Monday, October 01, 2012

Sarah Frances "Sally" Dunning

I thought about Sally last week when that Holly Beth Vincent tune that she had introduced me to was running through my head. Sally was a classmate and a neighbor and a friend in college but I lost track of her soon after we graduated.  Wondering what she was up to these days, I did a little digging and found that she apparently passed away a few years ago in Tampa.  Sally made an indelible impression on me so maybe I shouldn't have been surprised at how sad the news of her death many years ago has made me the last few days.  As big a personality as she had, I was surprised at how little I could find about her on the web, so Sally, here's my little Internet memorial to you.  These are my memories from over 30 years ago, so if anyone stumbles across this and remembers or knows differently, so be it.

I first remember Sally from Dr. Ryan's History 16 class the spring semester of our sophomore year at UNC.  She looked like a Cali girl (despite being from Florida) - straw blond hair, much better dressed than the rest of us slobs, wearing expensive hippy chic when most everyone else was going to class in gym shorts and t-shirts.  Or their pajamas.  She asked questions in class that seemed out of the blue at the time, but after the class you'd realize they were pretty insightful.  She seemed older than us, more self-possessed, more grown up - it wasn't until later than I found out that she was actually a couple of years younger than us.

The next fall she moved into an apartment in the same building in Tar Heel Manor as mine.  A bunch of my friends, led by Kevin Bruce, rotated through the apartment directly across the hall from me and Sally moved into the one upstairs from them.  Our apartment and my buds' across the hall were all furnished with stuff that hadn't been claimed at whatever self-storage unit we bought it from for $50, which went well with the mattresses on the floor, the cinder-block and particleboard shelving and third-hand lamps that our parents had been wanting to get rid of for years.  Sally's place was just a bit different.  If I remember correctly, it was her father that paid the leasing company to replace the carpet in her place with new white shag to go with the white leather furniture she moved in.  I'm quite sure he was the one that bought her the gold Mazda RX-7.  If it had been anyone other than Sally, we would have been disdainful of that kind of display, but it was just who she was and we accepted it.  She was somehow cool enough to pull it off.

I said Sally had a lasting impact on me - partly it was her and her huge personality and her friendship, but partly it was her job.  When she moved into the apartment she was working as the Columbia Records campus rep and I became one of her sounding boards.  She'd come by the apartment and drop a half-dozen LPs in my lap and then ask me what I thought of them later.  One of those was the Psychedelic Furs' "Talk, Talk, Talk" album, a band I'd somehow overlooked before then.  I also got some of the radio station-bound demos and interview disks, including Elvis Costello's "Almost Blue" with EC introducing each cut, as well as a Nick Lowe interview disk.  The Hitmen, Missing Persons, Gary Myrick - Sally influenced my music tastes almost as much as WXYC just from making stuff available.  Of course there was also a lot of dreck as well, but she got pretty good at figuring out what I'd like and what I wouldn't.

Some of her other influences might not have been as positive - convincing me to try psilocybin while we were out on Franklin Street and THEN convincing me that I had to drive her RX-7 back to the apartment complex in Carrboro did not result in my finest moment.  Driving slowly out Main Street in Carrboro while convinced that the tail-lights on the car in front of me were melting over the bumper was somewhat nerve-wracking.  But, like many things during those days, I enjoyed it, I survived it and it made for some great stories.

The last time I saw Sally it was at the airport in Tampa.  She was heading back to Florida to stay with her mom for awhile after we graduated and needed someone to drive her rental truck with her furniture down while she drove her car.  The rest of the guys had moved out of the apartments - I had started working for IBM and was the last one still around there so we spent a long December day and night making our way down to the Gulf Coast.  After we dropped the truck off at her mom's, she drove me out to Clearwater Beach and we talked about what we were going to do with the rest of our lives until it was time for her to put me on a plane back to Chapel Hill.  I don't know how closely her life followed the path we talked about that day but I'm fairly certain it didn't involve her dying at 43.

I'm not normally particularly maudlin but finding out of the blue about Sally's death frankly just pissed me off.

Rest in peace, Sal.  You're not forgotten.

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At 1:49 PM, Blogger Lex Alexander said...

[[As big a personality as she had, I was surprised at how little I could find about her on the web]]

Yeah, that. I only met her a couple of times but have very strong impressions even 30 years later. "Old soul" is kind of a cliche, but on her it fits.

Damn shame.


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