All of our stories begin somewhere, and mine began May 28th, 1945, at a small hospital in Charles City, Iowa. You may have to check your map if you aren’t familiar with the mid-west. My given name was Sheryl Redington in case there are those who find this site and have been looking for me for years…LOL.
It was a small town, with mid-west values. That would mean hard working folks, with conservative beliefs and lifestyles. Sort of a no-frills post war way of life.
We had the basic family structure; mom, dad, and my brother Jerry, who was 4 years older. Grandma and grandpa lived with us until I was about 5, and my family’s new home was ready to move into, and they decided to move to an apartment downtown on Main Street, and close enough to be a constant in our lives.
Grade school was only a few blocks away, the junior high/high school a few blocks further, but all within walking distance, even when the winter snow was a couple of feet high.
Not a great deal changed from year to year. My brother graduated from high school, married a gal who was from a neighboring town where they began their family shortly afterward. We saw less of them after they moved to Denver, Colorado.
When I graduated from high school I went to Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa. I majored, for a brief time, in the physical sciences. I had worked as a nurse aid during the last two years of high school and thought I wanted to be a medical technologist…until I discovered that I would have to draw blood for later analysis. I recognized rather quickly that the sciences and I were not a great match. After changing my major several times within the first year, I knew that I had no real drive to become anything, but my parents had no intention of giving up on their educational agenda for me.
It seemed more reasonable, at the time, to consider alternatives to a 4 year college, so I returned home and attended a junior college in Mason City, only 30 miles away. At first I lived with my parents, then shared an apartment with a classmate. After a year and a half of still having no sense of inspiration at college, I headed east.
One of my closest friends at JC, Caroline, was moving to Binghamton, New York to attend school at a Baptist Bible Seminary and wanted me to go with her. I had no desire to attend that school, but I was very excited about going anywhere. This idea caused no end of controversy with mom. I don’t think she had ever ventured past the Mississippi River, and thought New York was on the other side of the world. I had the distinct feeling that if I decided this was my destination, there would be no support from mom.
Her feelings held, and although I loved Binghamton, the people, the food, and a much larger city to play in, life wasn’t always easy. Within the two plus years that I lived there I recall having three jobs, and moving at least 6 times.
While I was working as a lunch counter chef at Sears, I met another employee named Jack. He worked in the household appliance area, but would stop by the fast food counter for coffee at least once a day. He had the brightest, but prettiest red hair, stunning hazel eyes, and a smile that would melt the sugar cubes before they ever hit the bottom of his coffee cup.
I can’t say it was love at first sight as I was a little reserved, so it took a lot of coaxing on Jack’s part to talk me into a first date. Jack loved to dance, and my dancing had become pretty rusty. After a few dates we went to a local club. The music had the mid-60’s flavor that begged to be danced to. It was time to ease my way to the dance floor. I think that’s where I started to fall in love. Jack was a great dancer, and although it took some time for me to get my dance mojo back, it was definitely worth what ever effort I did muster.
It wasn’t long before Jack and I went dancing all over the Tri-Cities area, from club to club. We worked, hung out, danced and kissed, a lot. Life was amazing after Jack became part of it. We were engaged, but only briefly. I think Jack’s mom was as unhappy about our decision as my mom was about my moving to New York. Not long after, Jack was drafted and went to Fort Dix for basic training. I was extremely lonely without him. Mom picked up on my loneliness and insisted that I come back to Iowa. Life became more miserable thinking I would be returning to a place that I had no fondness for, and I had a gut wrenching feeling that I would never see Jack again.
My parents crossed the good ole Mississippi on the way to New York, and kept right on going. I was retrieved from my room at the YMCA, luggage was tossed into the trunk, and we headed east, back to Iowa. It was dreadful, to say the least. I would not agree to stay in Iowa. Mom decided it would be best for me to move to Denver so I would be close to my brother and his family. They would be there if I needed them. Several weeks after my return home from New York, we all piled into the car again, on our way to Denver. My parents helped me find a very small apartment near the university, and not far from my brother’s home.
After living in Binghamton, Denver seemed like the biggest little city in the world. I still missed Jack, and the life I had back east. For some reason I wasn’t suited to what was still the mid-west way of life. I felt like a fish out of water. I had no way of getting in touch with Jack, and he had no idea where I was. The misery I had felt in Binghamton only grew. I did find a job, and then another job, and a different apartment, and then I started to go dancing. I knew how, and it was truly the only thing in my life that had any meaning. I was a regular at the Bratskeller, a club in the neighborhood that I could easily get to and from without a car. They always had a live band that played the latest 60’s music.
One night I was sitting with friends at the club and a tall thin fellow came by and asked me to dance. His name was Jim. He was from Denver, and had recently returned from serving a tour in Vietnam. We danced for awhile and he joined our table. After some conversation, and the band having played a Crosby, Stills & Nash song, he asked me if they ever played one of his favorites. I told him sure, and I’d ask them to play it for him. He bet me a bottle of scotch that I couldn’t talk them into it. It shocked him when they did. I won the bet, but he never did pay up. That should have been a sign, but I ignored it. After a year of dating, Jim and I got married.
