique markings that define this quilt.  I tried to position these better but I guess they just have a mind of their own...guess they're just crazy.
Here are her initials S-A-F or is P?
Here is her ribbon: Life Member of the 

Washington County Agricultural Society 1910

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Other Side of My Father

There was something of the prankster in my father.  He wasn't fun-loving like my Uncle John but he did love to play a joke on someone.  Two pranks that have always stood out in my mind.
Not my mom's jewelry but it could be.

My mother was upstairs in her bedroom getting ready to go out with her friends  whom we all called "Aunt Alice" or "Auntie Arax" or Aunt so-and-so whether they were actual relatives or not.  When I was little, I loved watching my mother get dressed because her art deco dressing table had four drawers filled with wonders  one with gloves and more gloves  ivory kid gloves with a tiny pearl button that closed the glove at the wrist or black lace gloves that went to one's elbows; handkerchiefs and scarves in every size, color and shape   gauzy rose, emerald green sateen, or beautifully patterned turquoise,red and gold silk.  I loved to stick my hands in that drawer and feel the coolness of the fabrics, pull them out, spread them on her bedspread while she perched on an ottoman in front of the big round mirror and pulled out box after box filled with her costume jewelry and tried on various combinations of clip-on earrings and necklaces.  She'd organized her jewelry by color or type  all the pearl or green or silver ones together so when she'd picked out her outfit she could seek out just the right accessories to dress up her outfit.  My mother had a great eye, was a GREAT shopper and despite her limited budget always looked incredibly fashionable.

While she was getting dressed for a Sunday outing with "the girls,"  my father was downstairs and had commandeered my brother and few of the husbands on the block to move all the furniture out of the living room and dining room  except for the tables and lamps.

When Aunt Alice and the others arrived my mother yelled down, "I'll be ready in five minutes, sit down, make yourselves at home!"

To which my Aunt Alice called up in her soft-spoken and bewildered voice, "But Dotty  there's nowhere to sit..."

"That's ridiculous Alice," my mom called down as she finished putting on the last touches of her make-up  pursing her lips to apply her lipstick  "just push aside whatever's in your way!"

"But Dotty," Aunt Alice's voice quietly persisted, "there's really NO-WHERE to sit."

And at that my mother slammed her drawers closed and clicked down the stairs in her sling-back pumps (that perfectly matched the color of her full-skirted belted dress) to see why Alice and the others couldn't sit down in the living room.

The second she saw all her furniture missing  the couch, chairs, coffee table  she shrieked, "TOM-MEE! You get my furniture back in this living room NOW!" as my father and his accomplices laughed their heads off hiding behind kitchen doors and dining room drapes.
The Erskine's house as it looks today — minus the hedges.You 
can see (by the changed roofline) that the house was expanded.

My father's pranks were not just reserved for my mother.  He played another memorable prank on our next-door neighbor, Mr. Erskine.  Our houses were next door to each other on a dirt road with a strip of 6-foot grass from the gravel to the thick row of hedges fronting our yards and  that encasing our lawns like a thick, brushy green fence.  These hedges were only broken by the asphalt driveways that provided a place to park the family car.  Harry  hard-working, proud, stocky Irishmen  drove a gray bomb of a car that seemed to engulf him once he got behind the wheel.  

Mr. Erskine worked late, came home late and  as our street had only one streetlight  had some issues finding the opening to his driveway as things were pretty dark at our end of the block.  SO Harry Erskine came up with the ingenious idea of lining the beginning of the driveway with large boulders painted white. Now when he pulled onto our street in the dark of night he could find his driveway!  

One night, my father decided that we should move those painted rocks and see what happened.  So the guys lugged those heavy boulders behind those hedges and then later, much later, we hid behind them.  Crouched down in the stillness and black, my cheeks against the grass, peering through the under-branches of the hedges, I felt my heart thumping.  The grown-ups were talking and laughing in anticipation when finally a pair of headlights turned onto the block and slowly moved forward.  I could hear the crunch of the gravel under the tires of the lumbering car as it rolled past the driveway and then continued on, until Harry Erskine realized he'd missed his house.  As the brakes brought the car to a screeching halt, the driver's door opened, Mr. Erskine got out muttering (what I think were) profanities in his Irish accent, and everyone popped up from their hiding places, laughing at the success of the prank. 

