MEET BETTY SHIRLEY AND HER FAMILY
Photos of me as a child, teenager, mother and grandmother
I was born in Bell, California (the Los Angeles area) in 1937. My parents divorced when I was about 3 years old. I was the oldest of three children. My sister, Nancy, 13 months younger than I, died in her 30's of cancer. My brother Jerry, was adopted by a family in our church when he was less than 1 year of age. I was raised by my Bartholomew grandparents (my mother's parents).
My mother remarried when I was 8 years old. My step father W. F. 'Tommy' Tompkins was in the Navy and based at Moffett Field not far from where we lived. He attended our church and that is how my mother met him. When he completed his service, we moved to Florida when I was 9 years old. A year later, my mother agreed to let me return to my grandparents as I was very homesick. When I was 11years old, my mother and step dad were living in Electra Texas and were the pastors of a Baptist church. They drove to California for Christmas when I was 11 years old and took me home with them. They were expecting a child and they wanted me to live with them hoping we would become a family. My half brother was born in Electra and 1 week later, my grandparents came from California to Texas for a visit and to see the new grandchild. My mother knew I wasn't happy there and she had the good judgment to let me go home with grandma and grandpa to live.
MET MY HUSBAND
I grew up in Sunnyvale, California and graduated from high school in 1955. I met my husband, Guy Shirley, through friends I went to school with. Our school was between Sunnyvale and Cupertino and the kids from both towns attended that school. I made friends with kids from Cupertino who knew Guy. Our church was having a Valentine party and suggested we invite kids from school. I did, and they brought a few friends, and Guy was one of their friends. He was 23 years old, and I was a Senior. We married 6 months later and lived in Sunnyvale for 1 year and Cupertino for 51 years, as of 2007.
We have 5 children, Donna, Dale, Dorene, Delaine and Debbie. As of Dec 31, 2007 I have 10 grandchildren, and 14 great grandchildren.
THE "60's "
I was a stay at home mom. Wasn't most moms in the 50's and 60's? My husband was a carpenter and went through some periods of no work and of course the winter was slim times. I supplemented our income by babysitting for other kids in our home (so I could be home with my own children). I also took in ironings. I would spend 12 - 15 hours a day ironing. I could never say no to any one when they called to see if they could drop off their clothes. Those clothes represented more money. So... that is how life was for many years. We made it!
MY GRANDPARENTS WERE A VERY IMPORTANT PART OF MY LIFE
Grandpa retired in the early '60's. They were looking forward to the good life. My grandparents loved to travel. They went to Georgia to visit my mother and soon after their return, my grandmother fell and broke her pelvis bone. She was frail anyway. She was hospitalized for about a week and then we rented a hospital bed so she could come home. They came to stay with us for a few weeks until she was better. To give me a break, grandpa would take her to one of my aunts for one week and the other aunt for a couple of days and back to my house again. I had small children, doing ironings, etc. and the pressure was wearing me down over a period of time. I reached a point when I felt I couldn't do this anymore. So, grandpa agreed that we should place her in a home. She was there for several months. He traveled around, restless, staying with various members of his family.
SOLUTION TO A PROBLEM
One night while laying in bed thinking about this situation, a thought began building in my mind. We could build a large room onto our house, bring grandma home and they could live here. We would try and keep their privacy and ours separate. I could cook their meals when I cooked ours and serve their meals in their place. I could give grandpa a break so that he didn't have to stay with her all the time. They could pay us the same amount they were paying just for her to be in a rest home. This would give them roots, and security, etc. It seemed a perfect plan.
I called my grandpa while he was on a visit at my mom's. I told him the plan, I said we would need to borrow the money from him to build it... costs of material that is as my husband did the work. He thought this was a terrific idea. So... we did this and paid him back from the rent money.
Grandma was here for 2 + years before she died. Grandpa lived with us for 18 year before he died. I considered it a small repayment for his kindness in raising me.
A BUSINESS IDEA
It was during this time that I became interested in the wedding business. I started the business in my home. When the last child was born (1967), I opened a shop near our house. I kept the shop open during school hours only, having an older lady we adored, come and stay with our infant. I would arrange appointments for two evenings a week and of course we had to be open on Saturdays. I provided bridal gowns, invitations, catered the receptions. I arranged for the photographer and the flowers were done by a lady who worked for us. We did it all... sort of a one stop place. You see that more now... but not back in the '60's. Eventually, I left that phase of the business and went into Bridal fair and fashion show type promotions. Again... Bridal shows were not that common. We were the first in the San Jose California area. Being such a novel idea, and business people were not that promotional minded at that time... it was a struggle. I took a break from it and improved it into a super business plan for same type operation. I launched out to find backers.
BOB HOPE INTERESTED IN MY IDEA
One person who was impressed with my ideas was Bob Hope. I flew to Los Angeles area a few times and was met with acceptance of the plan. He was interested in one phase of the business. There were many phases to this business plan and I was working on this when my grandfather had a stroke. Everything stopped.
WHAT WAS MY PRIORITY?
My priorities was my grandfather, of course. He was in the hospital and I visited him daily, feeding him and looking after him. The doctor placed him in a rest home, and in less than one week I brought him home due to a lack of personal attention resulting in a bad fall. I told the doctor he could do better at home. So, the doctor let him come home. We hired a service that would come in and give him a bath and work with him for a couple of hours per day. This lasted for months. Eventually grandpa went into diapers and this was a very difficult for me. I am no nurse. Each day I thought I could not do this anther day. We went through the diaper stage for about 3 months before he died. I loved him dearly, but there was a feeling of relief. I didn't want him to go to a home. I don't even know how I did it for three months. He had a clear mind to the end. This made it even more difficult to be so personal with him.
ROOTS ON T.V.
It was during this time when I was caring for my grandfather that ROOTS came on TV the first time. I was so fascinated with it. I had been introduced to genealogy when I was on a trip with my grandparents to Washington state visiting my grandfather's uncle. He was in his 90's. He brought out an old book on my grandfathers people. When they were done looking at it, I began looking at it and discovered my grandfather and a couple of his brothers and sisters were not in the book... just the older brothers and sisters. So... I decided right then and there that I could get the info from my great aunts and uncles and bring the book up to date. Well, I started writing letters and collected the info. I was a young teen. I saved those letters and still had them in my special box when ROOTS came on. That program rekindled my interest.
DOING OUR FAMILY's GENEALOGY
I spent hours interviewing my grandfather... he was living here and it was convenient to do this. When the kids were off to school and my chores done, I would take my recorder and we covered everything. I did a book for his family.
But.... before I completed his book, I got off on another path. My husband couldn't understand why I would take all this time revisiting the past. He thought it a waste of time. Why don't you do something that will make some money? I began questioning him about who his grandparents were and where were they born, and what do you know about them. He didn't know. He knew that his grandfather died before he was born. Suddenly he got interested as he started thinking about it. Then... I found myself hunting for his info and ended up doing a book for him before I completed my grandfathers. After both books were done, I felt a let down. I was still taking care of grandpa, but I desired to be doing something constructive.
SHIRLEY ASSOCIATION CREATED
It was mentioned to me several times by some older Shirley researchers who I had contacted in my search for my husbands family, that they wished someone would organize a Shirley family group and do a newsletter, etc. I thought about it some, but I really didn't think I wanted a lengthy commitment. I still had this Bridal business in the back of my mind and some wonderful opportunities were waiting for me. Eventually, I decided to do it. I figured I could pass it to someone else, or do it as a hobby. So... thus the birth of the SHIRLEY ASSOCIATION.
I have had the time of my life doing this. It has been a lot of responsibility. I get tired and have to take breaks, but I always come back refreshed. I run hot and cold, sometimes.
And... by the way, when my grandfather died, I was so deep into the Shirley thing, I never proceeded with my super business plan. I did write Bob Hope and even sent him a copy of my book. That is just a treasured memory now.
LIFE'S LITTLE UPS AND DOWNS
It wasn't always easy raising teenagers. Then there were the kids and their marriage problems, helping to raise one grandchild for 5 years, and the story goes on and on.... many of you can relate. But... I kept working on the Shirleys when I could for 30 years.
In Oct 2006 I had a run in with our recycle container which is on wheels. It was a freaky accident. With the lid open, I moved it about 2 feet closer to where my daughter was about to lift a stack of leaves she had just raked into a pile to put in the container. As I pushed it towards her, one foot hit the lid and causing me to loose my balance. Naturally my instinct was to catch myself using the other foot to regain my balance. That foot kicked right into the lid making things worse. I fell head first into the recycle container hitting the top of my head on the rim of the container as I fell inside. The end result was a trip to the emergency room where I remained for 9 hours as a plastic surgeon worked on me. She said it took 400 stitches 4 layers deep to close the gap. One year later, my hair has grown back on the top of my head, I have regained limited feeling on the top of my head, and I have an indented forehead from the gash and those stitches. I can cover it with my hair pulled down over it in the front. You can't see it and you'd never know it was there. Any lower and I would not be able to cover with my hair style.
In May 2007 I had a 2nd stroke and it was more severe than the first one I had a few years ago. For the first month I had double vision and then it changed to blurred vision. I couldn't drive and was dizzy, couldn't type on the computer for the first week, and it really put a scare in me that I might not be able to type or drive again. I began to slowly recover but have not reached a full recovery. I have my limitations. I can drive and after a week I slowly regained enough strength to type on the computer. I have my mind although it isn't as clear as it was before the stroke. I can't complain as I can still function on a limited basis. I have help with weekly housecleaning assistance. That really helps! So I function as best I can and now you will understand why it was time for me to retire from the Shirley Association.
Through the years my husband has had knee surgery twice, eye surgery on both eyes, sugar diabetes, a stroke and a heart attack requiring surgery to put in some stints.
I guess these are things that happen when you get older. I wasn't quite ready for all of this! I could have used another 5 years to wrap things up. But life doesn't give us those choices.
PERSONAL MESSAGE ABOUT THE SHIRLEY ASSOCIATION WEB SITE
I thank you for all of the nice compliments on the website. I know you appreciated the energy that has gone into the website and the Shirley research we have shared When I was about to put up a website for the Shirley Association, Ken contacted me to see if he could be of assistance. He has generously assisted me over the past 10 years and he must be credited for his help in designing the website, research and posting Shirley info to our webpages. Now that I have retired, Ken is the leader of the Shirley Association.