"You're asking me … do I have the money?"

Dad and I were having a discussion about my college education and the bottom just fell out of my world. He'd just said, "Do you have the money for college? Because, you can't go to college if you don't have the money."

We lived in San Francisco, it was 1957 I was 17 years old and in my last year of high school. Ever since I'd been in kindergarten, conversations about my future began with " … after you graduate from college …" I'd always thought college was part of Mom and Dad's grand plan for me.

Assuming, of course, there was a plan.

There wasn't.

Arguing with my father was pointless. "We don't have money to put anybody through college. What were you thinking?" He left the room.

End of discussion. No money. No college.

I felt like I'd been thrown off a cliff. One minute I saw myself a carefree college student traversing the university campus with ambition and purpose. The next minute I was free falling.

My mind raced. "Now, what am I supposed to do? What are my options? Do I have options?" Slowly the situation sank in. They expected ME to pay for college. That meant I had to get the money. That meant I had to get a job. I didn't even know any kids with a real job. Babysitting isn't a real job. How do you find jobs, anyway?

Mom said look in the newspaper. I found it in the kitchen and pulled up a chair. At first, reading the classified ads was like trying to read something in a foreign language, but I made myself sit there until I figured it out.

The phone company had job openings! I took a bus downtown, picked up an application for an information operator job, brought it home and filled it out. Printed at the bottom of the application it read, "I agree to continue working beyond summer and promise not quit in the fall to go back to school" with a space to be signed by the applicant and dated.

I asked Dad "What should I do? When summer ends I'll have to quit to go to college." He glanced over, "You're not going to college. You don't have the money." End of discussion number two.

The reality became alarming. I'll have to work all year. (Deep sigh of resignation.) I signed and dated the application and put it in the mail.

I got the job! Everything changed. I entered a parallel universe.

At that point I got mad.

"All right. This is the way it's going to be. Well, I don't care. I'm going to college, even if that means working at some stupid job, living at home with my stupid family, and going to a stupid State college instead of a real university. If that's what it takes, then, damn it, that's what I'll do!"

Within days I started a six-hour, 5pm to 11pm shift, at the phone company. Fortunately, if a shift ended after 10pm, the phone company arranged for taxi rides home. At least, I didn't have to be downtown, alone, late at night, waiting for a bus.

And just in case a "money fairy" showed up, I signed up for State college. I worked all summer, saved every dime, and by fall I had enough to start college.

Turns out, work wasn't as bad as I thought it would be, but State college wasn't as challenging as I'd hoped, either. However, the college atmosphere was invigorating. I started making my own decisions and feeling grown up. Then, I really began resenting living at home. I wanted my own space to think my own thoughts and just be myself. This was impossible at home. My little sister lived in my room with me, and home life in general was loathsome.

I toughed it out that year and saved money to keep going to college. Finally, mercifully, I had enough to move out.

I started by looking into on-campus dorm living, but San Francisco State didn't have dorms. I searched the yellow pages. I asked everyone I knew about housing and found a dorm-like living situation for women in downtown San Francisco.

The Evangeline was a residence hall providing a secure environment for young women with private living quarters and a community dining hall. It was within walking distance to nearly everything and a bus stop was right across the street.

I was delighted. Mother wasn't.

"That's crazy! We live here and you go to school here! Why live someplace else? Besides, what will the neighbors think?

Mother remained staunch. There'd be no further discussion until she inspected the facility.

The Evangeline Residence Hall for Young Women was located on McAllister Street about three blocks, each, from Powell and Market Streets. Bus and cable car lines were nearby. The building stood three stories high, fashioned from weathered bricks. There were several large, ground floor windows and a clear glass front door providing anyone in the lobby a clear view of potential visitors. Overall it was a nice, solid, old San Francisco-style building.

I felt a welcoming sense of ease as we stepped into the lobby, the same feeling I got when I went to a friend's home with comfy, old furniture. Across the lobby we saw a counter, like a hotel, with two very proper-looking "older" women (probably in their forties) standing at attention. Both were in shirtwaist dresses nipped at the waist with matching belts, meticulously coifed hair and flawless makeup.

It was mid-morning. Residents were either at work or at school so the lobby was empty. I discovered by late afternoon people sat around reading, visiting with each other, or waiting for dinner in this pleasant room. Most residents were young women in their twenties, with maybe two or three in their thirties. (They were considered losers since they hadn't managed to snag a man yet. Poor dears.) Everyone dressed professionally in suits and business dresses. (We never dreamed one day we'd be wearing pants!)

Mother and I walked up to the counter at 10:30am for our scheduled tour. We were ushered into an office behind the counter. It was clear immediately they were seeking proper young ladies with excellent manners that had a good reason for moving and the means to pay. I told them I wanted to take responsibility for myself now that I was working and putting myself through college. Mother quietly glared.

The interview continued. Dorm rooms came with linens and modest furnishings. Breakfast was available from 7am to 8am in the cafeteria-style dining hall, and dinner between 5pm and 7pm.

Of course, there were rules about visitors who could or couldn't come upstairs to our rooms. Needless to say, men were strictly forbidden. Also, there was a 10pm curfew after which the front door was locked. No one could get into the building after curfew, unless the staff had been notified before the resident left that morning.

We discussed the process of moving in, then embarked on the tour.

First, the dining hall. Surprisingly attractive chairs surrounded tables for eight. The windows were draped with good curtains, and cafeteria-style serving stations lined one of the walls. The room was painted the color of apricots and overall it was really pretty nice.

From there we went on to "my" room -- basic and functional like my room at home. But this one was much, much better. I didn't come with a little sister.

For the first time in my life, I would be living on my own and be responsible for myself. Wow. When moving day came I was giddy with excitement! My mission, I'd decided, was simple.

Pack. Leave.

Most importantly, pay no attention to the fact that Mother was storming around and Dad was giving me the silent treatment.

… more to come

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