As even Harry began smiling at the joke, the whole gaggle of neighbors congratulated my father on the success of his joke. With all the kids tumbling around on the grass among the gang of grown-ups, I felt this comforting sense of warmth and happiness surrounding me.

Now if only they could all come home with me.

It goes to show that memory is faulty/selective/flawed.  Below please find my childhood friend Marilyn's recollection of these two events.  Definitely remember what's she's added to the hedges story but am floored that I fell for the furniture "prank on the prankster"!

I remember some details a little differently.  For some reason, I remember the joke of the furniture move was to be on your father and to get him in trouble with you mother.  I remember it taking practically all of the men in the neighborhood who we knew (Mr. Sperling, Mr. Hans, Mr. Guardiano and others) to make this one happen.  The furniture was already outside in the late afternoon by the time that your father got home.  And then "he faced the music."
For the "hedges" incident, I remember us all being inside the gray Hudson returning from the drive-in movies.  I vaguely remember my father's frustration when he could not find the opening to the driveway.  What I recall is that more hedges were added, in pots, to line the driveway and have it appear as if there was no opening.  Again, it took a cast of neighborhood characters to pull this off.
I also remember several informal get togethers after these antics to laugh again and again and to share the stories.  The summer fold-up chairs would come out and various folks would share the stories over and over.

Thank you Mar for setting the record straight!!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Knock, Knock, Knock'in ...

When you're seven or eight years old, everyone's bigger than you are.  Except for school  where most everything and everyone is your size  you spend much of your time just standing thigh-high in a sea of legs.  Grown-ups all around, you're always looking up, always reaching up, to find a hand to hold and guide you.  In my case, for one reason or another, the hand that held mine was not that of my mom or dad.

From my child's perspective, it seemed my father spent a lot of time in the hospital, a place I was not allowed.  Since my mother worked six days a week, getting to the hospital was a Sunday affair when we'd all get ready and one of the relatives would pick us up and pile the four of us in a big Buick or Oldsmobile  those huge armored tanks of a car.  My mother didn't drive.  She'd witnessed a horrible car accident at the age of 25 and simply never drove again until about 20 years later when she had no choice but to learn to drive because we'd moved to a place where there was no public transportation.  Even though the idea of the hospital was a grim affair to the grown-ups, I always liked and looked forward to the car ride — squeezed in the back, looking out the rear view window, watching the trees and the houses fly by.  Riding in a car was freedom.  It felt like being in a little house on wheels that protected you but was a moving ship that could take you just about anywhere.  

I think my Uncle Johnny was the chauffeur most of the time.  His car was a Ford Station wagon  light Green with a dark green stripe on the two front doors. The first owners were the Ford Family (they always put a stripe on the front doors to identify their cars). Unlike my dad, Uncle Johnny always had a smile on his face, a joke on his lips, or a laugh chuckling out of his body.   When we got to the hospital, everyone climbed out and filed in to the hospital lobby.  Here's when the strategizing started.  There had to be a plan for how to sneak my brother in.  My sister at 13 was just old enough to visit by the hospital's rules, but my brother was not yet 11 and it took some finagling. While I played around, the adults plotted.  Usually my mom and Aunt Maddy would get visitor's passes and go up.  Then my aunt would come down with both passes and then my uncle would go up with my brother.  This back-and-forth exchange would continue until my uncle came back down, my aunt (the last of the adults) would take my sister up and Uncle Johnny would stay with me.

Herve Moran poster

At first it was fun.  He'd light his cigarette, put it in his ear and make the smoke come out of his mouth!  He'd blow smoke rings.  He'd play magic tricks and pull a quarter out from behind your ear.   These tricks would keep my attention for a time but after his second or third cigarette I would be restless.  I'd wonder what was going on upstairs in my father's room.  I'd imagine my father a different person  that he was smiling and telling jokes to everyone around his bedside.  That his room was filled with colorful cards and the smell of carnations and sunlight flooding over everyone as they laughed and were happy just to be together.  It was my fantasy and I was restless to see if it was true.  That's when we'd head outside.  

No matter the weather, It was my job to find the pebbles and his job to toss them at the window of my father's room on the third floor.  Despite even the snow blanketing the hospital's well-tended grounds, I searched the dirt beneath the shrubs, picked and pushed the soil to find a few stones for my Uncle John to carefully aim at the glass in hopes of attracting my father's attention down toward me.  Sometimes he was successful  sometimes not. When he was, I'd strain to see the outline of my father behind the window that didn't open, hunched over on crutches, sending us a feeble wave before turning away and hobbling back to his bed.