Our marriage didn’t get off to a great start. Jim was unemployed, and we lived in a tiny apartment near downtown. My job was going nowhere, and I still didn’t like Denver. We talked a lot about California. I hated the cold winters, and wanted to see the ocean and citrus trees with bunches of oranges ready to drop from their branches. Jim had a friend from his navy service who lived in San Diego and thought that it would be fun to go out to visit him, then we would drive up the coast to see if we found a place we would like to live.
Of course we had no money. When we left Denver we had saved about $176, and change. For some totally unknown reason that didn’t seem to bother us. We headed out in Jim’s VW bug with the few belongings we both had. We were on our way to San Diego. It was almost as exciting as leaving for Binghamton, but our future was yet to be realized.
San Diego was gorgeous, mostly because of the ocean, warmish water, and an endless blue sky. Jim’s friend Randy lived with his family as he hadn’t found a job, so we hung out with him for a few days. I’ve often wondered if we shouldn’t have stayed in Southern California. Maybe we would have had a better life, but we headed north, and landed in Daly City. Nearly all of our money was gone, and we had no place to work, or to live.
Jim remembered that a friend, who was a long haul truck driver, also named Jim, lived there with his wife Roxy. After discussing our options, which we had none of, my husband called Jim. We were invited to their home, and ended up spending the next several weeks there. They thought we were both crazy, and they were right. But my husband got up in the mornings and headed out looking for work, while I stayed at the house and helped with the cleaning, cooking, laundry, and whatever I could do to help Roxy.
Eventually Jim found a job with Ma (Pacific) Bell, and we moved into the smallest, and ugliest San Francisco apartment I’ve ever seen. We had arrived, but it wasn’t pretty. Soon afterward I found a job at a motion picture company, and life started to get a bit better. We were able to move to a furnished home in the Sunset District. This was an area in San Francisco, out in the avenues, where the sun rarely rose, much less set. I could never figure out how it got it’s name, but I wasn’t terribly happy living in the constant fog. We tried once to have a BBQ, but it was so damp, cold, and windy, we never tried again.
On the weekends we would go across the Golden Gate Bridge to Marin County. It was so sunny and beautiful I always hated to go home. Eventually I convinced Jim that we needed to move to Marin. I’d had it with the Sunset, and I wanted to buy a home of our own.
In the late 60’s and 70’s, property was still affordable in Marin. We found a cute two bedroom home, with a white picket fence, and a palm tree in the front yard. How much more Californian can one get. We bought the house, and both commuted back and forth to the San Francisco during the week. It was a rough 5 days, and we weren’t home much. When I was home it seemed I worked harder than at my job. Jim started coming home later, making less money, and I was exhausted. Our relationship began to take a turn for the worse, and after living in our little dream home for less than two years, I decided if I didn’t leave him I’d be worn out by age 35.
I packed a suitcase and went to stay with the people I worked with at the motion picture company. They had become like a family to us both, but they knew how hard it was becoming for me to stay with Jim.
We did divorce, and I moved into a share rental in Mill Valley. Jim sold the house and went on with his life. It was a sad ending to what had started out to be such a broadening adventure, but we had no real stability, and I was getting to an age that it began to matter.
At the time I left Jim, I was working for a marina development company out of Sausalito in Marin County. I liked my job, and was given a lot of responsibilities. I felt like I was my own person for the first time since I left New York. I lived in a beautiful area, the people were more sophisticated, the entertainment venues were upscale, and life was good. It seemed that I had finally found my place in the world, and I wanted to make the most of it.
I worked hard, played hard, danced often, and hung out with friends on the weekends. Alice, her son Andy, and I moved from the condo we shared to a home in Novato. It gave us more room, and provided a yard for Andy to play in. Western Water Ways decided to move their office from Sausalito to Glen Cove Marina, near Vallejo.
I worked for the company for four years, and left on not the best terms. There were some legal issues, and I was subject to them if I were to stay. I found a new job with a real estate company in Mill Valley. They hired me to manage some of the properties owned by the agents they employed, as well as for some of their clients. This was a great job. It gave me a lot of contact with the public, and after a year they asked me to manage this division of their company. It was a lot of work, and I put in many hours, but I really enjoyed the variety of things I was engaged in. The owners were wonderful to me, and when my parents decided to move to California, I found them an apartment in one of the complexes that I managed, and was owned by the two fellows I worked for.
After living in the complex in Novato for a year or so, I asked mom and dad if they would like to work as the resident managers. I had to let the prior manager go for various reasons, and this would give my parents a great opportunity to increase their retirement income. They weren’t so sure about this plan, but after they started working again they really enjoyed it.
I was pretty footloose and fancy free back in those days. I worked, dated, still danced a lot, and enjoyed life.
After four years of working for the property management company, the owners decided to downsize their business, and consequently I had less properties to manage. I started to look elsewhere for full time work. I spent a year working with another property management company, but a position was offered to me by a software development company in Mill Valley. They were looking for someone with property management experience to do training for them, all over the county, in the use of their software products.
