This is a nearly-impossible task. The recording of the memories, the feelings, the thoughts. But the Colonel will not shirk her duty, so on I go.
I was glad to see that the theater was nearly empty of spectators when we returned from dinner, but was not prepared for the sight I did see. Shirley’s daughter Susan and her son Charlie were there, speaking to a few people, as if it were the most normal thing in the world. Well, not in MY world! I knew that they would be part of this at one point, and I’d hoped I’d have a chance to speak with them….and here it was. So with adrenaline pumping and nervous energy pushing me forward, I led the Army to where they were standing. I had a few things I knew I wanted to say, and by the grace of God I was composed enough to do it (Army members, can you confirm??? Or did I just imagine my composure??). Susan was gracious beyond all expectation – with the most FLAWLESS skin – and I really believe she listened as I told her that although this is something I’m sure she’s heard all of her life, I wanted to be just one more person to tell her of the happy moments her mother had given me for so many years. It was also important for me to tell her what I thought of Theriault’s….how they were the perfect group to represent her mother’s legacy. Boy, did she agree with that!
The conversation went on, and I’m sure I was monopolizing….it wasn’t purposeful or intended or planned. I hope I conducted myself with SOME level of dignity and did not appear to be a crazed lunatic….again, Army members, weigh in here!
With that moment over, I crashed. A gushing avalanche of feelings….and all I wanted to do was call my daughter. I did. I cried. She couldn’t really understand me through the sobs, but she got the gist, and said to me words that I’ll cherish forever, “Mommy, I’m so happy for you.” Sometimes it’s only real when you can share it with someone. Someone you love even more than Shirley. Yes, there is such a thing.
And so it was on that extraordinarily happy note that day one ended.
And then, the auction.
There were more moments of recruiting, of speaking with and connecting to people who were devoted fans, including a mother and a daughter who brought with them not only two lifetimes of love for Shirley, but a treasured photo of the original Shirley fan in their family, dressed in an official ST hat. She was there to bring them luck. She did.
Another moment- walking up to the front of the theater, and seeing the front row reserved exclusively for Shirley’s Army. Our official commission. The end seat was available, so I claimed it and was prepared to be there for the remainder of the day and night. And for the most part I did.
Warning – I’m going to get a little braggy here.
With ten minutes to go, the auction house owner approaches me, in somewhat of a hurry, and asks me to speak to a reporter. I join another gentleman that she chose to represent the collecting side of the story. But for the fan side of the story – dare I say, the passionate side of the story? – she chose me. Of all the people that were there. I’m not really bragging…I was amazed and surprised and honored and overcome. Me, Melissa Tonnessen from Chester, NJ. I’ve never written a book, like some of my dear Shirley friends. I don’t have a collection of rare and valuable items, like some of my dear Shirley friends. I’m not an artist who has captured Shirley’s essence with her well-known paper dolls. No, all I have is heart….and let’s face it, I do like to talk!!! But even so, how did I qualify? Can’t say, but for the rest of my life, I will never get over the fact that I did.
Again, I managed to remain composed…there is video to support this, although I am loath to view it more than once. I’m sorry to say that the doll collector’s interview didn’t appear, and they used only a bit of what I had to say, but again, the honor. Now, THAT was a moment.
Now it’s the moment the auction begins. Stuart Holbrook, president of Theriault’s and auctioneer supreme, spoke touchingly about his journey with Shirley. It’s on youtube. Watch it, if not just for that speech. Please ignore the crying lady in dark pink on the end. Yup, the crying began before the first item went up. In it, you’ll hear him speak to the emotional response he witnessed day after day as the exhibit toured the country. You’ll even hear him speak of the Army – representatives of that emotional outpouring.
And it begins. With an item from Shirley’s beginning…her first doll, a beloved Raggedy Ann. Never having experienced an auction, I was unprepared for the electricity, the pace and the fervor. And when it sold, for $11,500.00, I knew I was in for the most extraordinary ride of my life.
I bet those sitting around me, however, were not prepared for my behavior. Because as soon as they brought out the iconic red and white polka dot dress, the one EVERYONE associates with Shirley, I. LOST. IT. Because not only was the dress displayed, but they played a clip from her breakout film, Stand Up and Cheer, where she wears it while singing, dancing and dimpling. I. LOST. IT. Watch the video….you’ll see it. I had to cover my mouth with both hands so as not to be heard. If I’d had a paper bag, I would have been breathing into it. They weren’t tears of sadness or joy or any single feeling…they were pure, unadulterated emotion. And each and every d**n time they played those glorious clips, whose dialogue and lyrics I knew by heart, I. LOST. IT. Because for me, it’s always been about the films. Even if I never owned a Shirley doll or collectible, I’d still feel close to her, as long as I could watch a film.
Blessedly, the clips stopped…there were nearly 600 items to auction, and in the interest of time, it was best to just get to it. And in the interest of my blood pressure, it was best as well.
Fear not. I won’t be elaborating on every moment of the nearly 14 hour auction. Not even close. Watch the video (again, ignoring me) if you’re so inclined. If you do, please notice the happiness on the winners’ faces, and please hear the congratulations that other members of the house expressed when someone won. I’ve heard some auctions can be brutally competitive; there was nothing but joy and a shared happiness here. Even Shirley’s son remarked on it. If you watch the video, listen to Stuart calling out “Shirley’s Army strikes again!” every time one of our ranks raised her paddle.
And it went on. Fueled by adrenaline, caffeine and love, I sat there. But for a few bathroom breaks, I was there for it all. Like Aerosmith said – I didn’t want to miss a thing.
One more set of moments to record before this entry ends. The moment I bid. The moment I won. The aftermath.
I was out of my league. There were MAJOR collectors in this room, online and on the phone. There was MAJOR money being spent. I quickly realized I would not be very active in this auction….even the item I’d hoped to get – a memento of Shirley’s relationship with her teacher – was unapproachable. But when I saw an opening, a little item that hadn’t even been on my radar, my paddle went up. Someone else bid, and up it went again. I don’t know how long it really went on, but before I knew it, Stuart was calling my name. The Army members were cheering. I was shell shocked….even had to be reminded to show my paddle number.
Ever experience that drop when the adrenaline rush fades? When I regained consciousness, I removed myself for the first time all day. This time Mr. T got the hysterical phone call, followed by another one to my daughter. Followed by a long, long cry in the bathroom. Yeah, that happened.
It’s nearly the end. In the next and final post on this topic I hope to sum things up and put a nice little bow on it. If that is even possible.