A Blast from the Past

Most people have had a high school or college reunion at some point or another. SJA Class 78 took it further. Thanks to Facebook, we got in touch with our elementary school classmates and held a mini- reunion of sorts. Now if you think old farts like us don’t remember diddly squat about what happened more than 30 years ago, think again. That boisterous bunch of fortysomethings at that San Diego reunion never ran out of stories to tell.

It all started with a friend request from Rene. Now I have seen Rene’s profile in FB but I did not know if he remembered me from way back, so I was surprised and glad to accept his friend request. It all snowballed from there.

Our classmate Gardenia, or Denden, was coming over from the Philippines to visit Cielo. To make Denden’s visit more memorable, Cielo or Balot, as she is called, invited some former classmates, inc Rene, for a mini-reunion to be held at her sister’s house in San Diego. Somehow I managed to wangle myself an invitation. So there I was, on the 10th of April 2010, on a beautiful California day, getting ready to see classmates that I haven’t seen in 32 years. Yeyyyy!!!

I was so excited that I woke up really early that day. At 5 am that Saturday, my house was as quiet as church on a week day. I was a solitary figure tiptoeing in the shadows, bumping into furniture, with my puppy trailing me around.

First order of business, weigh myself. Woah! Just as I thought. That scale is broken again. Then one quick glance at my reflection in the mirror made me realize that, no, that scale is not broken and yes, that is a double chin and not a scarf around my neck. Now what was it those wisecracks said again? Five minutes on your lips, forever on your hips? Hmmm… That dessert after lunch sure settled down nicely on my pelvic area. If you are what you eat, then I am one delicious slice of molten lava cake. Oh well. Unless there was an instant fat zapper around, the one who shows up for this reunion will have to be this big ol’ tub of lard.

Now the best thing to do with a not-so-ideal figure is use camouflage or distraction. I am no chameleon so camouflage is out of the question. Distraction it will have to be then. Hmmm, wild, crazy prints? Nah. Too fattening. Basic black? Nah. Too sombre. Dark colors? Hmmm. Maybe. Might be slimming. There may be hope for me yet.

I was left with a choice between a dark blue button-down blouse vs a dark purple top. I had actually bought the dark blue blouse for the reunion but was having second thoughts. When I tried it on yesterday, my prim and proper younger daughter said it was too revealing and the more adventurous elder one said it was too modest. Who to believe? Not wanting to take sides, I decided to ditch the dark blue blouse for the purple top. I have worn the latter before but I liked the fit. Dark purple top it is then. I am keeping my fingers crossed that this outfit will hide figure flaws as those fashionistas promised.

Second order of business is trying to rustle up the crew. Melanie is easy to wake up. A kiss and a gentle shake are all that’s needed for her to get out of bed. Ronnie is a different story altogether. Used to California tremors, this guy can sleep through practically everything. After several attempts to wake him, the slumbering human log finally wakes up from his coma and hits the shower. We’re off to to a good start.

After a couple of detours ( breakfast at Chow King and bathroom breaks), we are on our way to San Diego. The drive on the 5 Freeway is a relatively smooth and relaxing one, that is, if you don’t have Dale Earnhardt aka my husband on the wheel. As passenger slash captive slash victim, I sometimes wonder if he is aware that he is the driver of an earth-bound vehicle or if he imagines he is a pilot in Top Gun, the movie. There’s also nothing like the sight of brake lights ahead to make him speed up even more then weave in and out of traffic like an Indy race car driver hungry for a trophy. To cope, I just pretend that I am testing a new and wild Magic Mountain ride that no one has ridden before. No way was I going to stress myself out and add another wrinkle to my face map. In the meantime, I noticed something strange about my top. The stitching seemed different. It was only then that I realized that my hurried dressing in the near dark made me wear my blouse inside out! Jeez. Somebody up there is sure testing my patience. No biggie. I will just change as soon as I get to Balot’s house. It would be suicidal to distract my driver by slipping out of my blouse and changing in the car. Besides, we should almost be there. The GPS on my car says we should be there in two hours. Thanks to Speedy Gonzalez right here, I have no doubt we will get there before that.