This started a whole new phase of my life. Learning enough about their products to become equipped to provide training was one of the most challenging experiences of my life, but also one of the most valuable, and exciting. I could write an entire book about the 6 years I spent with this company, but I won’t go there, other than to say that I saw much of the United States traveling from one property management company to another to provide software training to the employees. I authored a number of software manuals for them when I wasn’t on the road, and I met some very interesting, and intriguing people during my travels.
This was obviously a taxing job. I was traveling so much I lost touch with many friends, and missed a lot of everyday life at home. With the hours that I put in, my body was starting to feel the stress, and my brain power was becoming exhausted. I needed a break, and it came in the way of illness. Chronic Fatigue took over and I was forced to take a disability leave for a year.
During that year I had a lot of time, but very little energy. I had purchased a camera when I was still working so I could take travel photos, but when I was on disability I began to take it with me when I went for walks and drives. My camera and I became nearly inseparable, like a best friend.
Also during this year I decided, to make financial ends meet, I would look for a housemate to supplement my income. This proved to be a huge benefit. The gal who was processing my ad, for a local paper, was looking for a room. She had such a delightful personality I decided to meet with her. We hit it off amazingly well, and she was my housemate for over two years, and is still a close friend. Later I had several housemates, and I was very fortunate in finding ones that I really enjoyed sharing my home with.
During this time I became so involved with photography but felt that I had reached the most proficient skill level I could without taking classes. I needed to generate more income to be able to afford attend school, so I posted a note in the clubhouse where I lived. I was seeking part-time work doing word processing.
Again, I was very fortunate. A woman saw my posting and stopped by to see if I could type legal briefs. I told her no, but I would try. It worked well, and after several months I met her fiance, the attorney I had been working for. He thought I did a great job, and wondered if I would be interested in working at his office in San Francisco several days a week. This was a big change for me to consider, and I wasn’t sure I was ready for it. My energy was still ebbing and flowing, and neither consistently. But if I wanted to generate more income for classes, I needed to venture out a bit more.
I began to work in the city three days a week. I rested the remainder of the week, but I still managed to find the energy to continue taking photos. It was a little rough at first due to the long commute, but Art was very good to me, and if I needed to adjust my schedule, he was always accommodating. Again I learned a whole new world of legal practices, and criminal behavior. During the 6 years of working for the attorney I spoke more with incarcerated men than I spoke with anyone else, and that came with a whole different set of challenges.
This opportunity paid off in a huge way. Between having a housemate, and working part time I was able to go begin classes at the local junior college. There were many prerequisites that had to be met before I could take any class in photography, but most were art classes, so it was still great fun.
Every other day I would go to class, or to work. My weeks became full, but I still managed to get rest on the weekends. I was actually energized working on art projects. I discovered that I had absolutely no innate ability to draw, or to paint, but I didn’t care. I wasn’t going back to school to become another Van Gogh. I was completely inspired to become a good photographer.
After attending the JC for a couple of years, and still not being accepted into a photography class, I decided to fulfill the remaining prerequisites required to transfer to a four year school. I had gone to college when I was young for 2 ½ years, so I had satisfied many of them earlier. I had never seriously considered getting a degree, but now I had the opportunity.
There were two colleges that I considered attending. San Francisco State University, and Sonoma State University. They were both well regarded, but SF State had stronger art programs. I applied at “SF State” and was accepted, but was put on probation because of the grades I had when I was young….and dancing way too much. It was kind of a funny feeling. By then I was about 47 years old, and it felt kind of juvenile to be on probation. My grades, since returning to college, had been nearly straight A’s and I knew I could probably do ok at the university level. My opinion didn’t matter to the university; I had to prove myself.
When I started attending school at State, I was still working for the attorney. He was very flexible about my schedule, that would change every semester. I think he was actually pleased that I had combined these elements, and that they were working for both of us.
The schedule was grueling. I went to school, worked, studied, and did art projects. I had no time to do anything else, nor did I have any money for entertainment. The only luxury that I could afford was an occasional Tuesday matinee on my way home from class. I would stop at the theater to see what was playing, then drive home, make popcorn, grab a soda, and get back before the movie began. I loved Tuesday. I loved my life. I was so absorbed in my class work that I didn’t realize what was going on in the the rest of the world. I had no time to look.
I graduated, the day before my 50th birthday, from San Francisco State University. It was, and still is, the highlight of my life. Some days it amazes me that I made it, but I have the diploma to prove it. Mom went to my graduation, and even though she wasn’t thrilled with my degree in Art, she was thrilled that I had a degree in something.
After graduation I needed to find a full time job to pay off student loans, and it was not going to happen unless I had considerably more income. I took a couple of jobs that didn’t pan out for various reasons, but I was eventually offered a position with a manufacturing company in San Rafael. This is another very long story. I worked for this company until August 12, 2013, when I was abruptly laid off. After 16 years with the same corporation, it was a startling transition. There is only one thing to do, and that’s to create a new way of life.
So onward, and upward……..may the force be with me!!!
P.S.: I know this is long, but I’m 70 years old…..so I squeezed it into 8 pages. Don’t think this is the whole story, like 20 more years. Lots of ups, downs, and sort of’s to follow.
© Shari Adams
Email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
About the author shari2845