The glimpse was a momentary connection to my father that soon faded and in its place came an empty feeling in the center of my stomach  a hole that no smoke ring could fill.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Rest of This Story

This post continues the story in Things Change
There was a lot that led up to my father's departure.  

He had had a hard life long before I was born.  I never knew his parents and I only learned bits and pieces of his past much later when I was older.   His mother had a first marriage that produced two children but that husband died.  Later she remarried and had another son, my dad.  His father ran out on the family  but not before my father experienced the shame of his father beating his mother and the pain of his father beating him.  With his father gone and his mother unable to support them doing her beadwork, he dropped out of school after eighth grade and worked on a truck delivering bread. He got to take the day-old bread home which was helpful to them.  He told me that during the Depression his mother (maybe with him along) scavenged in the garbage cans behind grocery stores for food that was thrown away  she'd make soup from the vegetables, jam from the rotten fruit she found.  He became the sole support for his mom, which is why he never went to war like almost everyone else in his generation.

There was never an easiness between us.  He and my sister had a bond.  She was his first.  When my sister was five and my mother was pregnant with my brother, she left my father and moved back home with her parents.  My grampa wasn't sympathetic.  "You chose him now you have to stay with him."  Unhappy with her options, my mother was trying to figure out what to do when she was out walking when my sister tugged on her hand and cried out, "That man!  That man! I think that man is my DADDY!" pointing with her finger and dragging my mother to cross the street.   My mother told me she felt she couldn't keep my father from her.  And so she went back.  My sister stayed fiercely loyal to my father and he to her.  Maybe he felt she was always on his side.

My father identified with my brother. Of course he was the first son and they were both males.  But more than that their mindsets were compatible.  They both wanted to get rich quick and were constantly concocting schemes to achieve that goal and here's where they differed.  My brother's schemes were usually illegal, generally succeeded, until he got caught. My father's escapades were always legal (as far as I know) and always failed.  So in some way, my father admired my brother's successes and turned a blind eye to how it was accomplished.  He relished the money and what it bought  the fancy car, the ski house, the beautiful girls, the trips overseas.  And when my brother did get caught and faced juvenile detention, jail, and eventually, prison my father was always there to bail him out.

By the time I came along, there were no slots left.  Not the first-anything and the youngest in the bunch, in all the chaos no one paid me any attention.  I didn't understand the commotion, the outbursts, the rage.  I didn't understand why our family wasn't like the ones I saw on TV.  I wasn't "Princess" or "Kitten" to my father.

My father had had his share of bad luck.  He wanted his own business.  He knew drycleaning from working at a commercial cleaners.  When I was young my parents borrowed, sold their insurance policies, scraped together the money, and bought a drycleaners.  He went out to solicit new business.  Was going door-to-door to give people flyers.  One home he went to had a six-foot chain link fence.  He went in. Somehow the gate locked behind him.  Guard dogs raced out and attacked him.  He struggled to climb up the fence backwards while the dogs were biting at his legs.  He managed t throw himself over the fence.  He broke his ankle and who knows what else was wrong.  I was little.  I didn't know what was going on except that all of a sudden my father wasn't around any more, my mother went to work very early and came home very late.  My sister, maybe she was thirteen had to run the household.  My brother and I tagged along.  On Sundays when someone drove us all to the hospital to visit my dad, I was too little to be allowed in.  My brother could sneak in but some relative would stay outside with me and throw stones at the window to see if we could get my father to look out the window and wave.  It was grim.

Months after, my father came home to recuperate.  My mom didn't drive so she took public transportation and her day was long and hard and more than any one person should have had to bear.  She was worried about keeping the business going, paying the bills, putting food in the frig.  We three kids were extra baggage she just couldn't carry at the time.

My father got better and began going back to work.  His doctor recommended he bowl for exercise to help his ankle.  He was coming home from bowling one night driving the VW van that was the delivery truck for the cleaners.  Back then people referred to VWs as driving a "tin can."  While he was driving home a 17 yr-old drunk driver with a suspended license ran a stop sign at a perpendicular side street and plowed into the passenger side of the VW.  The force of the impact (he was in a big car) blew my father out of the van, up in the air, and he skidded 40 feet along the railroad tracks parallel to the road before his body came to a stop.  Years later my mother told me that when she got to the hospital there was so much gravel imbedded in his face she didn't recognize him.  

