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


15 comments:

  1. jean-louis touillonNovember 10, 2013 at 1:17 PM

    hi i'm shirl's husband jean-louis.i really enjoyed it,she was something different in all meanings!that's the way she was once she gave you her friendship that was for life,nothing less.i don't know if you went to our appt.on horatio but this is a piece of art an indoor flea market...maybe a little too much but i don't think i'm gonna to change it a lot!that was shirl's making...i love it just need a little cleaning around my stereo that i didn't play for about 10 years and i miss it!anyway we all love you and miss you so much shirl.more of 30 years of my life are missing now and nothing i can do about it!just keeping the memories alive.... i love you shirl.

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    1. You are right Jean-Louis...she was a friend for life and we all miss her.

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  2. I met Shirley in the late 1960's when she was living on the Lower East Side. Within a short period of time , she met and later married, my close friend Barry Sender. All of us stayed friendly for years. Shirley knew my parents, visited with them Brighton Beach and later, met my former wife and our two kids. Over the years, Shirley and I stayed in touch via holiday cards, telephone calls , and from time to time she would attend one of my NYC film screenings.
    When I heard that she was diagnosed with Cancer, I called almost on a weekly basis to offer my support. Last time we spoke, she just came back from the hospital after a bout with pneumonia. I didn't call for several weeks and the last thing I heard was that she passed away. So quickly-- and without being able to say good bye or that I really cared a lot about her. She was an important part of my formative years as a young adult and I will miss her a great deal.
    I have some photos of her . Perhaps Denise will devise a way where I can upload them.

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    1. Thanks so much for your comments about our girl Shirl...she was one in a million. If you email the photos to denisejamesmm@gmail.com I will try to upload to this post. Thanks for sharing...and I'm glad you were in touch with her after her tough time. She knew you cared.

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  3. The above comment was made by Abraham Ravett

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  4. This is a very fine tribute to Shirley. I only really got to know her in 2004. She gave me some negatives and slide to scan about a month before she died, which I have on Flickr.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/26160898@N05/sets/

    I think you're in the set of wedding pictures, according to Nancy.

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  5. I met Shirley in 1969 and was married to her from 1973-1980. We stayed in touch after the marriage because one would never want to completely lose touch with that woman. She was a very unique and special person.

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    1. I still mis her and think the world's a sadder place without her...thanks for reading and commenting...

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  6. Kimberly Dolinski LawlorApril 15, 2016 at 5:00 PM

    I am Shirley's niece, Kimberly Dolinski. I was really missing her today and I googled her name and your blog came up. What you wrote about her was so true, kind, and accurate. She was an amazing person and one of the coolest Aunts ever. When I was six, she came to my kindergarten class as my "Show and Tell". She was dresses in a purple mini shirt, purple stockings, purple shoes and to top it off a purple jacket. I was so proud to have her with me and I did show her off. The day she had the seizure in my kitchen, she was on the floor unconscious and Louis was freaking out and I was trying to revive her while my husband called 911. As she was getting her bearings, she asked "what the fuck and I doing on your floor"? and I told her she had a possible seizure and she look at the floor and without thinking she said, "well, while I am down her Kim, I should tell you your floor is very clean". What a character! When she was in the hospital, I would come into the room and here she is dying and all she wanted to know was how I was. The one day I walked in and she looked at me with a big smile and said,"guess what we are doing today? We are going to write my obituary. I was sad, but honored that she asked me to help her write it. I also was a lucky recipient of her lovely little bags of or envelopes of jewelry. My sister's and I were gifted hand-made silver crosses from Aunt Shirley and she also had one for herself. She told us that we were her girls and the crosses were one of a kind like us (She was one of the few people in my young life who ever said that). I wore my with pride and I still do. Aunt Shirley told me when we were writing her obituary that she wanted to be buried with her cross. I am sure if anyone new Shirley, she loved her rings and her charms on her necklaces! All of my family was in the hospital with her and all of a sudden she held out her hands and said "take whichever one you want". It was so strange, awkward, kind, and special. I was lucky to get the "palm tree" ring and "Indian goddess pendant. These things will never fill the void I feel without my wonderful Aunt, but everyday that I wear them, I give them a little rub and I know that she is with me always. Love you Aunt Shirley! Rock on in Heaven!

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    1. Kimberly how wonderful to hear from you!!! She LOVED you girls and always felt she had you in her life...I am SO happy you found this, read it and shared your stories...I was thinking about her TODAY as I was going through my bureau and kept coming across things from her...Nancy Rigney gave me one her scimitar pins..she loved her swords! She gave SO much to everyone she crossed paths with and I was lucky to be with her in two different jobs...Butterick Publishing and Steve Horn. I miss hearing her wise-cracking words of wisdom and her to-the-point advice. Especially NOW at this point in my life. I hope you will share this post with your siblings...and know that as much as you all loved her, she was loved by many. Send me your email/phone...I will tell you more!

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  7. It's so harsh that in less than three years Shirley, Louie and Nancy are all gone. I walk down Horatio St. or out into the backyard and feel anonymous, a ghost, no one to greet me, no human context. I miss those two crazy broads so much.

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  8. Hi, it is Kim Dolinski again, Shirley's niece. If anyone knows what is going on with Aunt Shirley's apartment, could you please let me know? I contacted an agent who was waiting for the apartment to be released from NYPD (they needed to investigate) and then her company was putting it on the market. She told us that we would be able to go in before they clean it out and get a few things. I wanted to get some of Aunt Shirley's pictures from Pittsburgh. The agent and I spoke two months ago and the apartment was still locked up. I misplaced her number and for the life of me, I can't remember her name. Please contact via email kdlawlor@gmail.com or home phone 410-489-2811. I would appreciate any help. I can't believe that October 15th will be three years since her death, I miss her every day.

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  9. Shirley Sender lives forever in my heart! She helped me become the person I am today!
    Anthony Linzalone

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  10. I worked with Shirley at the Walden School at 88th and CPW from 1970-1976. I was just talking about her yesterday while visiting a flea market. I noted to my husband that my friend Shirley was the greatest treasure hunter there was. I loved Shirley so much. She was smart and kind and true. And so much fun. I remember her love affair with Curaçao-- how she decided at some point that the Pittsburgh gal simply had to go there. And she did. Talking about Shirley yesterday made me look her up this morning. I was shocked and saddened to read her obituary but happy that she was loved by so many. Love you, Shirley Dolinski.

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    1. Dear Pam, I hope you get this as well...I met Shirley right after her time at Walden; she was indeed a dear, smart, funny, and compassionate friend...I MISS her! I'm sorry you found out this way...I had randomly called to say hello and she told me how sick she was...she went very quickly from diagnosis to death :( Whenever I want to talk about her to someone, I can't because Jean-Louis and best friend Nancy Rigney (one of the Nancys) are also gone...I'm grateful to hear from her other friends via this site. Thanks for posting...

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