La, La, La, La, La
A song for a Lady and the times....
Frankie Firme ~ Contributing Editor
Dolores walked into her grandmother's house after school a little earlier than usual today due to an after school program that cut into the afternoon schedule.
Published on LatinoLA: September 4, 2008
Instead of going home, Dolores went to visit her grandmother early. Her house being on the way, Dolores usually visited her grandmother after school for an afternoon snack and a chat before going home. Dolores's parents worked a successful restaurant business, and were seldom home, leaving 15 year old Dolores alone a lot, so she spent a lot of time with her grandmother since her grandfather had died 5 years earlier.
A beautiful and strong willed woman, Dolores's grandmother Lupe was always a source of entertainment, laughs, and good food. Her husband Ruben and her were always remembered as dancers who loved music, and Dolores had inherited that trait. Because Lupe never danced again after his death, her grandfather's death was one of the most saddest time of her young life, as she mourned the loss of him and music longer than her mother & grandmother had.
It seemed that without Grandpa Ruben, there wasn't anymore family parties or dancing, and Dolores missed that.
On this day, she walked into her grandmother's house unnoticed, and walked into the living room where Lupe was engrossed in a song and dance.
She smiled and stared in awe as Lupe gracefully danced and sang to a song that Dolores had never heard, in a manner she had never seen. With her eyes closed and moist tears still evident around them, Lupe happily sang loudly and danced sensually with her hands in the air that surprised Dolores that a woman of 62 years of age had that much rhythm and soul. "La,La,La,La,Laaaaa‘«™just a one more time!...", she sang along.
As the song ended, Dolores clapped and screamed loudly "Wow! Grandma! You can get down!!", as Lupe turned around, surprised that she had an audience.
"Where did you learn to dance like that, Grandma? Where did that pretty music come from? Was that one of Grandpa Ruben's favorites?" the girl was simply beside herself as Lupe wiped away her tears , smiled and hugged her grand daughter as she continued to pepper her with questions‘«™.Dolores saw her grandmother in another light, and that light simply lit up her face like she hadn't seen since her grandfather had died.
"Oh, mija‘«™.if only you could know what it was like back in the day when your Grandpa Ruben and I were young"‘«™..
FLASHBACK : summer 1965‘«™
‘«™young men and women began gathering at the local church auditorium in East Los Angeles for the weekly dance. Many of the young men were in military uniform and soon headed for Viet Nam, so these weekly dances took on a significance for them, as they realized it could very well be their last.
They were the children of the WW II generation, and war was not yet the ugly reality the media would soon bring home on nightly news programs, so the young soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines were looked up to as warrior heroes, even by the cholo gang members, who shouldered up to them while wearing their baggy khaki pants and Pendleton flannel shirts, both ironed to razor sharp crispness. Their pointy back shoes shined like mirrors, and their sharply combed jet black hair, which also shined, made them look sophisticated and suave in a street sense of way.
These young men were proud, strong, and handsome looking in their uniforms and creased clothes‘«™many of them barely out of high school, but all flashing a chest full of newly discovered Chicano pride and young macho that drew envious stares as they strutted like peacocks during mating season.
As the long lines began to form outside the auditorium, lowrider cars began cruising the parking lot looking for a space, but not before making 2 or 3 turns while playing loud music and "gunning" their engines to get attention.
The girls sported "beehive" hairdo's , 1940's style "movie star" makeup & fake eyelashes, hoop & dangling earrings, tight skirts & dresses , sensual blood red lipstick and chewed gum loudly, making popping noises. With their dresses & skirts being so tight, and wearing long spiked high heels, they walked slowly, carefully, and sensually, giving them a sense of untouchability to the average guy.
Everybody looked and smelled good as they gathered for the weekly dance that featured the popular rock & roll bands of the day. East Los Angeles was home to the 1960's "East Side Sound" , which began to draw crowds from most of the surrounding areas outside of East L.A and beyond.
The area seemed to explode with new music, new dances, new faces, and new venues where young Brown people could publicly congregate and socialize in a manner that was denied their parents because of the color of their skin, and the young Chicano's new found mastery of the english language and rock & roll music made many white people nervous as they sensed a loss of social control over people they once considered inferior to them.