We arrived to a sumptuous feast prepared by Balot and Bernadette. Lechon, embotido, shrimp, humba, chicken plus many more yummy dishes and desserts… The menu read like one from an authentic Filipino restaurant. But delicious as the food was, my attention was on the attendees of this mini- reunion. Most of the girls here today were classmates from elementary to high school, so they were pretty close- knit. I only knew them from elementary days because I went to a different high school. Still, the welcome they gave me was warm and genuine.

I was introduced toYulinda who was the girls’ classmate in high school. She looked pretty and youthful in her white dress. Like me, she got married early. She was now residing in Texas with her family. Then there was Kathy, or Katots as the girls called her. She was Miss Mandaue in her youth and you can see why. The poise and the figure that earned her several beauty titles were still evident even now. She took time off from her flight attendant duties on Cathay Air just to meet up with everyone. Next was Bernadette, or Bebang as they called her. My friend from my grade school years had retained her charm and warmth. She was glowing with that nice clear skin and serene smile. Next on the list is the host of the reunion, Balot. Now if the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, then Balot must have the shortcut to her hubby’s heart. This lady is an excellent cook capable of making every dish taste gourmet. She was tireless and energetic and gracious. We also got to meet her supportive husband and beautiful kids. The last , but certainly not the least of the girls, is Denden. It was hard to believe that this charmer from way back is now a responsible OB-Gyn who has a very busy private practice in the Philippines. Who says brains and beauty don’t mix? Another interesting thing about Denden was she had a Mini Me, a daughter who was the spitting image of her. Twin, clone or carbon copy — you can call it whatever you want but you will do a double take when you see them together.

Now for the guys… They outnumbered us 8 to 6. If the girls looked good, the guys were just as impressive. First was Ildebrando King. He was the guys’ classmate from high school and I have never met him. It didn’t matter. His smile and hugs were as chummy as if we had known each other all our lives. It was heartwarming. Next was Warren who was also a high school classmate of the guys. Like Ilde, he was a nice and friendly guy. It was easy to be comfortable with him as with all the other guys. Then we had Arnulfo or Noli who flew all from the Philippines for the reunion. Noli managed to maintain his boyish looks. He was also one of the tallest in the group, and he told us that his daughter is even taller than him. Then there was Ronilo who was quiet but had an inner strength about him. He is due to retire from the service this year. He told us that in the Marines, one’s weight and body fat percentage gets measured at a regular basis. If you don’t fall within the criteria, you will get discharged. Without benefits. No wonder he stayed trim and fit. I wonder if the threat of losing one’s livelihood would motivate me and million other Americans to shape up. I am just glad they don’t require that at my work!

We also had a celebrity in the mix. Louie Pons’ claim to fame is that he is the cousin of Gabby Concepcion, a popular movie actor in the Philippines. While Gabby is known for his fair mestizo features, Louie was tall and dark but no less handsome than his famous cousin. Louie had also done some modeling and TV commercial gigs from way back. Louie brought his wife Diane who happened to be the former lead singer of a band in the Philippines called “The Nailclippers.” It was a real treat to meet two people who have known fame and fortune in their lifetime and yet remained humble and down-to-earth like these two. Bonus treat was meeting their two good-looking kids.

Another attendee was Rene, CEO, group organizer, founder and chairman of SJA Class 78. Rene was a charmer as always with his easy-going ways and famous goatee. He was closely guarded, oh I mean accompanied, by his pretty wife and two handsome boys.

Now of all the guys, I will have to beg forgiveness for being partial to the last two, Martin and Ildebrando. These two were my classmates in Section A from Grade 2 to 6. Yeahhhhh. Straight A all the way, baby. Ooops. Sorry if I got a little carried away there. Now where were we? Oh yeah. The last two.

