Logo

Chapter Two: The Dream is Born 1974

by Lyn Foley on January 10, 2009

 

The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed.” Carl Jung (1875-1961)

I had come a long way from the Deep South of Georgia where I was born. Deep in the country of dirt roads lined with honeysuckle vines, and chickens scratching in the back yard under the pine trees. Growing up, I drank water from our well. I waded in creeks, jumped off rope swings to splash in rivers, or fished for catfish and trout in lakes. A tomboy. I ran around in my overalls, half wild, catching mice in the fields and climbing trees to build tree houses. By the time I was eight I could bait a hook, start an outboard, row a flatbed boat, or paddle a canoe – sailing never occurred to me. During my childhood, Alaska was a frontier wilderness, and California, “that place with the weirdo’s,” as distant as China.

A yellow bus carried me fourteen miles past cotton patches, and herds of cattle to grammar school in the nearest town with paved streets and stop lights, Macon. At home, I rode my bicycle by fenced in fields to Gladys’ house, my nearest friend two miles away. As a teenager I wore bobby socks, penny loafers and poodle skirts, and with a flashlight under my pillow, read at night well past my bed time. I brought home “A’s” on my report cards, twirled my baton as a majorette and played flute in the band. Three times a week our family drove to a white clapboard church down the road – twice on Sunday for preaching, and once on Wednesday for Prayer Meeting. The boys I knew pumped gas, or played on the football team, or drove their daddy’s tractors. I “went steady”, but didn’t “do it” before I got married – that would have been a sin. I was raised to go to college (so I’d have “something to fall back on” if I ever needed to work), get married, and have two kids who would both say “Yes’ M’am” and “Thank you, M’am”, and “Please pass the butter beans” just like my sister and I had.

But the “place with the weirdo’s” called me like a siren, and sometime between the prayer meetings and the college degree I started leaning west. I pushed myself to get the Bachelor of Arts degree I earned and paid for in Art Education, but where was the adventure in teaching in a small town with the red dirt gravel roads, chickens, pine trees, corn patches, and church three times a week? I yearned for something different. I turned twenty-two a few months before the tide of the 1967 “Summer of Love” receded, and rolled into San Francisco on the crest the next wave, one of the hundreds who migrated across country to the tune of the Momma’s and Papas singing `California Dreamin’. With the Mississippi River behind me for the first time, I shed my tidy Jackie Kennedy pumps, straight prim skirts, and clean white gloves, threw out my girdle, my stockings, and my bras.

By 1974, after 7 years in California, I’d dropped out of graduate school, tossed away a career teaching art, given up a responsible job (advancement possible) at an insurance company, and failed at “Marriage and Relationships, 101.” I entered my 29th year divorced, – no children, no alimony. My Southern accent and manners still intact, I was strong, healthy, my blue eyes still bright, but my dark brown hair showed an early skunk stripe of gray.

As a fiber artist, I created (and sometimes sold) large wall hangings for banks, offices or private homes. Mostly I sold crocheted clothing, in art shops and street fairs. With my wild hair cascading halfway down my back, I dressed in long flounce skirts and crocheted tops, piled Janis Joplin type jewelry on my neck, ears, both arms, most every finger and even some toes, and kicked those toes in handmade sandals or knee high Frye leather boots. With three cats for company, I lived in a small railroad flat down an alley called “Middle Street”, in the heart of the Fillmore district in San Francisco. I spent my early mornings practicing Tai Chi at a park in Chinatown, my days crocheting or spinning or dying the wool or cotton I used in my art, my afternoons baking bread or making yogurt or pots of soup, and my nights alone or out at “Minnie’s Can-Do Club”, smoking weed, drinking red wine, dancing with friends or looking for company.

So by 1974 I wasn’t so much dreaming as floundering around trying to figure out what had happened to the first third of my life, and what to do with the remainder. I had no inkling my star was about to collide with the orbit of Jim Foley’s star – and that we’d join together for a wild ride, a ride that would include a ten year sail around the world.