Inside the dancehall, white church staff and security officers shook their heads in resentment when the music started and the kids all filled the dance floor, moving sensually to both slow & fast songs alike. Despite their resentment, they could not take their eyes off them, nor avoid tapping their feet to the music. Excitement was in the air‘«™.
Lupe Hernandez and her friends were members of a social club named "Las Angelitas", and their claim to fame was that they all danced with flair and style as they competed with the high school cheerleaders in their short skirts for the boy's attention.
‘«™there was never a shortage of beautiful girls "struttin' their stuff" at these dances.
Ruben Gomez and Gustavo "Gus" Mestas were best friends and members of a car club named the " Brothers of Brown Soul", which was made up exclusively of military veterans and guys presently on active duty . They had a more mature macho air about them, and they seldom had trouble with any group other than police.
Both these groups had cross invited each other many times over, and the attention these two groups attracted as they sized each other up for potential dates was palable and entertaining to all outsiders.
Lupe and her friends danced to every song with each other or numerous boys, with only the girls with boyfriends staying out of the "available" seating area.
Lupe was one of the most sexiest dancers in her group, taking such dances as "the twist", "the mashed potato", "the jerk", and the "Bristol stomp" to new levels, and boys lined up to dance with her, or simply watch her.
Both Ruben and Gus, looking sharp in their U.S. Navy uniforms, kept their eye on Lupe all night, as they were the ones usually dancing with her, good naturedly bullying other young men away.
The music was intoxicating, the bands were in top form, and the dancing made the time go quickly as midnight would arrive and church staff would put on the bright overhead lights and announce the dance was over, as everybody moaned loudly, not wanting the night to end.
This ritual would go on every Friday & Saturday night, and on Sundays, there would usually be an impromptu free concert at the a local park called Legg Lake in Rosemead, where local bands were allowed to practice in the patio areas. Then, as if by a magic signal, everyone would leave at sundown and head for Whittier Boulevard, where they would cruise and socialize till sunup, unless they ran out of gas or police chased them away. This was life for young people in East L.A., 1965‘«™.and life was good!
When their time came to leave for Viet Nam, both Ruben & Gus attended their last dance in their uniforms at their old high school, where one of the most popular bands at the time, The Blendells were playing. Their latest song, "La La, La, La, La," had become a teen age anthem signaling the new times, and the girls had turned it into a teasing dance of seduction.
When the band began playing the song, at least 5 boys charged Lupe, all asking her to dance. To the surprise of everyone, Lupe grabbed the hands of both Ruben and Gus, and took them both to the center of the dance floor amid loud applause, as the band made an impromtu dedication to all men in uniform, which bade all the girls to rush out and grab the nearest boy in uniform, as she boldly danced with both boys
As everybody danced, girls began encircling all the boys in uniform, with at least 6 surrounding Gus, as he was a very good dancer, and very happy for the attention. About 4 encircled Ruben, joining Lupe in clapping , as they all enjoyed the song and sang along.
After the dance, both Ruben & Gus walked Lupe to her car, both asking her out and asking her to wait for them. Not wanting to hurt anyone's feelings, Lupe laughed and said "Wow! 2 handsome sailors‘«™how does a girl get so lucky? Look‘«™.I'm not going anywhere, and I got no plans to get married soon‘«™so why don't we get together and dance again when you get back‘«™who knows what can happen ?" . Both boys looked at each other , smiled and said "deal!".
‘«™the next day, they both left for Viet Nam‘«™..
A year later, only Ruben returned. Both he and Gus had served as Navy Medical Corpsmen with the Marines and saw combat action in the jungles of Viet Nam. Ruben had been wounded in action and came home. Gus's unit had saw heavy action, and he was listed as missing in action.
Ruben and Lupe eventually married and had 2 children, a son and daughter. They bought a home and settled in East L.A. near both their families. They lived a full life for over 40 years until Ruben's death. Both enjoyed music until the end, and they amassed a good collection of Oldies but Goodies, playing them at backyard parties over the years, but. they always felt a bit of sadness for their friend Gus whenever they played "La, La, La, La, La", so eventually they let the song fall out of circulation. Upon Ruben's death, Lupe stopped listening to the old songs altogether‘«™..
FAST FORWARD: 2006
"Wow! That was a wonderful story grandma!", Dolores said, her eyes watering. "Did you ever find out what happened to Gus?", she asked.
