Yvonne Gretta stood trembling on her front porch, clutching an original 45 record of The Drifters’ 1960 hit “Save the Last Dance For Me” that she’d purchased as a teenager.
The ink on the just-autographed record was barely dry as the members of the legendary R&B group, founded in the 1950s, pulled away from Gretta’s Sanford home in a stretch limousine that was bound for a concert and more waiting fans.
Gretta’s magic moment was one that few people experience and one she nearly missed because of a nap.
The Drifters were in town for a July 1 concert at Goodall Park but Gretta was unable to attend due to mobility issues.
On that day, Gretta was exhausted from a busy morning. So she turned off the ringer on her telephone and took a nap.
Meanwhile, Sanford-Springvale Chamber of Commerce president Rick Stanley was doing double duty as the Drifters’ tour guide and chaperone while they were in town.
Knowing that Gretta could not attend the show, Stanley asked the group, which includes Charlie Thomas, Stephen Brown, Louis Bailey and James Manning, if they minded making a quick stop to meet a longtime fan.
Gretta was in a deep sleep when the group stood knocking at her front door. She never heard a thing.
But her neighbors, Martin McKeon and Wendall Kennedy, spotted The Drifters limousine and came over to see what all the fuss was about.
McKeon made a few unsuccessful attempts to reach Gretta by telephone. So the Drifters left her a CD as their calling card.
McKeon’s third message, left on Gretta’s answering machine, finally roused her.
“But it was too late,” said McKeon. “The limo was already down the street. Wendall tried running after it to flag them down. But they didn’t see him.”
Gretta stood on her front porch, bewildered and a tad shell-shocked from her interrupted nap.
“I had no idea they were coming and I looked like ‘who did it and ran’ with my hair shooting out and no make-up on,” said Gretta. “Rick wanted to surprise me.”
Gretta managed to track down Stanley’s cellphone number, but by that time it was too late to come back. Stanley couldn’t promise they’d return but said he’d try.
Gretta was disappointed to have missed the Drifters but grateful to have been so kindly thought of.
She took comfort in knowing she still had all of the group’s albums to listen to at her leisure. They include hits such as “This Magic Moment,” “Stand By Me” and ” Under the Boardwalk.”
Still, Gretta was too nervous to go back to sleep if there was a chance the Drifters might come back.
She paced a bit and put on a pot of coffee.
About 5:30 p.m., Stanley called to say the group had a few minutes before their show and they were on their way to her home.
“I have never put make-up on so fast!” said Gretta, who grabbed the old Drifters 45 as she headed out to meet them.
Stanley said that when the Drifters first attempted to visit Gretta, they had just arrived in town and were dressed in sweatpants and jeans and neighbors wondered who they were.
“This time, they were decked out in tuxedos for their performance and as their limo drove up, neighbors lined the street with cameras,” said Stanley.
“Gretta stood on her porch shaking, with tears in her eyes as Thomas got out of the limo, walked up to her and said ‘Hi, Yvonne, I’m Charlie Thomas’ and gave her a hug and a kiss. Yvonne then pulls this 45 record out from behind her back and asks him to autograph it.”
Gretta got the autograph, but first she was serenaded by Thomas, who looked at the old record, smiled and began to sing the song.
“As he did so, the other band members joined him on the porch …,” said Stanley. “She just melted.”
As Gretta recalled it, “I have this vision of them walking towards me, all spiffed up in their tuxedos. It was … a once-in -a-lifetime thing. Rick gave me an unbelievable gift!”
Stanley was equally impressed.
“The Drifters put on a really great show that night at the concert, but what they did for Yvonne was by far the favorite part of the day for me,” he said. “This was a classy bunch of guys.”
Deborah Sayer can be contacted at 791-6308 or at: