“Who’s the writer?”
Those were the first words he spoke to me. My newlywed wife, Stephanie, and I were having a rummage sale in the summer of 2005, and a man old enough to be my grandfather asked the question while holding up the outdated copy of Writer’s Market we’d hoped to sell for a quarter.
We quickly learned a few things about Tom Ramirez:
- He was a local author with more than a hundred paperbacks to his name (and pen names).
- He was a former journalist, even as I was getting my feet wet at the local newspaper.
- He and his wife, Fern, had grown up here in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, and lived in nearby St. Peter.
At some point in the conversation, we exchanged contact information, and it wasn’t long before the Ramirezes invited Steph—whom Tom quickly dubbed “Steffers”—and I to dinner at their beautiful home. Somehow Fern was even friendlier than Tom. In addition to learning more about their fascinating lives and sharing a bit about our own backgrounds, we were taught how to play Mexican Train.
A month or so later, we had them over for dinner at our place.
Early on, I shared some of my writing with Tom, and while he was the furthest thing to a fantasy fan, he must have seen some promise in my work because he invited Steph and I to accompany him and Fern to an Allied Authors meeting in the Milwaukee area. We eagerly took them up on the offer.
I remember feeling like a fish out of water—or maybe a better metaphor would be a goldfish swimming among monolithic ocean dwellers. We were so young, and here we were in the company of published authors and writers who had accomplished so much!
It was a lot to aspire to, but Tom was about as down-to-earth as a man could get. A child of the Great Depression, he had a knack for telling it like it is, praise and criticism alike, which made his feedback on my fiction tough but fair. Meanwhile, Fern was the perfect counterbalance, always ready with a cache of compliments due to her passion for reading.
Steph and I often carpooled with the Ramirezes for these monthly Allied Authors meetings. In the beginning, she and I worried we’d run out of things to talk about with the elderly couple. That never happened. Not even close.
Was it because Tom and Fern were so young at heart? Were Steph and I old souls? Or was the truth, perhaps, somewhere in the middle?
Whatever the case, the trips to and from Milwaukee never devolved into awkward silence. Indeed, the rides were always at least as fun as the meetings themselves, despite the half-century difference in our ages.
My friendship with Tom stretched across 15 years—through the birth of both my children, a couple of career changes, and the publication of my first novels. When it came time for him to self-publish his memoirs, I passed along to my mentor what I had gleaned from my own experiences, assisting him with proofing, layout, the back-cover blurb, and the publishing itself. In some ways, it seemed like a role-reversal, but, really, it was just one good friend helping another.
Up until Tom’s death, we were talking about the possibility of publishing a novel he’d been working on for the past few years, a horror novel that was outside his wheelhouse but of which he was quite proud. I was proud, too—not only because he was writing well into his 90s, but because he wasn’t afraid to tackle something new and unfamiliar.
A recurring theme in a life both long and lush.
If Tom Ramirez hadn’t shown up at our rummage sale, I doubt I would have crossed paths with the Allied Authors, let alone joined the group. My own writing journey would have suffered for that as well as the absence of his stalwart encouragement. Aside from Steph, he was my staunchest supporter, always predicting I had what it took to make it.
“Who’s the writer?”
I am—and I’m a much better one for having known you, Tom. Moreover, you made my life richer beyond the page. I’m blessed to have known you and Fern and to have played some small part in the incredible story that was your life.
Enjoy your epilogue, old friend.
Thomas P. Ramirez passed away on December 18, 2020 at the age of 94. The former teacher, reporter, and author of more than 150 novels and 250 short stories joined the Allied Authors of Wisconsin in 1955. His most recent book was That Wonderful Mexican Band, a memoir about growing up a poor member of a minority group in Fond du Lac during the Great Depression, which was published in 2017.