Sherry and me in Mexico, 1978

The Courtship of Sherry

I'd just as soon steer clear of writing about the women in my life, except where it's unavoidable and weaves into my story, but I'll make an exception here, since the circumstances are out of the ordinary, to talk about the girl who gave me $10,000 before our first date. It all began the day after I saw Sherry at the doctor's office, when I looked up her phone number on her medical chart and called her.

The first thing Sherry told me was that we had met the previous year in Glenmore Park. Although I failed to recognize her at the doctor's office, I remembered our first encounter vividly. It was summer and I was strolling in the park when I noticed a slim, dark-haired girl in her late teens. She had wandered down by the lake to an isolated area, an uninviting section overrun with scrub. I was curious why anyone would go there, so I approached her.

Straight off the girl told me she was worried about her white shorts. She had sat on a log and thought she had gotten them dirty. However, her butt looked fine to me, that is, her shorts appeared clean and I told her so. But she wasn't mollified. Not only was she certain that her shorts were soiled, she was mortified to be seen in them. That explained why she was in a remote spot in the park. Furthermore, she felt too self-conscious to even walk to her car in case someone saw her in her dirty white shorts.

She asked me to retrieve a pair of jeans from her car. It was an strange request and I thought that she was embarrassed over nothing, but I was willing to oblige. She gave me her keys and directed me to her yellow Super Beetle. I thought it odd that she would trust a stranger with her car. Anyway, I returned with her jeans, and after changing behind some bushes, she appeared more relaxed. As I walked her to her car, we fell into conversation. She struck me as being different and I became intrigued. When we got to her car, I suggested we meet back at the park that evening. She agreed but never showed up.

Now a year later, after a chance meeting in the doctor's office, I'm talking to the same girl on the phone, telling her that I remembered meeting her in the park. When I gently reminded her that she had stood me up, Sherry became uncomfortable. “I'm so embarrassed,” she said.

Then she told me what happened after we had met in the park. She didn't return that evening because she was too shy. But in the weeks to follow she said she often visited the park, although not to meet me but in hopes of only seeing me. That surprised me, of course, but I was even more surprised that she told me. She showed unusual candor.

Over the phone, we went on to talk of other things and while we talked, Sherry displayed the same confidence that had won me over in the doctor's office. Smart, witty, and candid, she was an engaging conversationalist and quick to laugh. She appeared comfortable talking to me, yet when I suggested we get together, she declined. She was too timid, she told me. However, I wasn't about to give up.

After that first phone call, I kept calling and kept asking her out, but she kept turning me down. I soon gave up on asking her on a date and settled on talking to her on the phone. I would bide my time until the day she was ready to see me. It was a strange start to a relationship, but I was patient and I was enamored with her and I really enjoyed our conversations.

In the weeks and months to follow, through phone conversations as well as letters we exchanged, I learned Sherry's background. She was born and raised in Lethbridge. Her parents were wealthy, having made a fortune in agriculture, of all things. It was no surprise, then, that Sherry often talked about money. She herself didn't have much, but she looked forward to turning eighteen when she expected to receive thousands from a trust fund. Moreover, she referred to it as our money. I didn't take her seriously, nor did it matter to me if she had money or not, but I went along with her talk of money for I found it amusing, wishful thinking. Eventually, when our talk turned to what to do with the money, we discussed traveling. At first we considered buying a Land Rover and driving across Africa, but in time our plans became more modest. When – and for me, if – Sherry received a large sum of money, we planned to buy a van and drive across Canada.

Then Sherry turned 18. To my surprise she did receive a large sum: $10,000 ($33,000 today, after adjusting for inflation). It was true for she mailed me a cheque for the entire amount. I was bowled over. I still hadn't seen her since she walked into the doctor's office months ago, let alone gone on a date with her, and yet she mails me all this money. Nonetheless, I followed through with our plans. Using my VW Type 3 car as a trade-in and some of Sherry's money, I bought a new Dodge van with a long wheel base, large enough to camperize. I mailed Sherry a set of keys.

I immediately began converting the vehicle into a camper van. I went to the library and took out a few books. Then I bought tools and hardware. Following instructions, I used an electric jigsaw to saw three holes in the roof. I dropped in two small sunroofs and an air ventilator. Then I screwed plywood sheets to the floor and laid down carpeting.

As I worked on the van, I encouraged Sherry to keep tabs on my progress. She was too shy to see me, so to avoid me she came late at night. We still kept in touch by phone, but now there was no need to mail letters; we began exchanging notes, leaving them in the van. I kept the van parked in the driveway, just metres from the private entrance to my basement bedroom in the doctor's house. Perhaps that proximity gave Sherry the idea of seeing me. One day, without any prompting from me, she offered to pay me a visit.

