LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
Time now for StoryCorps. Today we hear from someone who found her calling later in life. Sharon Long is a forensic artist. She reconstructs human faces from skulls for museums and law enforcement agencies. But back in the 1980s, she was a single mom holding down several jobs at once, trying to support her two kids.
SHARON LONG: I worked at the Dairy Queen and I cleaned a dentist's office and I was a secretary. I hated every morning I got up.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Everything changed for her at 40, when she took her daughter to register for college and a financial aid officer convinced Sharon to enroll herself. As she told a colleague at StoryCorps, that's where she stumbled on the thing she was meant to do.
LONG: I had to take an anthropology class but I didn't even know what it meant. So I went home and I looked up anthropology. I thought, study of mankind - oh, that sounds interesting. So I took physical anthropology and - bang - I decided what I wanted to be when I grow up.
STEVE SUTTER: You've done how many skulls?
LONG: Something like 86. I get totally psyched in to what I'm doing, just like people must do when they write music or painting a painting - you forget to eat, you forget to get up, you forget to drink water, you forget everything. Everything just sort of goes into suspension. And 12 or 15 hours later, I have a face. You know, and I feel a connection 'cause I think about them as a person like me that loved people and had family and drank tea with their friends. But, you know, murder victims bother me a lot. I try not to think about them being in pain because then their face comes out looking like that. So I try to think about them being happy. And I like bringing people back to life. People ask me, how do you do that? And I think, boy, I don't know. It just comes out the tips of my fingers. But I observe a lot. I've watched people in airports and restaurants, and I'd say, look at that guy's skull. God, look at the cranium on that guy, woah.
SUTTER: I remember talking to you once and you start staring at my forehand, and you say, can I feel your brow ridge?
LONG: (Laughter). Aren't I awful? I do that. With people that are friends, see, I can say, can I poke on your face a little? I can't do that at the airport.
SUTTER: So you've talked about retiring.
LONG: Well, now see, I'm getting older. My hands hurt. I've got arthritis. No. No, I can't do it anymore. But I'm telling you, I look back and I can't believe my life went this way. It just seems like it's all been a big long dream.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Forensic artist Sharon Long with her colleague, Steve Sutter, in Laramie, Wyo. Since making this recording, Sharon has retired. Her interview is archived at the Library of Congress and is featured in the new StoryCorps book, "Callings: The Purpose And Passion Of Work."
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.