Friday, January 14, 2022


Ronnie and the Ronettes

The recent (January 12) passing of Ronnie Spector of Ronnie and the Ronettes stirred up a few nostalgic and bittersweet images in the slow moving crud otherwise known as my memory.  In 1963, when Be My Baby was an incredible international hit for the Ronettes, I was a naïve, arrogant fifteen-year-old trying hard to grow up in the almost forgotten small town of Florence, Colorado.  That summer I wanted to be as cool as my uncle "Boze" and his friends, who dressed sharp, talked in slang, and drove "souped up" Chevys and customized Fords from the 1950s. The truth is that it seemed I always said something stupid, or did something in ignorance that embarrassed my family, meaning my father.  "Cool" would not be the word picked to describe me by anyone who knew me back then.  

For example:  entering Florence High School (Go Huskies!) meant initiation (now known as hazing) inflicted on Freshmen by Seniors, which culminated during the annual "Pioneer Days" festival celebrated by the city of Florence with a parade and various events at City Park.  The entire day, Freshmen students were hunted by groups of Seniors.  If caught, the trapped students' faces were painted with lipstick.  We walked around all day with red streaks on our cheeks, "FHS" on our foreheads, and globs of lipstick in our hair.  I don't remember why I thought smearing bar soap on the large plate glass of a Main Street store would somehow compensate for the humiliation of lipstick initiation.  What made it worse was that not only did I scribble random shapes and lines on the glass, but I also included my last name.  RAMOS.  Just like that. Needless to say, my father gave me hell for exposing the family to ridicule and shame.  It didn't help that I tried to blame the graffiti on my cousins, who had the same last name.  That night, I shuffled to the scene of the crime with a bucket of water and a bunch of rags.  I did my best to erase my incriminating mistake, but my father never forgot.  And he didn't let me forget either.

I had extremes on both sides of my personality.  While I earned excellent grades and permanent residence on the academic honor roll, socially I was a disaster.  

I ogled the girls in my classes, especially the ones who flashed glimpses of pale legs and thighs under their desks. The girls laughed at us silly frustrated boys as they began to understand the power they had.  

I tried out for the football team and fractured my wrist at my first practice.  

I wanted to show my school spirit so I bought a Florence High School powder blue sweatshirt at the cheerleaders' fundraiser.  One of my teachers wondered out loud why "people with color" loved to wear such colorful clothes.  I think he was trying to make a joke.  

That teacher was funnier than the white boy who one day realized I was darker than him and thereafter he called me "Blackie" whenever he saw me.  That kid was in love with his Butch Wax ducktail but he had nothing but resentment (hatred?) for me. I didn't know why but I easily slipped into my own intense dislike of the boy who clearly admired himself too much. 

One night, during basketball practice, it all came to a head.  We pushed and shoved each other until the coach made us stop. I knew I would have to fight after practice but I  wasn't mad or fired up. More amused, even curious, than anything else. That was a mistake. I danced around the kid, waiting for something, not sure what.  Maybe I wanted someone to say Go! Or, stop!  Naturally, my nemesis was eager and ready to throw down.  While I waited, he acted.  With a quick outburst of pent-up aggression he popped me in the eye and I immediately felt the flesh around my eye socket swell and pulsate.  We wrestled for a few minutes more, neither one of us really connecting again.  Eventually, someone stopped the fight. I didn't think either of us had "won," but because I had a very ugly shiner that stayed on my face for weeks, going from raging purple-black to sickly yellow, the consensus at school was that I had lost our little rumble.  Big time. 

My most vivid recollection of that event was my grandmother's reaction when she saw my black eye for the first time.  Sadness rolled over her face.  She slowly shook her head.  She asked if it hurt and told me to stay away from "such people."  I could see she was concerned but I couldn't shake the notion that she wanted me to say that I had given as good as I got. I couldn't do it and we never talked about the fight again.

One day I bought a small sign for my room that I found in Woolworth's that said, "I'm a lover, not a fighter."  But I knew I was neither.

When I wasn't embarrassing my family or fighting with white boys, I hung out with the Mexican kids (we didn't call ourselves Chicanos yet.)  My pals had nicknames like Chopper and Mazola (I was Doc), but the leader of the group was simply Frankie, a real cool guy.  Frankie knew all the music, dances, and styles.  He was a couple of years older so he told the rest of us about the clubs in Pueblo, the girls of Pueblo, the parties in Pueblo.  I was almost old enough to join him in his trips to the fantastic world of Pueblo, and I used that summer to educate myself about Pueblo's R&B bands, dances like the Wiggle Wobble and the Stroll, and how to drive. Frankie and I constantly talked about what we would do the next year. Oh, the girls we would meet, the bands we would discover, the fun we would have. 

The summer highlight was a party someone hosted in Florence where, amazingly, girls from Pueblo actually showed up.  

And so, on a warm summer evening, with a soft breeze blowing across the town from the river, we danced in a covered driveway to Ronnie and the Ronettes, the Chiffons, the Shirelles.  Fats Domino and Major Lance.  Jimmy Soul. Gary U.S. Bonds. We did the Twist and the Locomotion.  Slow danced to Angel Baby and flirted during He's So Fine.  Words like sultry and passion come to mind.  Soft pastel colors frame the images I've saved from that night.  It was all too perfect.  At the end of the party I thought I was in love with two girls:  Maxine from Pueblo and Ronnie from the Ronettes.  

Turned out that 1963 was my last year in Florence.  My father decided he had enough of driving the eighty miles round trip to and from Colorado Springs five days a week for his construction job, and he moved our family to that city in the shadow of Pikes Peak to be closer to his work. I never really made it to Pueblo with Frankie and the boys in the way we had planned, although a few years later, when we were old enough to go to clubs without the need for fake I.D.s, Frankie and I did our best to capture the feeling and sentiment of our teenaged years. We got close. Of course, Frankie married a Pueblo girl and never gave up being cool.

Hey Ronnie --Thanks for the memories.



Manuel Ramos writes crime fiction. His latest novel is Angels in the Wind.


Herlinda said...

How interesting to read about your high school days! I enjoyed your candor and could picture you growing up and not as I knew you as a well-adjusted attorney! Thanks for your memories!

Dokey said...

Great memories. Sounds like the basis for a coming of age novel. If only there was someone who could write it...