But enough about all that! Back in the 1950's the Nuns took in female boarders from South America (Venezuela, Columbia, Argentina, Brazil, etc.), taught them English and when they were reasonably conversant, placed them into age appropriate classes. These girls all came from very wealthy South American families and were lodged in a large dormitory on the floor above the new school auditorium. Sister Rose Mary, a firm, steely-eyed, jowly-jawed Nun was in charge of the boarders and watched over them like a mother hen.
The boarders were allowed to attend the monthly chaperoned Saturday school dance to enhance their social skills and to go to approved, chaperoned Sunday matinees at one of the two downtown movie theatres: the Strand Theatre or the San Carlos Theatre (formerly the San Carlos Opera House). There was a third downtown movie theatre…but it showed xxx movies and was naturally off limits!
Then, of course, there was the Islander Drive-In Theatre, affectionately known as the passion pit, on Stock Island, the adjacent Florida Key to Key West…but, the good Sisters never allowed the boarders to go to the drive-in!
Billy Ramon and I got to know the South American boarders and began dating two of them.
I'll never forget when Billy and I first met the boarders. It was at the first Saturday school dance that the boarders attended. Most of the girls could not even speak English at the time. Billy and I were sitting at a table with several other classmates of mine: Joseph Richards, the Coach's son; Donald Antonio, a Navy dependent in our class and Jimmy Steward, a boy born without hands…but was able to write and do absolutely anything else the rest of us could…and better…including dribbling and shooting a basketball!
We were talking and joking around when the boarders entered the dance hall for the first time…Well, our jaws drop to our shoes and our salivating glands go into overdrive when we see them!
The Latina girls enter in a straight line, look around and finally sit down at a long table directly across the rather large dance floor from where we were sitting. Each of the girls had on very plush, rich-looking, bright-colored, knee-length party dresses made with chiffon and Chantilly lace with crinkly petticoats. I don't believe I ever saw the boarders wear the same dress twice! And these were very dressy party gowns that any American girl would die for!
The band started playing and several couples from our school began drifting onto the dance floor. After several dances no one had approached the boarders and asked them to dance. Too awestruck and dumbfounded, I suppose. I could see they were quietly conversing with each other and looking around a little apprehensively…but their feet were tapping to the musical beat under the table.
"Hey, Guys, I'm going over and ask one of them to dance," I finally said. "I hate to see a group being ignored like that, even if they are new."
Billy and I were really among the best dancers since my Mom had put me in a dancing class a few years earlier, when I was about ten years old that was owned by one of her friends. I mean she had to pull me kicking and screaming to that class. I talked Billy into coming with me. Anyway we learned to foxtrot, jitterbug, mambo, rumba and tango! I didn't realize it at the time but the dance lessons came in very handy later on. For instance, I was asked to go to the junior-senior prom as a freshman, sophomore, junior and senior because the older boarders knew I could dance well! The talent greatly contributed to my popularity and reputation as a stud.
The band started playing Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White, a favorite song of mine and one with a Latin mambo-type beat. Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White by Perez Prado (a Cuban born artist) was the number one hit in 1955 and stayed number one on the charts for ten whole weeks! It was finally bumped out of number one by Rock Around the Clock by Bill Haley and the Comets, the song that officially started the rock and roll era.
I get up and start walking across the dance floor toward the boarders' table. As I approach I can see the nervousness mixed with anticipation in their faces.
I had spotted this one girl when the boarders first entered the hall. She was a blonde with a fairer but still tanned-like complexion, like coffee with extra cream. And she had the biggest green eyes! I always thought at this young time in my life that all Latinas were brunettes with black or dark brown eyes…little did I know! Venezuela and other South American countries produce natural blondes with green and blue eyes too!
As I approach closer to their table I can see my chosen girl's eyes are indeed green and very large. I extend my hand to her and ask:
"Would you care to dance?"
The green-eyed blonde looks like a deer caught in a car's headlights! She looks around nervously to one of the older girls at the table and speaks something in Spanish. The older girl, most probably a chaperon, nods affirmatively with a small smile tugging at her lips.
Green eyes looks back at me, nods affirmatively, and extends her hand to mine. We move onto the dance floor. I encircle her waist with my arm and glide her into a smooth, hip swinging, up and back mambo step. She moves effortlessly to my steps and sways and bumps her hips as if they were double-jointed! Beware! Petticoats swinging wide!
"What is your name?" I ask as we move to the mambo beat. She looks at me with a questioning expression and I realize that she speaks very little English at this point.
"¿Cómo te llamas?" I try again in my really limited Spanish.
"Irene Pena," she answers in a really husky, sensual voice…extremely reminiscent of the Italian actress Claudia Cardinale. But Irene's English pronunciation sounded like Itrrrenni Pinya.
The first time I hear her voice and accent I just melt!
Billy, in the meantime, had asked another boarder to dance…a slim cute brunette Argentinean named Lela Fuentes.
Irene, in contrast to Lela, was built more plush; voluptuous even. At 15 years of age she was already sporting what appeared to be a 36C chest! Her ankles were a perfect size flowing out of her peach-colored, high heeled shoes (that matched her dress color) and swelling so smoothly into curvy calves that went up to the hem of her dress and petticoats just at knee level. You just knew from the size and shape of her calves that the upper leg thighs flared nicely upward forming the perfect set of legs for short shorts. Irene was solid.
Billie and I dance the night away with Irene and Lela! We were invited to join them at their table by Nola Nunez; the older, senior class boarder acting as one of the chaperons. Nola was a dark brown-haired girl with piercing hazel eyes from Brazil and a senior at MIHS. She spoke English well but with a strong accent.
Irene's broken and limited English is totally charming and disarming. Lela speaks English a tad better but just barely. She, too, is completely charming with almond shaped black eyes and a pecan tanned complexion.
After several hours of sign language, drawing pictures on napkins and "pig Latin," I learn that Irene's father is a medical doctor in Caracas, Venezuela and her mother is a teacher. Lela's
mother and father are plantation owners in Argentina and grew grapes and made wine.
After the dance, Billy and I walk the boarders back to their dormitory at school which was about 10 blocks from the U.S.O. hall where our school dances were held. I hold hands with Irene during our walk back and get a strange tingling feeling all over. Although I had crushes and so-called girlfriends since I was ten years old, nothing felt quite like this…could this be first adolescent love?