In every life there is a fistful of years that flavors the rest: days of wine and roses. Or days of blood, sweat and tears. A time of trophies, a heroic past. From there comes a quest we dream of going on once more, one day. CAROLYN CHARITY 1950s

In 1954, Carolyn Charity, just out of college with a sociology degree, got a job with the Metropolitan Police.

"I was a glorified social worker with a gun," she says. "We didn't wear a uniform, but we had the power of arrest. Our group was an elite group of trained women--30 of us--15 whites, 15 blacks. Unlike the men, in the 1950s women in the D.C. police were required to have a degree.

"We used to handle all the stuff everybody is now making a big deal out of. I picked babies out of trash cans. I had children coming to my office in the middle of the night. One night a father pushed two small children to the door and then he went and jumped off the bridge. He did that after severing his wife's head with a knife.

"We got it raw. But we were in our 20s. We worked hard. We grew up professionally. My closest friends come from that group of super gals --some of them I talk to every day. We have a special bond. We shared and saw and endured so much together.

"It was life, and it was adventurous. If we had more smarts we would have done something else.

"We learned what we weren't taught in sociology courses. I visited a severely disturbed mother--I just sat there, listened. She said, finally, 'I'm glad you came.' Later, much later, I understood what she meant. Or what it meant for an angry, destitute person to come in and talk to us. We gave him a bowl of soup and let him act out. Just listening helped. We gave of ourselves."

In 1959, after her first child was born, she transferred to a post less demanding of her time. "It was apple pie from then on," she says. In 1976 she retired as the spokeswoman of the Metropolitan Police. Since then she has worked in private industry, but, she says, "I don't know of any job that provides more insight than a police officer's. You pitch in. You always have a feeling you can make things better. And you do." SUSAN COYLE 1960s

Lithe, freckle-faced, analytical, Susan Coyle is "crunching numbers" for a management consulting firm, while getting her PhD in sociology. "I am not getting a degree for remuneration," she says. "My studying sociology stems from coming of age in the '60s."

Her plan is to do basic social science research; she is drawn to issues of "authority relationships" and "the impact of policy on individuals and organizations."

At 34, Coyle remembers the '60s as "an imaginative time which gave us license to do our own thing--which meant that we were no longer suspect if we didn't choose to look, act or think as the public models. We were romantics--people who dream of something better. I was moved by the civil rights struggle and when women took up their own cause, I couldn't have been happier. Ours was a visionary time."

Compared to the '60s, the present is "a time of smallness, smugness, stinginess," she says. "Everybody is watching out for Number One.

"I am still a romantic. Oh yeah." BRANT COOPERSMITH 1940s

"The 1940s made me as a person," says Brant Coopersmith, 64, a politician with class, a feisty bureaucrat.

In 1940 he signed up with the Royal Canadian Artillery, which sent him off to London then bombed daily by the Nazis. "I can't just talk about a thing," he says, "and not do something. I had to fight Hitler. I figured I reserved my right of free expression after the war. If Hitler won, I as a Jew wouldn't be around, but if we won, I wanted to have the right to talk about the world. And I thought that the only way I could earn that right was to fight."

Coopersmith was 20, a college dropout. "My experience was peeling potatoes and shoveling rock," he says. "I drifted from place to place. But I never panhandled. I had to work--$2 a day I used to earn."

In London, he was "a young American in battle dress" and came into contact, for the first time, with upper class people. "It took me six months to learn how to differ with an Englishman without offending him," he says.

After the war Coopersmith finished college and went to work with the American Jewish Committee. In 1977, at age 58, he was named chairman of the District government's lottery committee. "The lottery will make between $40 and $50 million a year for the city," he says. "Unlike other things I did in my life, the lottery has a bottom line." LEROY COATES 1920s

Born in 1909 in Southwest Washington, Leroy Coates played basketball and baseball. At Randolph Junior High, he ran 100 yards in 10 seconds flat. At age 15, he jumped 6 feet 3 inches.

"Sports was our outlet," he says. "Our only outlet. When you came up in a poor neighborhood, you reached your ultimate when you were young. I used to win many medals--no trophies in those days."

Offers of athletic scholarships came from Howard, New York University, Syracuse. "But I got married at 21 and started having children," he says. "I had to go to work. But I can't complain. I have a lovely wife, two daughters-- one a pediatrician, the other a social worker--four grandchildren and two great- grandchildren. I am one of the blessed."

Retired from the Navy in 1965, Coates now teaches the Bible, visits convicts in jail and the sick in hospitals.

"My grandchildren ask me to pray for them before their tests," he says. "What touches my heart is a boy striving out there, striving to do his best."