He was a mess.  Now that repaired ankle was shattered.  So shattered that they thought they'd have to amputate.  I was told that a surgeon was found who was willing to try and save the leg but even if he succeeded, he'd always walk with a limp.  My mother was grateful for that.  He was back in the hospital for a long haul.  My mother was back to doing everything on her own.  They would be plunged again into crushing debt.  

This is a compressed story of what transpired in my father's life.  I can't remember the actual dates, the full facts, the other points of view.  I only know that for me, this is what imprinted from the turmoil and  tumult that was our family life.  It was years of hard times, bitterness, fighting, never enough money, and for me and my siblings, never enough parental supervision.  

My a benign moment...
My sister got married soon after high school and my brother was locked up someplace, my mother was working and that left my father home alone while I was in high school trying to avoid coming home at all costs.  It was that behavior that made him angrier than ever.  He wanted control over something and the only something around was me.

I remember it was winter because when I got to the house it was dark outside.  I went in to the kitchen and my father limped in close behind me.  I did what I always did  made myself small, stayed quiet, hoped my mom would walk in the door soon. He was yelling.  He was mad I was late.  He was mad I wasn't looking at him.  He was mad at the world.

When I looked up from setting the table while trying to shut out my father, I saw his beet red face and his voice shouting at me, sputtering about how we were all no good, nothing but bums and in his hand he was brandishing a large kitchen knife.

On some level I knew he wouldn't use it against me but on another level I was just plain scared of him and his rage and what might happen.  So I ran out of the house and up the long road to my friend Susan's house and told her I had to spend the night.  I waited and later called my house, got my mom who was frantically asking me where was I?  What happened ??  I only said I wasn't coming home and I was staying at Susan's.  I remember staying there three days.  When I came home I stayed clear of my father and tried to lay low.  A few days later I came home and found him gone. 

I've written a lot about my father: Father Didn't Know BestThrift  the very first post of Tales From Denise James is about my dad.  To the outside world he was a jovial, fun-loving life-of-the-party jokester  but this is the side of him that sticks with me.

I didn't blame my mother if she blamed me  even if I knew better, know better  it always felt like his leaving was my fault.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Return To Sender

                                                SHIRLEY ANN SENDER TOUILLON

                                                                      JUNE 24, 1947 - OCTOBER 15, 2013

I don't remember when I first met Shirley Sender.  It might have been when I started work at Butterick Publishing and as a gesture of trying to fit in with the new workplace I volunteered to give blood during the blood drive that first week.  After my blood was drawn I walked across the main area, threw up, and fainted right there in front of everybody.  I think Shirley was the one who came to assist, pushed away my thoughts of awful embarrassment and became my friend.

Shirley was vintage.  Not just her last name which always reckoned the song               "RETURN TO SENDER!  Address unknown!   No such number, no such zone." 
but everything she searched out was a find.  

She was the Queen of Street Fair shopping.  This top (kind of a heavy quilted cotton thermal) was one I liked and was hesitant about buying (maybe it was $20?) but Shirl urged me to buy it and I'm still wearing it  35 years later! [Recently, I did have to restitch a seam at the neckline but hey  small price to pay.] Still there were times when she had to push, push, push me to spend my money on something...

With Shirley, every encounter was an adventure.  She knew I loved vintage clothes and she took me to this place where the clothes were piled high in those huge canvas rolling carts used by commercial laundries and dry cleaners.  While everywhere else a dress might be $15 and up, here the dresses were $3 each but you sure had to plow and dig for them!  Shirl was an expert  she’d dive right in to the bottom (“The top stuff’s already picked through, but these YUPPIES don’t have the balls to work to the bottom.”) and with her keen eye pull out what turned out to be a spectacular garment.  

This is what that dress looked like...
My very, very favorite was a black crepe cocktail dress from the 50s with a nipped in waist, three-quarter tight sleeves, and a draped boat neckline that stayed in place with a metal weight that was sewn in to make it dip just so…I have a killer photograph of me in that dress in a sea of people at a party in the West Village (not far from where Shirley lived).  The photographer (maybe the hostess of this bash) is way above on a loft looking down into this throbbing mass of party-goers and there I am in the middle of the crowd, in the middle of a laugh with a lit cigarette poised mid-air.  I look SO happy and I wish I could find that photo.

