2008 Edition

CIM Class 1972 web site publication.

""If you train your mind to search for the positive things about other people, you will be surprised at how many good things you can observe in them and comment upon." " – – Alan Loy Mcginnis

Class 1972 Reunion 2008 (Written Account)

Cle S. Estrera, Jr.

    If success is measured in terms of goals achieved or expectations met, our Class 1972 reunion in Wisconsin last August 22-25, was a great success. Although there were not too many of us, it was a blast, beyond our wildest expectations. There was fun, plenty of it; and laughter, too much of it - it brought tears to our eyes, left many of us gasping for air, made our sides hurt, our throat sore and our voice hoarse. We enjoyed every moment of every day.

    Laughter especially in being with friends reminds us to always see the humorous side of our lives. Laughter lightens our soul and plugs us into the heart of God - who wants nothing so much for us as happiness. If nothing else, it keeps our mind away from concentrating on the pathological aspects of our life.

    Joe and Elena Graciosa and Loni and Linda Mellijor, our gracious hosts, made our reunion an unforgettable experience that not only expand and intensify our awareness that by reconnecting with friends and recapture the fun memory of the past, we celebrate life and make the most of it; it has also established bonds that are mutually enriching, deep and lasting. We know that life is fleeting. We are born, we live for a time, and we die. The time between life and death, we should make the most of it - live happily, laugh heartily and enjoy the company of friends. So why not make an effort to get back in touch and reminisce about old times? 

     The food was delicious in every meal so that if your goal is weight loss, you would be hard-pressed to put it on hold. Joe and Elena's house is spacious and beautiful, located strategically to have an open view of the lake that seems to be an integral part of their backyard. The lake readily calms your nerves, pacifies the turmoil you have inside, and provides you with an interlude of serenity. The water in the morning hours, undisturbed by the brutal stirring of the speedboats and jet skis, flashed like jewels in the silvery rays of the morning sun. But the beautiful and healthy plants and blooming flowers in their yard made me feel like I have been way out of their league in gardening since my gardens have all been devastated by the heat, the prolonged absence of the rain and the deer that come in dozen like having a reunion themselves especially when I'm away.

    Joe and Elena's family made us all feel at home. Maricel and her husband Jay who helped the cooking and the serving were always there ready to provide us what we need and to help every which way. Jay and Joseph Jr. took turns in giving us a ride with the pontoon for a tour and sight-seeing around the lake. Joseph Jr. had to excuse himself on Saturday to join with the triathlon in Chicago which he made it with ease. No matter what side you look at Joseph Jr., you'd know he is Joe's son, for his looks and mannerism are almost similar to that Joe.

Friday - August 22, 2008
    Most of us taking the plane arrived in the early afternoon on Friday and thanks to the thoughtfulness of Joe and Elena, siopao, utap, pulvoron and bottled drinks were ready for us in the van that Joe rented just for the reunion. Every one was hungry especially Henry Clarite who brought his son with him, for the planes these days no longer serve snacks, let alone food without extra cost. Henry Jr., like Joseph Jr., is the youthful mirror image of Henry. He looks so young to be in the second year Medicine. Anyhow, I myself was so hungry, having eaten only breakfast and I did not have the time to eat at the airport because I only had minutes to my connecting flight that I had to run looking for the gate in Detroit airport.

    During our first ride with the boat (pontoon) around the lake on Friday afternoon, there were 17 of us and we were stopped by the lake cop. As the cop came to the side of the pontoon, for just a moment, every one became quite except for few whispers. There was a worried look on Lucing's and Lena's eyes. Benfer Aranton turned pale although it could just be the effect of the sitting sun on his face. When Jay who piloted the boat answered the cop's question of whether we are within the boat's capacity which we were, the ladies immediately reassured the cop that we have more than enough life jackets for each of us. The cop softened like he was sorry for stopping us. He reassured us that he was there mainly to ensure our safety. Then we started joking, offering the cop some of our food which he took, ate and seemed to like the taste. But he listened seriously when we told him that we are from all over the U.S. and that Pidot who is from Florida has brought with him little alligators and is wondering whether he could release the alligators to the lake. The cop left us smiling and shaking his head.

    On Friday night we had a sort of "group therapy" recommended by Rori Tompar-Tiu who, unfortunately could not come for family reason. It was good if not therapeutic to loosen and open ourselves up and talk about our marriage and family. If there were any doubt and hesitation in what we were about to say and share regarding our marriage and family, as we each went on, they evaporated like dew before the morning sun. Just as every bud aspires to be a flower, and as the flower holds the secret of the fruit, we, too, wanted our children to be better than we are and our marriage and family to enfold with joy, harmony and happiness. 

    It was good to know that most if not all agreed that we did not have an easy time in married life to start with and that we all basically passed through the same experiences like the irrational fights that would often start from a minor skirmish and escalate to a major battle, the conflict and confrontation, the dance of disagreement that involved walking away and coming back blaming and screaming at each other, cultural adjustment, the burden of having children, etc - and that we were all proud to imply that by sticking with each other rather than changing partners, we are now ripping the rewards of pride, joy and happiness our children and grandchildren are giving us. Love, some of it may have been lost along the way, had not only softened our calloused soul by its gentle nature, it had also softened the harsh cutting edge of any of our experiences.

    What time and patience teach is that love is generally slow to develop but will result and flourish when there is mutual decision to be gentle and kind to each other and support each other. All too often marriage fails especially in the early stage not because of the lack or loss of love, but because of the failure of the spouses to learn to notice and appreciate the good things about each other while they are all too ready to snap and jump on the bad things, and then criticize and blame each other. Every relationship is the sum and substance of the partners involved. If you bring only criticism, blames and bleak hopelessness to a relationship, you are going to find despair rather than joy.   

     Suffice it to say, we all have reached the stage to realize that being married to our spouses and having a family at least seem to be the best thing that ever happened to each of us, and to discover that marriage and family have the ability to interlock our lives like enzymes recognizing the molecules that might complete them. We have finally learned not to waste emotion on things we could not change. We have evolved from being emotionally driven to being intellectually and spiritually drawn. Amy Bloom once said: "Marriage is not a ritual or an end. It is a long intricate, intimate dance together and nothing matters more than your own sense of balance and your choice of partner." Everyone has at least implied that they made the right choice for a spouse.

    The "therapy" was like talking freely about our life's journey, the passage of time, and the choices we made - from how we tackled our daily trials to how we navigated to that tumultuous water and came out to see the American dream. If there were any regrets, there were only few, too few to mention. None of us is haunted by wrong turns and roads not taken.

Saturday - August 23, 2008
    It was a beautiful day. The lake, although agitated by the brutality of the speedboats, jet skis and other boats, you could still see the sunlight dancing on water like a beautiful lady's smile that blossoms over her features and turns everything around her warm and fresh and enchanting, and brings pleasure to our eyes and maybe a song to our hearts. There's something in a body of water that has a way of making us find our sanity when the world around us seems insane. I sometimes spend my solitude sitting on the bench at the lake in our area and I find serenity securely settled in the recesses of my mind.

    We started with a brunch of Filipino food delights like the bod-bod, poto, sikwate, mangga, buwad danggit, benignit, sausage, fried boneless fish, fruits, etc. Jokes and laughter went on after that all the way to the afternoon. And then some of us went fishing while others went boating again, and few took a nap. Many did not like fishing. The squirming worms made them squeamish and they could not stand to hook the worms for baits. As a worm wiggled around Benfer Aranton's fingers, he dropped the whole can of worms into the lake as he tried to get rid of the one on his fingers as though he had picked up tiny little poisonous snakes. He even asked Frax to examine his fingers for any bite marks, wondering if he would need some anti-venom.  

    None of us knew what Linda Mellijor had in mind about fishing. We could see that she loves fishing, for she brought her huge tackle box filled with all kinds of fishing gears, and many fishing poles. Fortunately, she also brought worms for bait and we kept Aranton away from those worms. Apparently, what Linda had in mind was that it would be a fishing tournament and she provided the prizes. It was a surprise when she announced the winners. I won the most number of fish caught. Linda, however, caught the biggest bass. But Leni won as the strongest among us. She turned the fish she caught into a kite by pulling and jerking her line so hard that the poor fish flew up in the air. A couple of the fish she caught lost their lips and one has its gullet and gills lacerated. For the fish, it was an instant death, no mercy. Hector, Frax and Elena won the rest of the prizes. Pompei got a prize of nice see-through printed underwear for keeping those who stayed in the house from taking a nap with his funny jokes and stories. You'll see the pictures later on from our professional photographer - Ed Suico who was using a very sophisticated Nikon digital camera.

    Dinner was served with delicious lechon, Cebuano style, as the main attraction among the abundance of food. Pompei who cut the lechon into pieces did it with the skill and precision of Michael de Bakey although he was a lot more careful and slower, making us more ravenous. Ed and Del stayed at the head of the lechon, watching as though they were giving the anesthesia. Hector cleaned and cut the fish we caught into pieces, and Elena fried them. For some reason, they were the first to disappear from the dinner table. 

