“Big Daddy” Derhammer was wailing on the sax as Char Gerson belted out the songs with a little Ronnie Spector-quaver in her voice and Lee Gerson played the hot licks on guitar.
It was New Year’s Eve at the Ranch, and Lee and Char were laying down the tunes.
No, not at that Ranch.
I’m talking about El Rancho Village, a manufactured-home community at 508 44th Avenue East.
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For the second year in the past three, my wife Kim and I were invited over by our neighbors, Paul and Jackie Schneider, to El Rancho to see in the new year. Could be a new tradition is in the making.
It was a privilege to be among the good folks of El Rancho.
And it was a lot of fun. It seemed that any problems any of us might have had were blown away in the group hugs, the kisses from strangers and the dances with our partners and other folks’ partners. What the heck, Lee and Char were playing “What a Wonderful World” and “Proud Mary.” It doesn’t get much better.
One of those at the dance, Joe Urso, told me, “Any of these people would do anything for you.”
I think he’s right, but you’d have a hard time tabulating all the neighborhoods in Manatee where that’s also true.
“We have to pull together and help each other,” Joe told me when I asked him about his wishes for the New Year.
Again, in most of the broader community, that is true as well. Time after time, we see that when people are in need, strangers answer the call for help. That is an admirable community character trait.
It’s always reassuring to see people going on with their lives, wearing their values on their sleeve and, when they can, having a good time.
Such was the case at El Rancho.
My neighbor Paul is 76-years-young at heart and the ringleader of fun.
“I just feel whatever you do on New Year’s Eve, you’ll do all year long. That’s why we party on New Year’s Eve,” he said.
“I’ve had two knees done, had back surgery, and I’m playing racquetball now,” he said.
He also still works part time and plays golf. Paul is one of my chief inspirations these days.
Most profoundly, he said, a person should count his wealth by the number of his friends, not the size of his bank account.
In hard economic times, and in good times, we should work on our friendships. Value: priceless; cost: free.
James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee Editor, can be contacted at 745-7021.