*********

While I was back in Georgia, learning to read and anxious for kindergarten, Jim was born 2,500 miles away in Oakland, California, three years and six days behind me. “Precocious, noisy, always into something,” Lee, his mother, said. “Jim was really a handful -especially since I already had a little girl. Always into mischief, I never knew what the teachers would be calling me about next.” Two more children followed, so Jim grew up fast, with his older sister pulling, and his younger sister and younger brother pushing. He rode his tricycle around the block, on city sidewalks he later walked to Catholic School. By the time he was seven he wore a pint sized top hat and cane, and tap danced Saturday mornings on ` King Norman’s Wonderland,’ a local TV show for children. Eleven years old, played the drums. Fifteen and in a rock and roll band, pounding out Beatles and Rolling Stone tunes. And water, what water did Jim know? Only that the ocean was there, across the Bay Bridge, over by San Francisco. The water he knew was in the swimming pool, the one he lapped, day, after day, after day, as a member of the high school swim team. Sailing? Sailing never occurred to him.

He was headed for college too – until his girlfriend got pregnant. Marriage, well, it came earlier than he had planned, and just about the same time his dad died of cancer. A huge loss, a new wife, a new baby, holding down a job and going to college too – something had to give. And something did give – his young wife left him, taking their baby boy with her.

Hurt, bitter, Jim tired to keep up with college. He settled down, and one semester needed an art elective, so he signed up for jewelry making. There were a lot of fine looking girls in the class, he told me. Maybe he’d meet someone new. After all, his wife had been gone a long time.

“But I forgot about the girls”, Jim said, “when I discovered jewelry making. I took to it like a natural. I could see the design I wanted to make. Carving the wax, setting the stone, soldering the bezel, all of it was easy for me. And Horst Campmann, a really good German goldsmith – a master really, taught the class and he liked me. Horst was just waiting for someone who really wanted to learn. And I soaked up everything, I couldn’t get enough. He paid me to be his teacher’s aide, but I’d have done it for nothing. I even went up weekends to his studio in Sebastopol to learn more. So I started making jewelry to sell on consignment to stores in Berkeley, and then I began riding my bicycle over to Telegraph Avenue every weekend, and started selling along with the other street artists.”

“But selling in Berkeley got really crazy! That Christmas in 1973 some big guy named Bear pulled a gun on me. Staring down the barrel of a large caliber hand gun while he shouted at me “Get out – This is my spot” wasn’t my idea of fair play. In spite of Bear and his gun, and all the other hassles of coping with a hostile atmosphere, I made some money. The college students were desperate to buy unusual gifts to take home for the holidays, so really, the money was extra good. I had some cash in my pockets, and my friend Chris said, `Why don’t we go to Hawaii? You’ll love it there, it’s wonderful. There’ll be lots of beautiful woman and you can sell your jewelry to the tourists. We can hitch hike around the Islands and camp in the state parks, eat natural foods that grow wild every where, and man, the ocean fishing will be great.’ It sounded great, so we packed our back packs, got plane tickets, said our goodbyes, and went.”

“Hawaii was beautiful, but the police didn’t like us camping, and the locals called us “Howlies” and always tried to run us off the road. The girls were all stuck up, and even though I made a money selling jewelry I made from pukka shells I found on the beach, I couldn’t take that hassle either. Chris and I gave up and flew home to California after about three months. We got back, and I set up my jewelry workshop again. I heard that being a street artist was easier in the city, so I started lugging my display case onto the Oakland to San Francisco bus every weekend to sell at “The Plaza.”

Jim, not so much dreaming as floundering around trying to figure out what had happened to the first third of his life, and what to do with the remainder.