To be honest, I don’t remember much of Martin who was also called Rogelio or Roger in grade school and due to some birth record mix- up now goes by the name Harold. He was never the instigator of trouble but he never turned trouble away either. He was also a good-natured guy who always had a positive outlook towards life. How I surmised that by just looking at his big wide grin I’ll never know. I guess he just sent out good vibes even back then. Now after more than three decades, we have reconnected and my faith in his intrinsic goodness has been reaffirmed. He is just a genuinely great guy with an even greater wife and daughter. Also, a commendable trait about him is that he doesn’t mind being ordered around. Used and abused, I call it. I ask him to run errands for the group and it is done in a flash. My kind of guy. Because of my bossing him around, he named me Princess and called himself Footstool in our FB group. How appropriate.

Now for the piece de resistance… If there was ever a classmate I wanted to look up from grade school, it had to be Ildebrando or Tata. I had such fond memories of this guy that I was so happy to hear from him again and see him again. It seemed like in grade school, every time I turn around there was Tata copying from me, Tata being called to the Principal’s office, Tata getting into trouble. He was prankster, class clown and adventurer in one small package. He was always the life of the party. And on that day in San Diego, he did not disappoint.

Fueled by Smirnoff, he took us down memory lane through its twists and turns. He had us howling with his re-enactment of the playground demonstrations that we as kids had to do back then. Words are inadequate to describe the image of him marching up and down to the beat of a song he himself would sing then snappily turning to the left or right with matching hand movements. We laughed our heads off with this one. He himself confessed that he did not know how he passed his subjects, that the only thing he remembered about school were his escapades, and that he would copy off my paper to get by. All he remembered that was remotely related to lessons was that one time he was asked to read a word on the blackboard. The first syllable was “is” then a dash then “land ” so he read it “issland”. Turned out the word was island (read ay-land.) Nalusi-an inoon sya sa iyang patilya by the teacher. He confessed that he often cut classes to go swimming with Elmer, another classmate. He usually borrowed Elmer’s shorts. The shorts were so big and loose on him because Tata was the smallest of the batch and Elmer was the tallest. Many a time the shorts would fall off him especially when he emerged from the water. That image of him pulling up those oversize shorts as they fell to his ankles cracked everyone up. He also talked about how crazy recess time was at SJA. It was like this frantic free-for-all with everybody rushing to buy food from understaffed cafeteria workers who had to deal with one hungry and unruly mob. The talk also touched on how people in the Philippines could cram into cars and motorbikes, sometimes 8 in a Volkswagen and five on a motorbike. Well, most people there are small and skinny anyway. Besides, there are no strict seatbelt laws because there are no seatbelts. Tata also shared with us his experiences in the Navy as a paramedic. All the gore and his near-brushes with death. He also told us that he got teased a lot about his height. They would yell out to him “Millares, stand up” and he would try to pull himself up even higher among the giants that surrounded him and yell back “I am standing up.” He also told us that he was reluctant to join Facebook because he did not want to get hooked. Now, every time he would get a break from his nursing class, he would rush to the library supposedly to research but actually to check FB. When he would look around feeling guilty, he realized everyone else was checking up FB too. We were teasing him about his wife’s picture with her sexy cleavage and we threatened to tag him in FB with that picture to which he replied, pointing to her cleavage, “Yes, tag me and write Tata was here. Last night. Swimming. Or drowning.” Of course, everyone howled at that one.

Tata brought along his son, a kid with such perfect features that his dad credited it to “the stars being aligned right the night we made him.” This kid reminded me of my dear old friend, although he was a younger, more angelic and definitely more tisoy (sorry, Ta) version of him. I wanted to hug him and pepper him with kisses, but I did not want to be remembered as the weird “auntie” at the reunion who pinched his cheeks and slobbered all over him. So I restrained myself and was content with having my picture taken with him.  “Cheese.”

Tata also shared with us how this trend of the ladies wearing low-waist jeans got him an eyeful each time. The ladies would be sitting in front of him in class with their thongs peeking out from behind. If the lady was skinny, it was a tiny V-shape ( with accompanying hand demonstration from Tata with help from the audience.) The heavier the lady, the wider the V-shape was. Again, this demonstration was greeted with laughter.

The biggest revelation of the day was that Tata was “blessed” to have been the biggest Kwaknit watcher in the history of SJA. What is Kwaknit you ask? The following is Tata’s explanation of the above phenomenon.

Ok Ladies diiha sa Cebu..Ang analogy ng “kwaknits” in relation to sa mga ladies noon sa grade school, usa na siya ka “wardrobe” na dili dapat makit-an kay naa na sa “Cave” ba. Pero sometimes due to events na unknowingly nahitabo and pagka-suerte for the guys in the spare of the moment, makit-an mga “t-pants” aka “kwaknits” because dili man manapo ug sige lang bilangkad ang mga babae diha sa SJA noon..Dili lang nako explicitly e-describe sa FB kay public forum baya ni..basin ma “Ban” ko diri..hahahah
 

Get it? Tata was the happy recipient of wardrobe malfunction long before Janet Jackson made it famous. Don’t worry though, ladies. Tata would not be able to identify anyone in a line-up. He has a strict “don’t look them in the eye” policy. He saw a lot of kwaknits in his time but cannot match face to kwaknit, or so he says.

Tata kept us entertained the whole day until we got hungry again from laughing our heads off. Warren and Harold to the rescue! Harold put on his makeshift plastic bag/ apron and proceeded to do surgery on the hapless lechon. Whether it was vasectomy or post-mortem care he was doing to the poor pig, we did not care. All that mattered was that Warren who is a chef was waiting in the sidelines to cook paksiw for us.

We took pictures the entire day, both candid and posed. If you wanna know the secret of us looking good in the pics, it is all because of the magic formula that my hubby came up with “One, two, three…Hiyak (Suck it in.)” One time, we had a bunch of flash bulbs going off so we kept sucking in our tummy until we were almost blue in the face. Naka-relax na lang when the paparazzi went away. Ahh, the life of a celebrity…

Still not tired of seeing each other, we gathered inside the house to look at the pictures of us in the reunion courtesy of Harold. What a beautiful ending to a beautiful day. Certainly, nobody wanted to say goodbye.

Somebody in the group posed this question: why does a reunion with grade school classmates seem sweeter than high school or college? Well, high school is fun too in that you are at the cusp of adolescence, bordering between child and adult, discovering the opposite sex and discovering yourself in the process. College you are older and hopefully wiser and you share similar interests with your peers. But grade school, you are just a snot-nosed kid rubbing elbows with even snottier- nosed kids with not a care in the world. All that mattered was playing games with your buddies. The grubbier you got, the better. I guess seeing your elementary school friends after all these years erases all the cares of adulthood, if only for a moment. A reunion such as this brings you back to a time when everything was filled with innocence and wonder. It brings you back to a magical place called … Childhood.

See you at the next reunion.

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16 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. balot freires
    Apr 24, 2010 @ 18:34:33

    Em, i did not want your story to end as i was reading thru it.. wow!!! that is all i can say!!!!

    Reply

  2. Ildebrando Millares
    Apr 24, 2010 @ 21:07:07

    Emma wrote,..”you are just a snot-nosed kid rubbing elbows with even snottier- nosed kids with not a care in the world””‘..I was this kid in grade school, I had fun, so much fun that forever will I remember. Emma, you were so much ahead and advanced in our grade school days. Now, I perfectly understand that your astute mind is meant to write stories like this for us to mesmerize..Thank you, thank you..