Since she was too self-conscious to be seen in daylight, Sherry came at night. She knocked and I let her in. She asked me not to turn on the lights. I had this huge eight-foot, round waterbed (I hated that bed but it was a fixture in my room) and we sat apart on it. She kept her head bowed while I turned to face her, although I could only make out her profile in the dark. We talked for twenty minutes and then she slipped out the door.

I was ecstatic that I finally got to see Sherry. Finally some progress. I had met her briefly in the dark and she had sent me $10,000 (for the both of us), but what I really wanted was a date. However, that seemed out of the question – she would be too nervous for that. After careful thought, I had an idea. She might feel more comfortable if I told her I needed her to help me with the van. A few days after her visit, I called and told her I wanted her to help me select some wood panelling. Undoubtedly she realized it was a ploy to see her, but she agreed.

The next evening, Sherry parked her VW at my place and we got into our van. As I drove to the hardware store, I couldn't help but keep glancing at her. I hadn't seen her in good light in eight months, when she was in the doctor's office. But Sherry's demeanor bore no resemblance to the confident girl I met in the office or talked to on the phone. She kept her head down and said little. Adding to her discomfort was embarrassment. She told me she had tried to get a tan under a sunlamp but ended up with a sunburned face. It mattered not at all to me. I was just happy to see her.

I kept the conversation light, trying to set her at ease. I talked about the van and the work I had been doing on it. At the hardware store, we selected some faux mahogany wood panelling. Actually I picked it out. Sherry was too nervous to say much let alone voice an opinion. Then we drove back. Our first “date” lasted an hour.

Shortly after that, Sherry called to say she had received another lump sum, this time for $60,000 ($200,000 today). She said the money was for both of us, but she wanted me to take care of it. I balked at the idea. To me it was a small fortune and I was uncomfortable with being entrusted with it. Never before had I dealt with such a large sum of money. I argued with her but she wouldn't have it any other way. She insisted I take the money. I remember how the conversation ended.

“Why should I get it?” I told her. “I didn't do anything for it.”

“I didn't do anything for it either,” she replied.

While I was uneasy with receiving the money, her family, Sherry told me, was outraged. They tried to dissuade her from giving me tens of thousands of dollars. But despite my reluctance and her family's protests, Sherry went ahead. In the van the next day, I found a cheque made out to me for $60,000. I deposited the cheque.

A few days later Sherry called with some surprising news: she was broke!

“Why didn't you take out some money from the cheque for yourself?” I asked her.

“I didn't want to break the cheque,” she told me.

I couldn't believe Sherry didn't take out any cash for herself. I had resigned myself to a peculiar relationship, although this incident tested my patience. But given her confidence on the phone, I assured myself that it was just a matter of time before she would come to assert herself. That night, I stuffed a few hundred dollars in an envelope and left it in the van for her.

I hadn't a clue what to do with the bulk of the $60,000, so I consulted one of the doctor's friends. He suggested investing it in a second mortgage fund through a firm in Edmonton. Although a bit risky, Sherry and I would receive a tidy sum each month without touching the principal.

Sherry agreed with the investment and on our second “date,” we drove to Edmonton. She appeared much more relaxed this time, and the three-and-a-half-hour drive allowed us to get to know one another in person. On the way there, she pointed out a Cessna flying overhead. "You know," she said, musing aloud, "we could buy a plane if we wanted to." Her comment surprised me. Even she, growing up well off, seemed enthralled with our small wealth. But we were both very practical, neither of us spendthrifts. When we got to Edmonton we didn't purchase a plane and instead invested most of our money. However, it didn't leave us short. Sherry continued to receive lump sums from a trust fund, although nothing larger than $8,000.

Back in Calgary, I kept working on our van. I screwed in the wood panelling that we had bought and added a sink, counter and a tiny closet. I put in a mini-fridge, lights, and an auxiliary car battery to run them. I exchanged the front seats for “captain chairs,” high-backed seats with arms that could swing out of the way. In the back of the van, I built a table and bench seats. These were constructed so that the table could drop down flush with the seats, and with cushions thrown on top, it made a bed. Sherry helped by making the cushions for the bench/bed, sewing covers that went over blocks of foam. Using the same fabric, she made matching curtains.

But before the van was finished, Sherry and I began driving to the mountains and doing short hikes. All the while she became more comfortable around me each time we got together. By the time the van was finished and we were ready to travel across Canada, her shyness had disappeared and she felt completely at ease with me. The girl in person now matched the spontaneous, confident girl that I knew on the phone.

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