********

By 1974 I was one of twelve San Francisco artists who owned a crafts co-operative on Fillmore Street. But I hadn’t sold much at the store lately, so Saturday morning, April 6, 1974, I got up early, thinking about raising money to pay the rent on my flat. After practicing a short set of Tai Chi in my tiny back yard, I ate a breakfast of tea, homemade yogurt and granola, then gathered together about two dozen of my crocheted hats, two crocheted sweaters, and a few woven belts I had made, stuffed them into a big slouch bag along with a small quilt, and got dressed for a day in the city. By 7:00 AM I had caught the California Street Cable car, and ridden it downtown, where I got off at Market Street, and walked the rest of the way to The Justin Herman Plaza to sell my wares.

A sculptural fountain dominated “The Plaza.” The fountain, and its’ surrounding concrete park, lay sandwiched between the tall asymmetrical Hyatt Regency Hotel and the entrance to the Ferry Building across the way. Even though the fountain smelled like a broken sewer, and looked like a broken freeway, hundreds of tourists passed by to view it as they crossed the Plaza from the parking areas, or sauntered from rooms or tours of the Hyatt, making their way to the next attraction — Fishermen’s Wharf, Pier 39, or the Ferry to Sausalito or Alcatraz Island. And those tourists meant money. So every weekend without rain, street artists gathered to sell anything hand made – fiber art, leather purses, jewelry, wooden puzzles, pottery, photography, and paintings. With a few food stands, local musicians, mimes, and jugglers thrown in, “The Plaza” was a weekend street party, a way to make some extra money, or for the majority, — a living.

Jim got up even earlier that morning than I did, since his journey across the San Francisco Bay took much longer than my inner city ride. After packing his portable display case, he walked about three blocks from the house he shared with Chris in Oakland to catch a bus to San Francisco. He’d eat later at a place he liked in the city. He dozed on the bus, woke up as it pulled into the transit terminal, got off, and walked on to the Plaza, with nothing on his mind but putting down his case and going over to a café to order a Danish or eggs and home fries for breakfast.

Meanwhile, I’d arranged my quilt on the concrete in a likely looking place near the tourist walkway, and placed my crocheted hats, belts and sweaters on top in neat rows. As I sat back on my heels, surveying the scene, I noticed a good looking guy heading my way. He wore an embroidered jean jacket, some clean well fitting jeans, and a leather slouch hat on top of his shoulder length brown hair. His eyes were fiery, and a diamond sparkled in his pierced nose, just above his full mustache and beard. Man, I liked the way he looked, but his boot tapping, staccato walk signaled trouble – he clearly wasn’t just out shopping. I stared at him – interested, but with no inkling that in almost exactly three years I’d be married to him.

“What are you doing here?” the guy said abruptly, putting down a case he was carrying. “This is my spot.”

“Well, I just set my blanket here to sell some crocheted hats, and my friend’s hand painted eggs,” I replied pointedly.

“This is my spot,” he said again, “Everybody knows that.”

“Your spot? I had no idea, there’s no mark, and I don’t see your name on it,” I said, standing my ground.

“I always set up here to sell my jewelry”, he said, as if he were San Francisco Mayor Alioto.

“Well, today I am here.” I decided to make peace, and softened my tone “My name is Lyn, who are you?”

“I’m Jim,” he replied, looking at me and relaxing his stance.

“There’s plenty of room for both of us; we can set up side by side, O.K?”

“Well, alright, I guess. Just move over a bit,” And with that he began unpacking his case, which folded out into a display with legs that raised it up to easy viewing height. I discovered Jim was a jeweler, and the rings in his case were beautiful – delicate replicas of flowers and leaves he’d first carved out of wax and then cast into silver or gold, and set with gemstones such as opals, rubies, or sapphires.

Jim’s artistry was impressive, and people liked my fiber work as well – we both made a lot of sales that day. In between customers he told me he lived in Oakland, across the bay near Berkeley. I noticed he was really tan for so early in the year, asked him why, and also wondered why he wasn’t selling on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley – supposedly a great selling spot for artists. I heard the story about the trip to Hawaii, and how the Plaza was better than “The Ave”. Later, as I took a break, walking around and looking at the other art work for sale, I asked some of the other artists about Jim. One friend told me, “Yeah, Diamond Jim – that’s what we call him, he’s the best jeweler on the streets, He’s a good man, but, ah, Lyn, you don’t want any of that – Diamond Jim’s married.” Married?!! He hadn’t told me that. I liked him a lot, but I wouldn’t fool with a married man, so when Jim gave me his card at the end of the day, I tucked it in my bag, but threw it away later, thinking “What a shame.” He asked me for my number, but I didn’t have to worry about that – I didn’t have a telephone.

We danced around each other at The Plaza, and other Art and Craft shows for a few months. I learned more about Jim and finally heard the story about how his wife had left him. Yeah, he was still legally married, but had been separated for over 2 years; his divorce would be final soon. So one fine day in late September I went down to the Plaza not to sell, but just to enjoy a day with my friends. Jim, as usual, was there working. I really loved his jewelry, and finally had some extra money, so I bought a beautiful ring of his, made from a live casting of a plant named “Baby Tears.” I sat around talking with him for a while, and he asked me out to dinner after he was done selling. I said yes. And we both knew the “Yes” meant more than dinner.

Around closing time, Jim stashed his portable display in the coin operated lockers at the East Bay Bus Terminal and we walked, holding hands, to San Francisco’s China Town. As we studied the menu in the window of The Good Earth Chinese Restaurant, a waiter at the door noticed us, sensed our infatuation, and called out, “Need private booth! – you come.” We ate the food, but wanted to consume each other. We stared at each other wantonly and contained ourselves as we hiked the long walk to my apartment. When we got to my place the fireworks began. Jim kissed me on the back of my neck, I turned around, and we fell into bed, not sleeping until sunrise, a George Harrison record playing over and over on the turntable, neither of us getting up to go change it, “Hare Krishna, Hare, Hare, My Sweet Lord….”

Jim didn’t go home for three days. After he left I saw my friend Margot, and told her “This is it.” Jim went back to Oakland, and told Chris, “This is the one”.

 

 

Our faded dreams of love sparked, flamed and burned. We were a couple by Thanksgiving, and living together by Christmas. All of my earthly possessions – including my piano, my rocking chair, my spinning wheel, my yarn, and my three cats – fit into one load in the back of Chris’ pick up truck. I set up my studio -workspace in the same room as Jim’s jeweler’s bench. While Chris was off doing his thing, Jim and I worked, talked, stopped and made love, worked some more, talked some more, stopped and made some more sweet love……

By the end of 1974 we sat together every weekend at “Our Spot”, bundled up, keeping each other warm from the cold Northern California winds that sweep through the streets of San Francisco and The Plaza. Jim sold his jewelry and I sold my hats, and holiday business and sales were good that season — maybe because we were in love.

~~~~~~~~~~~

We pooled our profits and planned our first trip / business venture together to Mexico in January of 1975. We’d buy Mexican textiles, hand crafts, fire opals and fire agates, inexpensively. Jim would put the gemstones into his jewelry to sell at The Plaza, and I’d resell the textiles and crafts to a store I dealt with on Union Street. We’d have an adventure, a nice vacation in a warm wonderful climate, and pay for the trip with the resale of our purchases.

We bought a beat up old VW bug, and started out driving from Oakland to the Mexican border. The Bug stalled going over the mountains outside of Los Angeles. We coasted over to the side of the road, the wind generators whirring on the hills in the background. I got out, kicked the tires, screamed and yelled “Don’t stop now you stupid car, we’ve got to get to Mexico”, while Jim calmly examined the engine, but could find nothing wrong. We flung ourselves back inside in frustration. “What are we going to do now?” I wailed. Jim said, “I’ll try the key one more time, then we’ll see.” “It started!” I yelped. So we puttered on.

We finally made it to the border, parked the Bug in a lot on the U.S. side, took our back packs out and put them on. I said to Jim, “Maybe somebody will steal the car.” “You wish,” he replied. Then we walked across the border to the train station at Mexicali. As we sat in the station waiting room the “Federales” stopped and asked to see our money and papers. We cautiously pulled them out, and handed them over. They flipped through everything, shook their heads, gave us our stuff back and walked on, mumbling something in Spanish. “Wonder what they really wanted,” I said, “I couldn’t understand the Spanish, could you?” Jim said, “No, but I guess we have to have money to get into the country – they don’t want us broke and causing trouble, – they’re just like the cops in Hawaii. Well, I’m glad the tickets are cheap.” And with that, we boarded the train, and settled into the second class section with the Mexicans for the ride south.

South: Through the tunnels of the tropical canyons and hillsides. South: To discover the markets with inexpensive gemstones and crafts. South: To the isolated villages and beaches we had only read about. Two days later we arrived in Guadalajara, with backsides aching from the hard seats of the “Segundo Classe” train.

Guadalajara offered big city sights and a fascinating inner city market – but we wanted a beach, so after a few days we caught a bus to the coast. On our map Manzanillo looked terrific, but when the bus pulled into town at the end of the line, we were disappointed. Drifts of papers blew in the breeze, and old tires, broken bottles, and unidentified bits of rebar and sheet metal lay rusting along broken fences, and half-finished houses. Menacing looking dark smoke poured out of chimneys attached to scruffy buildings with boarded up windows. Where was the beach? Or the market with fresh fruits and vegetables? Looking at each other uncomfortably, we got off and lugged our backpacks out of the belly of the bus. As we hauled them over to the side by a wall with crumbling plaster and mish-mashed paint colors, a money changer with greasy hair and black fingernails caked with dirt, crooked his finger at us, calling “Senores, Senores,” trying to hustle us with a high exchange rate — U.S. Dollars to Mexican Pesos. We calculated the “Cambio” and as we declined his offer, he spat to the side and turned his back.

Earlier, on the bus ride south, we had both noticed a small town on the coast, with a plaza surrounded by bougainvilleas. Goats, chickens and children had played by the bus stop. Through the bus window we had also glimpsed a bay, with sparkling clear looking water and a beach with few people, and no visible trash. The bay was ringed with small cabanas, palm trees, and open air stands advertising fresh coconut and fruit juices. I asked Jim “Do you remember that little town we saw that looked so wonderful?” “Yes,” he said. We gulped simultaneously: “Let’s go back and find it!”

The bus driver threw his hands up in a quizzical gesture as we tried in limited Spanish to explain we wanted to re-board the same bus we had just gotten off of, to return to a town we didn’t know the name of, since it wasn’t on our map. The driver, obviously puzzled, finally let us back on the bus, and we returned to what we discovered was San Patricio — the little bus stop that changed our lives.