    Reply

  3. emmblu
    Apr 25, 2010 @ 06:22:08

    Balot, you did not want the story to end because you and everyone else involved did not want that day to end either. Remember, you were a big reason the whole thing was a success.

    Tata, I forgot to mention your son so here goes…

    “Tata brought along his son, a kid with such perfect features that his dad credited it to “the stars being aligned right the night we made him.” This kid reminded me of my dear old friend, although he was a younger, more angelic and definitely more tisoy (sorry, Ta) version of him. I wanted to hug him and pepper him with kisses, but I did not want to be remembered as the weird “auntie” at the reunion who pinched his cheeks and slobbered all over him. So I restrained myself and was content with having my picture taken with him. “Cheese.”

    So there.

    Reply

  4. bebang lozano
    Apr 26, 2010 @ 21:26:09

    WOW Em!!! it seems that I just finished reading an article from a popular magazine….You really have the talent!! Detailed pa kaayo from start to finish..GO GO EM!!!!

    Reply

  5. Rene Tirado
    Apr 28, 2010 @ 08:15:10

    On that fine day in San Diego, twas really trully a memorable day thanks a bunch Emmss for putting it to words. I can read this all day long… And thanks to everybody who took time off from there busy schedules for makin it happen…

    Reply

  6. Harold Tan Cabahug
    Apr 28, 2010 @ 11:49:02

    Emms, as your fellow classmates have voiced out their opinions, I do so too here. Great job. Your eloquence is beyond compare. The SD-2010 Reunion was not complete without this biography/documentary. There is no doubt in everyone’s mind that you are gifted with a skill we can only dream of. I am sorry to inform you that (due to popular demand), you have been nominated to write everyone’s biography from now on. This also includes the 2012 Grand Reunion documentary. Cheers!!! 🙂

    Reply

  7. emmblu
    Apr 29, 2010 @ 18:32:18

    Bebang, Rene and Harold, thank you for your kind words of encouragement,but as I had written earlier, this reunion piece was a success because of the people in it. Hope to see you all again in 2012.

    Reply

  8. Katz
    May 03, 2010 @ 21:17:56

    Great job Ems…you’re so talented. It was easy for you to write everything into words where most people have a hard time doing so…Keep up the good work!

    Reply

  9. Cosette Tarona
    May 06, 2010 @ 02:54:21

    Em,preserve your story in a batch magazine. this will be your legacy.

    Reply

  10. Cosette Tarona
    May 06, 2010 @ 03:05:29

    P.S. I love the ending, “a time when everything was filled with innocence and wonder. It brings you back to a magical place called … Childhood.”
    yes, childhood, it’s magic when you’re 40 something.

    Reply

    • emmblu
      May 07, 2010 @ 22:56:50

      Tet, Katz and to all concerned, thank you for taking the time to read this and my other articles. A little appreciation goes a long way, let me assure you…

      Reply

  11. Cosette Tarona
    May 06, 2010 @ 06:17:02

    Em,better preserve your story in a batch magazine. It will be your legacy.

    Reply

  12. bobong
    May 23, 2012 @ 09:39:37

    tata…..ang kanang imong storya nga “KWAK-NIT” hapit nako maka limot ni-ana…hehehe…pero when i perused the story line of EMZ….i readily remembered nga mao man jud na imong gina storya pirme namu….remember the time when you usually biked your way sa house then mag duwa tag basketball…nya sige ka panglibak og kinsay imong na kit-an? wahhhh…..

    Reply

  13. bobong
    May 23, 2012 @ 09:44:49

    emz…..your’re still the very same emma fernandez balberan that i kniew of…..nga ma-anindut mo sulat og unsay imong gibati, nakit-an, og sa pagpadayag sa imong nahibal-an…..hina-ut pa unta nga aduna kay ma gama/mabuhat nga usa ka libro nga naghulagway sa atong gigikanan….hangtud sa og unsa na kita karun….

    Reply

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