"No, mija", Lupe replied, "His family moved shortly afterwards, and we lost contact with them. Me and your grandfather lead a wonderful life together, and I wouldn't change anything for a million dollars. But we both used to wonder what happened to Gus‘«™.
Dolores left shortly afterwards, remembering the wonderful story her grandmother had just told her. She felt sorry for her grandmother, all alone and all‘«™
A few weeks later, Dolores accompanied her grandmother on her monthly visit to her grandfather's gravesite. As they approached , they noticed a man standing beside the grave. He had planted a small American flag near the gravesite. As he turned to leave, he said "Heard you had a good life, carnal. I'm happy for you. I'll be joining you soon‘«™"
Turning to Lupe and Dolores, the man's eyes widened and began to water. Lupe's mouth opened in a silent scream‘«™.it was Gus Mestas‘«™
"Hello Lupe‘«™you still look great! Do you still dance? Is this your daughter? She looks just like you". The tears in his eyes matched Lupe's as they both embraced , crying and laughing at the same time.
"What happened to you? We used to wonder and wait for you‘«™.then we just wondered‘«™then , we just remembered‘«™", Lupe's voice quivered as she couldn't help but embrace Gus again. "And this is my grand daughter, Gus".
Dolores looked upon the man in stunned silence. Her grandmother's story was still in her heart, and she tried to place the young handsome description to this old, grey haired man.
"Well‘«™I went missing for a couple of months and got captured, before I escaped from a P.O.W. camp. I was sick for awhile due to my wounds and spent more than a year in a Naval Hospital in Japan., where I met my wife, a Japanese nurse. We got married a year later, and we moved to Hawaii, where we lived till about 3 years ago, when she died on me. We never had any kids. My sister died last week, and I came out for the funeral and decided to stay for awhile. I've been trying to look up the old crowd‘«™", he paused as he looked upon Ruben's grave, "..but most of them are gone, and nobody's family lives in the same places anymore‘«™"
"Yeah‘«™it has been over 40 years, Gus..", Lupe said. "Hey, there's still a few of us left. Why don't you come the house this weekend? We can all have dinner and catch up".
"That would be great!", Gus said, his moist eyes lighting up. Tall and thin, he was still an attractive, good looking man, Lupe & Dolores joked after he had left, with Dolores teasing Lupe with "You still got it, grandma !"
The week went by like a dream, as Lupe seemed to come to life and grow younger. Dolores and her mother visited everyday, looking at old photographs while joining Lupe in laughing and crying like they hadn't done in years. Ruben Gomez had given them quite a happy and comfortable life, and they missed him dearly. This little get together was just what the family needed, and just seeing Lupe laugh again gave them all momentum. And they would honor Ruben by inviting all his old friends‘«™and Lupe would finally get to welcome home Gus from Viet Nam after al these years. They cleaned house, they discussed a menu, Lupe called old friends‘«™and she began to play music again, which brought tears of joy to Dolores and her mother.
The night of the party, everybody seemed to know everybody, and a large picture of Ruben had been placed over the fireplace mantle as old stories& memories were told and retold. Dolores and her mother stood back as they surveyed the crowd of older adults and wondered what they must have been like in their youth‘«™.they all looked so vibrant & full of life amongst each other.
All of a sudden, as Dolores put on one of her grandmother's favorite old records, a hush went out over the crowd as the attention turned to Gus & Lupe‘«™.
As the song "La,La,a,La La," began, everybody began clapping and singing along as Gus & Lupe began dancing together, and soon everyone was dancing , clapping, and singing.
As Dolores looked upon her mother and Gus dancing, her eyes began to water, and she could see her mother's and other people's eyes water as well as Lupe & Gus danced like young kids again‘«™.she hid her emotion of happiness as she walked out onto the front porch for a moment.
Looking up into the sky, she said softly‘«™"Thanks, Grandpa‘«™we miss you, so much‘«™I wish Grandma and I could dance with you again‘«™and I hope I can be the kind of Lady Grandma is when I grow up‘«™.
....she walked back into the house singing "La,la,la,la,la‘«™."
Frankie Firme ~ Contributing Editor:
Another short story from the upcoming book "When Vatos Locos ruled the World"
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