WHEN PHILIP Belarmino messaged me on Labor Day (5 September) about changing the evening’s dinner venue, I realized the adeptness of my high school batch mates in organizing such gatherings in the Bay Area. Bong (now Bhoc) Chavez and Mel Favila had advised Philip about the closure of Intramuros restaurant in San Francisco that night, so the venue shifted to Kuya’s in San Bruno.
The “UPIS’82 North California” chapter, as we call Philip and the rest, is clearly used to visitors, and their hospitality is remarkable. Doy Ver traveled through heavy traffic (it was the end of a busy Labor Day weekend). Edith Fortez-Kawai footed the full dinner bill. Philip picked me up and bestowed a tee shirt and fridge magnets upon me. What a lovely way to be welcomed to their community.
The men—and lady—all looked healthy and well. Bong seems to me the unassuming “big daddy” of the group: his erstwhile house was apparently the hub of previous gatherings. He is also the first in the group to have relocated to northern California. He is as soft-spoken and easy to laugh as I remember him back in high school.
On Facebook, Mel is mischievous with his posts and looks massive in photos. In person, he is surprisingly restrained, laughing a lot but joking a little. He is also a buff-looking hunk of a guy, a pleasant result of years of weight training. He looks a lot younger than what I expected. This man is a picture of contentment. I am happy to see how happy he seems to be.I kept teasing Philip that night about being an elitist snob in high school. He sang with the exclusive UP Cherubim, and he led with the CMT officer corps. And if that was not enough, he was an honor graduate. He is still as pleasantly articulate as the “little boy” I used to walk with in the corridors of grade school. While my chats with him that night were brief, I am glad to have personally reconnected with him after all these years.
You know you are talking to a civil servant with Doy: he carries himself with dignity and endearment. Our beloved consul has come a long way, from representing our high school on basketball courts to representing our country on diplomatic courts. The hair has gone grayer since I last saw him in 2005, and this has given his handsome face a striking character that befits his stature.
I never imagined Leven Puno to be tall. In fact, he seems to be the tallest in the group. And he also looks the youngest—probably the reward of being a single man in his forties. He is funny and he is chatty. I enjoyed seeing the humorous interactions between Leven and the rest, especially Mel. A tall, handsome, and funny nurse. His patients are lucky.
And then there is the rose amongst the thorns, Edith. My, what a rose. She is incredibly lovely and incredibly poised. It may have been the result of so many years of being a flight attendant, but Edith seems to have a natural flair for elegance. Everything about her is smart and cool: her hair, the scarf around her neck, her sporty humor. I relished looking at and listening to her that evening.
We parted ways after a midnight round of coffee, gossip, and promises to meet again, whether in the United States or in India. Seeing high school friends is always delightful; this particular gathering in northern California will remain unforgettable.
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