We got off the bus. As we sat catching our breath by the side of the road at San Patricio’s dusty bus stop, a couple approached us, speaking English – accented English, but English. Hubert and Laura, a Canadian couple who told us they were wintering in warm Mexico, said, “We noticed you sitting here looking distressed. Do you need a place to stay? “We do,” we said, and with that, they took us under their wings. They introduced us to San Patricio’s unofficial mayor and owner of a family restaurant, Senor Malacho. He rented cabanas behind his restaurant that overlooked San Patricio Bay. His little rooms were still under construction, and we could have an “almost finished” cabana for just 8 pesos a day (about $4 U.S. in January 1975). We could cook for ourselves in the tiny kitchen next door, or eat in his small restaurant. We paid him for one week. The next morning we settled into a new routine — towels out to the beach to sit on the sand or swim in the warm bay. Or up to the beach bar to sip on cervezas or snooze in the hammocks suspended under the bamboo palapa.

We sat and watched the local boys throwing fishing nets into the bay, competing with the pelicans diving for the same fish. The fish jumped out of the water to avoid being scooped up by the big beaks and pouches of the pelicans or the encircling nets thrown by the boys. But unlike the soon tired and bored fishing boys, the large birds took flight again and again to dive into the schools of fish, emerging with their beaks overflowing with fish, whose tails flapped as they tried to escape before being swallowed whole. Later in the afternoon, after siesta, the boys played soccer in the sand, using beer cans as goal posts. They even let the “gringo” with long hair and bushy beard play “foot ball” with them, yelling “Mano, mano, mano” when Jim let his hand touch the ball.

One morning as we sat on the sand we noticed a small sailboat approaching. It sailed lazily into the bay, first one way, and then the other. As the boat got closer to the shore the two people on board went into action. The woman lowered the sails as the man dropped the anchor off the bow. The little boat stretched out on the anchor line and began rocking gently back and forth in the light breeze and slight swell that entered the bay.

We continued to watch the harmonious movement of the boat, just as we had watched the pelicans earlier. The boat, anchored in perfect viewing distance from our spot on the beach, fascinated us. After a while, the sailors assembled a small inflatable boat. They pumped it up and lowered it into the water. They climbed over the lifelines, got in, and rowed toward the beach — right to where we sat, taking it all in. We got up and waded out into the surf to help them drag the dinghy up onto the beach, past the tide line.

Can you tell us where the market is?” the couple asked. We pointed in unison toward the fresh market where locally grown avocados, papayas, lettuces, onions, oranges, coconuts and other produce was sold. “Thanks – will you watch our dinghy while we shop?” “We’ll be glad to watch it,” I said, “That way the kids won’t play on it.”

When the couple returned we struck up a conversation, and learned they lived aboard their sailboat, enjoying “Coastal Cruising”. They explained that a small group of sailors plied the coast of Mexico, living on boats with sails. These boaters sailed along the coast from port to port, staying a long time or a short time in each anchorage – drifting or sailing as they fancied, or the weather allowed.

With gleams in their eyes, they described “Ocean Voyaging”: Sailing to distant shores, isolated islands, exotic places, other countries. Ocean voyagers sailed long distances, sometimes taking many days to cross bays, seas, or oceans. Those who sailed further took more chances but were able to visit and see more of the world. The ocean voyagers used the wind and followed charts, guided by the stars.

The couple became really excited telling us about “Circumnavigators”, the most accomplished of sailors. Circumnavigators sailed vast ocean expanses using refined sailing skills, navigational expertise and command of instruments. Circumnavigators took even more chances, faced unforeseen, possibly death defying events: rapacious pirates, boat destroying flotsam or jetsam, or hurricane force storms. Circumnavigators dealt with the ocean in an entirely different way, continuing their voyaging until they made it all the way around the world. We imagined the countries and cultures they might experience, the physical stamina required, the navigational and sailing skills needed, how mentally strong they surely were. What an accomplishment circumnavigating would be!

We enjoyed the company of the sailing couple for a few days, until they pulled up the anchor and sailed on. But the idea had snared us. Wouldn’t it be incredible to live aboard a boat, to cruise, to voyage, to sail around the world? What if we could? What a wonderful dream! Sailing around the world!

Then reality set in. We had little or no money and neither of us knew anything about sailing. Jim said, “I’ve never been on a boat other than a fishing boat or the ferry to Sausalito. “Well, when I was a Girl Scout, I learned how to paddle a canoe, swamp it, and rescue myself. I also used to fish for catfish with my Dad and Uncle,” I replied. “Oh, well, we’ll learn somehow.” We were young, we were in love, and we were creative: one minute the idea didn’t exist, the next minute it was born. We created it together, because the world was there to be seen, because we wanted a challenge, because we had a zest for adventure, and well ……… just because.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: