June 2010 Edition

CIM Class 1972 web site publication.

Escape to the Smoky Mountains, May 2010

(Written Account of the CIM Class 1972 Reunion, Smoky Mountains, Tennessee)

Cle S. Estrera, Jr.

"Look at the weaknesses of others with compassion, not accusation. It's not what they're not doing or should be doing that's the issue. The issue is your own chosen response to the situation and what you should be doing. If you start to think the problem is "out there," stop yourself. That thought is the problem." -- Stephen Covey

    Can you believe it is already the 6th month of a year? We are at the halfway point of 2010. Wow!

     You know what that means. Don’t you? We are all getting old. Arthritis, Alzheimer’s, osteoporosis, cardiovascular and metabolic diseases, etc., are waiting for us down the road if they haven’t come to us yet. Wouldn’t it be nice to spend few days together with classmates and friends before we are on wheelchair or on portable oxygen tank? Wouldn’t it be fun to relate to each other the pleasant and perhaps the not-so-pleasant memories of our student days for old time sake or just for laughs? Who could do it better than your own classmates to bring you back to those days and make you feel young again?

    Indeed even the most previous memories fade with the passage of time, and that’s exactly the reason why we need people like our classmates in particular to bring back those memories and to share each other’s experiences, for we can easily relate to each other since most of us struggled with the same temptations and surrendered to the same destiny. And that’s exactly the reason why we, of the CIM Class 1972, hold our reunion like a big family reunion every two years.  As much as we could, we want to relive those days or hours in which we first knew love, or ecstasy, in which we learned to simply laugh at our own miscues, mischief and mistakes, in which we realized that seriousness in life is not to our own advantage, and in which we made a choice that forever altered our future, negating life we might have had. It is in this kind of occasion – the friendship, the bonding – that has a way of interlocking our lives like enzyme recognizing molecule that might complete them.

    Of course, nobody would stop you if you just want to go on with your own journey to old age without looking back. But if you’re troubled by the ups and downs of your mood swings, you’re not too serious or too busy to laugh, and you want a break from your fast-pace routines that have started to accelerate your wrinkles and gray hairs, erratically raise your blood pressure and cholesterol levels to new highs, and bring down your energy level to new low, then let the child within you come out to play. Adults don’t usually play, because if an activity doesn’t have a goal or an end result, such as receiving recognition or some sort of award, then it’s often not considered a valid way to spend time. We don’t know about you but we, of the CIM Class 1972, don’t want to grow up. We want to play and laugh. Play is lighthearted activity, like in our class reunion where there are no schedules to follow, and virtually no agenda to discuss, that has no purpose and only one ingredient – having fun.

    Experiences have taught me that life doesn’t always give you what you plan for. In fact, you often get the exact opposite of what you expect. You’ve got to learn to laugh at the irony and turn your frustration, upset or anger at least to a chuckle. Wouldn’t it be better if you share your ironies with your own friends or classmates who can relate to you and have some laughs? You may even learn to laugh, instead of being troubled by your own mood swings. You see, with laughter comes the realization that all things come to pass and that life evolves through cycles of change. Resisting the cycles of life brings pain, flowing with the cycles and enjoying them keeps you healthier and happier. Gahan Wilson says, “Life essentially doesn’t work. And that’s the basis of endless humor.” Ironies are like testaments of the wayward nature of life.

Friday, May 28,
    Fun is what we wanted and fun is what we had during our Class 1972 reunion at the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee from May 28 – 31, 2010. It was not only a needed break for everyone - it was also a sort of reminder that friendly and harmonious relationships with each other can be formed and can last for years or even forever – if we are willing and honest enough to try. And try, we did, for just driving the winding road to the top of one of the mountains where the cabin we rented was located was more than enough testament of our willingness, not to mention the bumper to bumper traffic on the highway toward the mountains the 15 miles of which that we had to drive through delayed us for about an hour.

    It was a long drive from Virginia to the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee but to those of us who drove from other states like Ohio, Texas, Florida, Kentucky, etc., it was all worth it. Most, if not all of us, got lost when we got to the place because many had the GPS that lost the signal as they started driving uphill. But my Garmin GPS did not lose the signal and did all the navigating. I got lost just a block away though only because I did not follow its direction.  Nevertheless the road toward our cabin can sober you up. It would fit only two cars side by side. There are no guard rails and no shoulder on both sides so that if you miss the road, you’d end up falling down hundreds of feet below. It’s enough warning to tell you not to drink and drive, and that it is advisable to simply stay in your cabin during the night or when it is raining unless you have to go.

    The panoramic view of the mountains from our vantage point is breathtaking. It is spectacular. The beauty is something to behold - fresh, pure and pristine like a pretty virgin. When we arrived on the Friday afternoon, the mountains around us were partially covered with fog or clouds that looked like smokes. They seemed to hover protectively over the lower slopes, exposing the top of the tallest mountain, and the golden glow of the sunset streamed through the notchbacks of the ridgeline. In the night with the almost full moon above, the panoramic sight is awesome. It is heaven…. Well, maybe not, but it’s close to it. You can almost feel the presence of God as if He says: “Go ahead, feel free to indulge yourself with the beauty of my creation.”

    As one by one came into the cabin, you could feel the excitement like the days they have been waiting for have finally arrived. The anticipation of those who came in earlier was like something that hung in the air, like the promise of thunder before the first winds begin to rattle the trees. We waited for those who were arriving late into the night. Worried that they could get lost on their way, Linda Millijor waited for them at the corner where they needed to turn toward the road to the mountain. As soon as everyone was in as they are supposed to, the real fun began. Excitement turned to laughter and laughter began to explode like thunder way into the night. There is a stage in your life when you just laugh even if the joke is on you – a stage of emotional maturity. It’s the stage in which you are aware that you have the choice of how you take a joke and feel, and you know that things will go on regardless of how you feel. We all slept late Friday night.

Saturday, May 29
    Like an old man whose sleep pattern has changed that no matter how little sleep he had the previous night, Benfer Aranton woke up early on Saturday morning like he wanted to be the first of the hundreds to line up to apply for a job he desperately needs. The noise he made playing the billiard pool woke me, Ray, Frax and Pedot up. It was good though because we were there to witness the first light of dawn that reached the peak of the tallest mountain at the distance. As the sun rose, the sunlight slowly flowed down from the summit almost like liquid, dissipating the fog that covered its base and the lower mountains before it reached us. It was then when we realized that we, the boys, had to cook breakfast for all the 36 of us.

     Pedot Gonzales took charge and supervised the cooking - scrambled eggs with onions and tomatoes, fried rice, sausage, etc. But he scrambled all the eggs as if there are chicken nearby laying eggs everyday for us. Benfer did the looking for and preparing the spices and other ingredients but we all had a hard time and had to bang our heads against kitchen cabinets and refrigerators’ doors, looking for the tomatoes that Leni put way back in the refrigerator and out of sight. Frax did the slicing and dicing spices and vegetables, and Ray did the cooking with the whispered condition not to tell Emma about it or he would be cooking breakfast at home every morning.

    Well, Ray, it’s time to reverse role at home now. Let Emma wake up with breakfast ready. Or better serve breakfast in bed every now and then especially on weekends. It could be really romantic. It may be very well wake up that which is asleep.

    For some reason, everything tasted good, even the coffee was gone so quick that we had to make the coffee 4 times with the two 12-cups coffee makers and it was not Starbuck’s. The ladies did the dishes after which they began planning and preparing for lunch. Teddy Remandaban came and joined with the fun, bringing a couple of six-packs San Miguel beer.

    As usual, memories were shared, jokes were exchanged and laughter exploded like fireworks on July 4th celebration. I don’t know how they do it but there are those like Pompei and Rene Bollozos who seem to have part of their brain filled with jokes for an easy recall because they tell jokes in succession as though they simply pick them like dollar bills from their pockets. The laughter was almost non-stop and the few whose tummy ached from laughing quietly moved away from the group till their ache subsided only to come back soon because they could not resist for long the jokes and the laughter.

    After breakfast, a group of us took a walk down the mountain but some protested when Linda Millijor wanted to go farther down all because they kept looking back and thus gotten worried that they might have a hard time making it back, for it is a steep climb. But it was a good walk. It loosened our tummies that the breakfast had tightened. Pedot and Benfer who did not join the walk, went to the fitness center and then to the Jacuzzi and swimming pool. These senior citizens pretended to enjoy the bubbly water in the Jacuzzi, aware that Flor and Isabel were up at the pavilion watching them, but I saw them glancing as often as they could at the young lady on a bikini, lying on a reclining chair sunbathing. They way Pedot and Benfer look, they were wondering what does it look like underneath that bikini.

    Lunch was served with delicious impanada that Ed and Vivian brought with them, grilled Bratwurst that Joe and Elena brought from Wisconsin, grilled corn and some seafood salad, fruit and vegetable salads. Pedot and I did the grilling outside on three charcoal grills. As much as we wanted and eager to start, the lighter failed and no one had a match and thus we could not light the charcoal. Going back to the store would take at least 30 minutes and it was getting late for lunch. Mike and Teddy’s resourcefulness saved the day. They used Teddy’s Range Rover’s lighter to light a fire. Nobody seemed to think of it except them.

    Sometimes when we are preoccupied with what we expected things to be or supposed to be, we draw blank of what to do when they are not. It’s like one of my neighbors when we had ice storm years ago and lost power for more than a week, the wife called and asked if we had any idea of what to do with their several pounds meat in the freezer. She could not think that the outside had become a huge freezer.

   Lunch was delicious and with the abundant supply of different kinds of beers, the jokes, the laughter and the stories became endless. Later on, few retired themselves to take a nap and the ladies went on to practice their dancing moves.

   In the late afternoon we went to church, a small catholic church that almost overflowed with people about 70% of them were tourists. As tourists, we got the priest’s special blessing. Nevertheless the sermon was good, something worth mulling over - something that made me feel like the priest had read one of my articles in Brainwaves. It’s about change that you should never attempt to change others including your own spouse, for the only person you can really change is yourself since it’s the only one you have full control over.  If it is your want or wish, let alone your intention to change your spouse before you get married, you are better off to leave and call it off, for married life would be chaotic, fraught with frustrations, bitterness, resentments and unhappiness. Your spouse’s attitude or behavior is not within your full control unless your wish is to enslave or impose tyranny in your own household. Mary Washington said: “I have learned that the greater part of our misery or unhappiness is determined not by our circumstance but by our disposition.”

   Dinner was served with oven-cooked lechon, pansit bihon, fruit and vegetable salads, etc., prepared by the ladies. It was great, not because we were hungry, but because the home-cooking was fantastic. After dinner we had some presentations – talent in singing the karaoke by Del Quijano whose voice has gotten even better year after year in the likes of Munro and Sinatra, and the angelic voice of Gilda Bollozos after which were the play directed and choreographed by Linda Millijor and the dance choreographed by Dita Jubay. The play was funny that it gave many of us a tummy ache. I believe the title of Linda’s play was “If I were not a doctor…” The characters were played by Leni, Edward, Vivian and Pompei. I haven’t seen them practicing it but every one of them did well in their corresponding role. We, the men, exploded with laughter while the women shrieked when Pompei came out sexily dressed like a stripper. He played as the Brazilian whore.

    The finale was the dance choreographed by Dita and performed by her beloved husband Pompei who was dressed as a female hula-hula dancer dancing hula-hula – Pearly Shells. We could hardly hear the music because everyone was shrieking and laughing so hard. Pompei was serious and danced even better than those Hawaiian dancers, swaying his hips gracefully and sexily like he was in one of those beaches in Hawaii, entertaining special guests in a way as though he could be hired for a night if the price is right. Benfer, who had more than enough beer already, could not keep his eyes off Pompei, said: “Guapa man diay ni si Pompei.” Pedot and I had to make sure Benfer would not make any inappropriate move. Pompei and Dita are an amazing couple.

    There was something about Linda that made us rely on to make our reunion more fun. We felt it but we just could not define. We knew her sincerity and we all believe in it, but it was more than that. We are aware of her kindness, consideration and selflessness but they are parts of what she is. Now we know that she has a secret talent, a creative imagination, the ability to think of something to make our reunion a blast that would lighten our hearts as we head home and continue to tickle our funny bones for many more days, weeks or even months and years to come. She gave us not only a pleasant memory that would make us laugh in our sleep, but also a beginning of what could be a lot better and funnier future reunions.

     After the presentation we had the bingo game with so many prizes courtesy of Linda Millijor. It seemed as if everyone won something except me. I’ve never won anything from a game of chance. For whatever reason, Lady Luck has never smiled at me. But I have the feeling that one day, she would want to have a date with me.

   Before we went to bed, the ladies strongly expressed their desire that no one should make any noise until at least after 9:00 A.M. We all stayed in the same cabin and thus we all were vulnerable to be disturbed and waken up by the commotion in the kitchen or the living room.

Sunday, May 30
    True to our gentlemen’s agreement, Benfer woke up very early again on Sunday morning but he was so quiet like a tom cat preying on a mouse that nobody knew who made the coffee so early in the morning. When we went to the kitchen to prepare for breakfast, the coffee was ready and Benfer even placed the corresponding coffee cans on the coffee makers to let us know which one is regular and which one is decaffeinated. He maybe an old man but he definitely had a good sense of consideration, and knew what needs to be done.

    For breakfast, Teddy was the cook, Dennis did the slicing and dicing of the vegetables and with the help of Henry and Siegfred, it went smooth. Teddy cooked the fried rice and corned beef. It’s amazing to watch Teddy cooking because he was so careful and precise like he was administering anesthesia on an extremely obese woman having bariatric surgery. Not even a single grain of rice spilled over the frying pan. He knew what he was doing and he wanted the tomatoes and onions cut to certain sizes. Despite the lack of eggs because Pedot used them all the morning before, the fried rice and the corned beef turned out great. Teddy used me as the taster before serving them and they tasted good. It does look like that Ping’s genius in cooking has rubbed off on Teddy. Ping, Teddy’s wife, could not join with us because she was in the Philippines.

    After breakfast, we listened to Rene and Joe’s personal story with the intensity of watching a thriller movie. Rene Bollozos was in Cambodia, working in the U.S. supported hospital during the later part of the Vietnam War when the guerillas were winning and started to overcome the U.S. military there. When Saigon fell, the hospital was in precarious situation. Soon evacuation was underway and helicopters were coming for them, for the guerillas were about to swarm the place. While the helicopters were waiting for everyone, with 30 minutes to spare, instead of running for his life with his tail between his legs, Rene made a quick decision. He ran down to the laboratory and took a couple of expensive microscopes with him. Can you imagine the risk and the thrill? Some people would probably think it was an act of craziness, if not stupidity. To me, it was a demonstration of man’s raw courage, coolness, and calmness. After all, those microscopes and other equipments, if not burned or destroyed by the guerillas, would become the spoils of war to be shared by the victors. But when you are about to become the vanquished, you should take every advantage to keep or save as much as you can or your enemies will have them. You take the risk and if you succeed, you are rewarded. But if you fail, you suffer the consequences that could include torture and death. Rene took the risk and got to keep the microscopes which he later on sold in Cebu. After Cambodia, he became more determined to be with Gilda who went to Canada from Switzerland.

    Joe Graciosa was in Iran during the regime of the Shah. He was assigned as the only doctor to a remote village in the desert. Many Filipino doctors from Manila laughed at him because he was so far from the madding crowd where the only entertainment was watching the Bedouins riding on their camels. But Joe was provided with a house having a swimming pool and lived like a sheik. He had Iranian soldiers protecting him. One day, his neighbor’s house was on fire, and as he watched the burning house on top of his residence’s concrete fence, he was surprised that no one was doing anything to help put off the fire. When he asked the soldiers, he was told that there is no water, let alone firemen. So he organized a bucket brigade using the water in the swimming pool to help put off the fire which the soldiers initially protested because they said that it’s Joe’s swimming pool but Joe persuaded them.

    It was that act of kindness that earned Joe the Muslim brotherhood and he was called “Musama”, the most respected name for a non-Muslim person. It was also the beginning of a beautiful twist of fate. The sister of the Shah and the Minister of Health heard about it. Joe always wanted to come to the U.S. all for the love of Elena, and the only way he could do it was to have an approved visa from the American Embassy in Iran who never issued visa to Filipino doctors unless they have a signed contract renewal. They only have a year contract. Because of what Joe did, he was able to get a contract signed by the Minister of Health and subsequently a visa to visit the U.S. He went directly to Elena and asked for her hand. Elena could not resist. But then, who could resist true love especially from a gentleman like Joe?

    These are amazing stories to hear especially from those that matter to you like your friends or classmates. Many of us have had some sort of crossroad in our life. It’s like a fork on the road that whichever road you choose to follow would lead to your destiny and change your life forever. One of the roads could lead to your desires; the other could lead to your disappointments. Making decision therefore would not be easy. So the end result is either you are being grateful and happy with the choice you made, or you end up having regrets and are constantly wondering what might have been for the rest of your life. But the choice is all yours, not anyone else. We all have to keep in mind though that life is what it is. It seldom matches our hopes and dreams, but it never fails to be exactly what we need. So wherever it takes us, we just flow with it. Life ceases to be life when you allow it to be tortured by regrets and self-pity.

    Again, the ladies prepared our lunch the main courses of which were mongo beans soup with spinach and chicken adobo. It was fitting because mongo beans used to be served in the Philippines during tapos, for it was the last day of our reunion. But Leni has a unique technique of cooking chicken adobo. The result is that the meat is completely detached from the bones and you can easily pick the bones away and have boneless adobo. You don’t have to worry about having a chicken bone getting stuck in your throat. It was tasty but it was gone before I could get a second helping. The boys ate more of it while drinking beer. The mongo bean soup with spinach was great. I had several helpings of it and it did what it usually does – it heated up my body and made me perspire.

    Because there were still many more prizes to win away, we again played the bingo, and then after the bingo, we bid farewell, for we had to vacate the place early in the morning. My wife and I left late Sunday afternoon, for we had to stop by at North Carolina to see our daughter who had the virus and to play with our grandson. The drive was safe and smooth although our ears were stuffed up because of the pressure from high altitude. If there were few friends I was little worried about while driving home, they were Ray and Benfer, for Ray was sick with flu-like symptoms and Benfer, who admits he is getting slow, had to drive 15 hours straight home. Thank God. Both arrived home safe and sound. At least Benfer still has the energy of youth. And it was brought to my attention that everyone came back home safe and sound.

Acknowledgement and Appreciation
    Perhaps because my experiences in life have been mostly unpleasant and many of my expectations have been nothing more than disappointments, that I had never thought for a moment that our class reunion would go on after the second and at most the third time. Yet it has gone on and it is even getting better and better every time while our bond of friendship has been firmly cemented. I did not bother to ask myself why or what makes us tick. Or what separates us from any other class organization? Through the years, it became pretty clear to me that our cooperation and harmony have penetrated to deeper levels – the levels of heart and soul.

    There was never a dull moment during our reunion. If there was anything we were short of, it was not friendship, love, life, jokes or laughter. Whatever it is that we lacked of, I don’t think anyone of us care. I certainly don’t. But what made our reunion meaningful to us is that we sincerely shared our joy. We are willing to go to the length to cultivate our relationship and solidify our bond. Joy is not something you keep for yourself; it’s something you share with people that matter to you.

    Suffice it to say, our reunion would not have gone on without the essential contribution of a couple of members for whom we really owe our appreciation. If there is someone we all trust and rely on to make good decision on anything that’s worth the money, it is Leni Espiritu. Leni is the embodiment of trustworthiness. She makes decision with what’s-right-and-good-for-all-of-us in mind. We depend so much on her that it’s almost impossible to imagine our class organization without her. Our jokes maybe on her every now and then for which she would just smile or laugh, but the truth is, we are all grateful for and proud of her. If anything, we will never trade Leni for anyone from any other class organization.

    Any organization’s reunion needs pictures not just for memory but for evoking enthusiasm among members in looking forward to the next reunion. So when it comes to pictures, Ed Suico is the man. Ed takes pictures like he is in the relentless pursuit of excellence. He is not someone who could care less what the pictures look like. He wants to be satisfied with them. The results always look like professional, if not better. He willingly and happily does this all for all of us.

    On behalf of all of us, Ed and Leni, thank you ever so much.  And I personally thank all those who attended the reunion especially those who came from the Philippines – Philip and Connie Sy and Terry Quisumbing. My wife never had so much fun and enjoyment. Driving on our way to North Carolina, all we talked about was the reunion, how much fun we had and how we enjoyed it. We were laughing all the way recalling the jokes that I forgot to look at the gas gauge of my Subaru SUV so that by the time I looked at it, we were almost out of gas. We were lucky that the next exit for gas was only a couple of miles away. I must admit though that I had to think quick to deflect and keep Anabelle from asking further questions regarding the proxy that Pompei was talking, joking, teasing and laughing about. I told her that it was a joke about an old man in the Nursing Home who went for a woman named Ella as the proxy of his girlfriend who was not there. Ella turned out to be doing a lot better like a natural for what he wanted her to do for himself because she had Parkinson’s disease. My wife laughed so hard. That effectively ended the subject.

Happy Father's Day, Everyone! Soon.



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