Another great find of Shirl’s was when she heard I liked old china and took me to this small crevice of a store that sold old restaurant dishes from everywhere made by Syracuse, Shenango, and Sterling China.  The dusty shop was filled with old wooden barrels that held piles and piles of these heavy, indestructible plates, bowls, mugs and platters with logos from airports, railroads, university clubs, and restaurants you never heard of (see below) but loved their signature dishes!  The place was called Fishs Eddy which made no sense to me whatsoever but today they are alive and well and have a booming retail and internet business.  They got “yuppified" as Shirl might say….

Shirl was "Ukrainian from Pittsburgh" and took me from one little place to another to sample pierogies.  We loved this place in Tompkins Square Park  Orchidia  probably the only Italian-Ukrainian restaurant that ever was  "It's got raviolis and pierogies!" she'd cry out whenever she wanted us to trek over to Alphabet City to eat.  She introduced me to Spanish food at El Faro close to where she lived on Horatio Street.  On one of our jaunts through the East Village, she took me (and later my husband) to a favorite dive  what I think was called The Lime Rock Inn  a dark and hidden bar with barely enough light to find your chair but their crispy, batter-dipped soft-shell crabs  OH-OH-OH. Served with a homemade marinara sauce  they were unbelievably delicious.  My taste buds cried when that place closed down.

Street-fair shopping was a breeze with Shirley because she always knew exactly which table, which vendor, under which box to look for the most unusual, most exquisite knick-knack to own.  Take those red heart earrings.  She spotted them and convinced me I should buy them.  Even though hearts are no longer the fashion staple they were back then  the summer I wore only red, black, and white  even now decades later, I still wear them every Valentine’s Day.  Long after I’d moved away from Manhattan, over the years,  an envelope would arrive in the mail from Shirley and inside her funky card with a loving handwritten note would be a little red Chinese paper envelope or cloth pouch with a trinket she’d found especially for me   a pin, a bracelet, a fabulous charm.  She was a generous soul like no other.

Shirley was always trying to expand my limited horizons.  One summer she called me up and said I had to come spend the day and night watching Live Aid.

“What’s that?”

“It’s a benefit concert to raise money for Ethiopia and there are going to be some incredible acts.  You can’t miss this," she said, sensing my hesitancy and knowing I was not one to just venture out, “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  Com'on it’ll be fun  we’ll be outside in Rigney’s backyard with food and drinks and everything  it’s a happenin'!” she teased me.
So I packed myself up and made the long subway trek from the Upper West Side down to Horatio Street in the Village and entered the backyard garden of Shirl’s best friend Nancy (actually one of two Nancys...the other Nancy the wife of Richie Havens who would be performing at Live Aid) who had run a 25-ft electrical cord out from her apartment to the plug in a TV that was set-up on a table outside.  Though the reception was intermittently fuzzy with static the sound was good and a group of their friends spent the next ten hours drinking and watching group after group perform at what was indeed a memorable and ground-breaking concert.  The stand-out for me was Sting performing with then new-to-the-scene Branford Marsalis.  Branford comes out on stage to play with him  Marsalis on soprano sax is accompanying Sting singing Roxanne and soon he's not just playing, his soprano sax becomes another voice  in exquisitely beautiful harmony  they perform a duet.  The performance made me cry then and still makes me cry every single time I hear it.  You owe it to yourself to listen to it on youtube.  Since that day I’ve wanted to ask Branford Marsalis about that performance  how did he feel? Did it feel as if it was the best performance of his life?

When I got married, Shirley gave us this sensational piece of art called, "In a Sentimental Mood" by Havlicek '86.  At first glance it was hard to tell what the image was, but close up, close up you could see the lovers kissing. This hangs in our living room and reminds me of her gift everyday.


Shirley was a dear friend whose life was cut short by cancer.  There are so many more stories to tell and I know I've left out a lot but perhaps I've given you a glimpse at the gift she was to us all.  

I suppose now "Return to Sender" will mean our Shirley is from whence she came...
That's Shirley on the right in happier times with our friend Bob-o  who took the great shot of Shirley at top