We met in our sophomore year. Young, full of life, full of promise. Eager to take on a young world and experience it. In our junior year, our paths took to slightly different directions. New cliques, new interests. By our senior year, we were focused on entirely new dreams and the promise of a new world awaiting us. Twenty nine years later, we found each other again….on FACEBOOK! Who would have thunk?
I was reading messages, chatting with relatives, looking at photos when I happen upon a familiar name. Curious, I sent an IM and asked the question, “do we know each other from before?” Really. How cheesy was that? But I did know him. And as it turns out, he’s in touch on facebook with more people we knew together. More IMs, more friend requests and next thing I know, I was exchanging emails with 6 girls from my high school in the Philippines who all happen to end up living in San Diego, CA! Like what I said, who would have thunk?
Yesterday, we all got together with our families for a mini-reunion. I prepared a few dishes and the girls decided to bring their own specialties. After all, what’s a Filipino (and partly Americanized) get-together without food…lots of them. Besides, there’s that twenty nine years of gap in our lives we will be attempting to fill. Hopefully not in one night. And that seriously requires sustenance to accomplish!
Gemma arrived first with her 15 year old son. We were classmates all four years of high school. She brought lumpia and a yummilicious cassava cake. As we set her trays with the other dishes of fried rice, puto (steamed rice muffins), quikiam (chicken roll), coconut shrimp, pan de coco and pan de ube, she casually mentioned dropping off her husband at the airport where he is on his way to some poker tournament with his buddies. “Just the boys? Yep, and not returning until Tuesday. So I have all night to chat.” Menchie and Robert came in next with Maricel (minus husband Sitoy). Menchie brought her sister’s famous Maja Blanca dessert. Maricel made pansit palabok. I know of Maricel and Menchie in high school through common friends. Unlike Gemma, we really didn’t hang out together but we knew of each other. “Sitoy okay? Yep. Just resting. I drove with Menchie and Robert. I am all set for an all-nighter.” As we re-arrange the buffet table, the doorbell rang and in came Lisa with husband and 3 kids. And her promised Baked Tortang Talong dish. Her 20-year old daughter made upside down pineapple cake. “Did you get lost? Don’t you have GPS? No I have paper map. And people in my car that gets me confused with directions all the time. But I brought them all so I don’t have time problems.”
Myra finally arrived with her kids and mom. Myra is probably the one I knew the longest since we were neighbors. I had to pass by their house everday to go to the jeepney stop on my way to school. I knew her family and her mom knew my family very well. “Heard you were in an accident on your way here. Yeah. Some lunatic bumped the rear of our car while we were sitting in traffic. Everybody okay? We’re fine. People in San Diego do not know how to drive when it starts raining! You have knife and chopping board? Mom needs to mix the seaweed salad for the fried fish. Is Joanne coming?” Joanne, unfortunately, did not show up. Perhaps she has not read her emails in days. Or maybe they were out of town for Thanksgiving holidays. Joanne and I went through officers training in our junior year for the Citizens Army Training (CAT). You can say that we’ve shared experiences in our junior and senior years that probably made us closer than any of the other girls. Military training has a way of doing that.
As introductions continued (and further confused my husband with names we know he will never remember in one night) the guests were directed to the bar while husband plays bartender. I left to get more food– apple turon, bibingka (rice cakes) and puto bumbong. A few minutes later, somebody yelled, “I’m hungry!”. And we trooped to the table, grabbed our plates and continued talking and re-learning about each other’s lives.
We have all adapted to our lives here. Save for 2, the girls’ husbands proudly served the US Navy for years. Some of their children are following in their footsteps. Interestingly enough, most of them have lived in San Diego since the 90s, about the same decade I arrived here. And yet, our lives didn’t cross paths until now. Myra works for the county, in the same area where I interned for my grad school last fall. I was surprised to learn that she worked just a couple of buildings away from the building were I was reporting for months! Menchie’s office is just 10 minutes from my house. As we relax by the fireplace while the men drink by the bar, our discussion went from reminiscing about stunts we pulled in high school to trying to remember names and faces of other classmates. Of course there is the inevitable sharing of experiences about married life, kids, medical woes and recipes! “Hey, how did you make this puto? Can you give me the recipe? This tastes more like the Filipino puto we are used to, not like the ones you get from 99 Ranch. Sure, it’s easy. Just use rice flour. You have to buy it at Ranch. Do I bake it? No, steam. How about the chicken roll. Can you write it down? It’s in my food blog!!!! Just write it down. Hey, give me a copy, too. Me, too. Wait, let me photocopy this for you. How about I just email them to you? Why don’t you just check the blog?..Lisa, how’d you make this baked torta?”As I try to get Lisa to explain to me how she made the baked eggplant omelette she brought, the other girls were making plans to meet again before Christmas. “Let’s go see a movie at Horton Plaza! Are you free Wednesday? Of course after work. How about lunch? Wait…let’s go to Vegas instead! Yes…just the girls this time.”
Yes, one night is not enough to make up for 29 years. The thing is, we all knew this is just the beginning of the next 29. At least.
Thanksgiving Reunion Menu (Filipino-American style)
Fried Rice, Coconut Shrimp
Baked Tortang Talong (Baked Eggplant Omelette with Ground Turkey Meat)
Fried Fish with Seaweed Salad
Notes: The rest of the recipes will be posted as soon as they become available.