    Funny jokes, stories and laughter dominated the rest of the night. With beers, wine and champagne, the laughter got a little louder. It's good that Joe and Elena had asked their neighbors to excuse the noise for a couple of nights before we came. If there was a prize for the most genuine laughter that had the way of tickling many of us, it would go to To Chip's wife, Laureana. Even before Pompei told the joke, Laureana was already giggling, holding and hiding behind the chair, and then as Pompei told the funniest part, her giggle exploded into laughter.

     Pompei definitely has the gift of telling jokes. No one among the CIM alumni I know of could match him. We are lucky that he belongs to our Class 1972. And we are lucky too that we have Mike Espiritu who always brings at least few of his eye instruments, willing to render his professional service to every one of us, any time, any place, all in the name of friendship.

Sunday - August 24, 2008
    Even the saints go to church and so we, too, the sinners, flocked to the church on Sunday, a day of prayers in the house of God. If we think about it, each day we meet our physical needs by eating, sleeping and exercising. We meet our intellectual needs by solving problems and expanding our wealth of knowledge. And we meet our emotional needs by sharing our feelings with our friends and loved ones. But what about our spiritual needs? We can meet our spiritual needs by meditation, appreciating nature, and prayer.

    Prayer is probably the most effective way to help us cope with the major burdens in life. Prayer can change us dramatically. It can open our eyes to the intricate beauty in things and people in our life. It can help us see the people we pray for - whether friend or enemy - with greater clarity and love. Getting our wishes granted is not the purpose of prayer. Getting to know God is the purpose. Mother Teresa said: "Prayer enlarges the heart until it is capable of containing God's gift to himself."

    After church, we went to have lunch at Lon and Linda's first house. It's a big ranch house with a huge hall or enclosed patio at the back for dining or dancing, a swimming pool and a huge yard and deck where we had our games. Apparently Lon had the dining or dancing hall built to put one of his amazing life-sized bronze sculptures of a Native American (Indian) warrior called an eagle catcher. The statue weighs at least a couple of tons. It was placed there using a crane. You can easily tell it's a masterpiece. He got it made in Wyoming by a Native Indian sculptor. I believe Lon said that it took five years to finish it, for every part like the feathers of the eagle had to be done individually and then assemble them together piece by piece. I did not ask the price, but real bronze sculptures like that could easily pitch hundreds of thousands of dollars, not including the delivery and installment.

    Lunch was a buffet of American food with waiters and waitresses waiting to serve for anything we need. It was a good variation since we've been eating Filipino food since we came. During this time, Brad and Aileen Tan of the CIM Class 1983 joined us with their cute and charming daughter Aina, and played the games with us. I wish Aina good luck to her applications to Medical Schools. We invited Brad and Aileen to become adopted members of the Class 1972. I guess they are not enthusiastic about it because they are still in their prime age while we are already in the age of decline, some of us are already having some senior moments every now and then.

    We spent the rest of the afternoon playing games, telling jokes and laughing. The games we played pitted men versus women. The first game was what Vivian called Maria Went to Town. I have not been familiar with the game but it's about cooperation, coordination and a little bit of speed. The same number of men and women are lined separately and each member with the help of other members had to put on a hat and an apron, and then carry a basket to a designated destination and then turn around and come back. After that, the hat, the apron and the basket are being turned over to the next person and that person would wear them with the help of others and he would do the same as the first, walking to the destination and turn around. 

    Every one of us on the men side thought it would be a piece of cake and that we could bet the ladies hands down since we have the advantage of speed. But we, the men, lost hands down. Benfer Aranton who was pitted against Vivian Suico took for granted that he could bet Vivian in a distance since Vivian just had knee surgery and had been limping some. For some reason and perhaps from so much laughing that increased the secretion of endorphins, Vivian "Walked like Egyptian," leaving Aranton way behind. Of the rest of the games the men only won one by Edward and To Chip. Once again, Linda Mellijor provided the prizes that made the games more fun and even competitive.

    When we arrived at Lon and Linda's new house for dinner, some of us thought it's a museum. Indeed it is filled with almost 20 years of Lon's art collections. What is striking just as we enter the drivway is the yard that contains different life-sized bronze and marble sculptures. At the center of the front yard is a beautiful bronze sculpture masterpiece called Dance of the Moon - an American Indian warrior whose muscles are drawn taut and tight has the heel of a beautiful Indian lady on the palm of his hand and the lady floats on the air - her legs are long and beautifully shaped, her pose is smooth and graceful, and her facial expression is tantalizing, making you wish you are her partner. It's fascinating. Immersing yourself in them, you'd feel as if the earth shakes under your feet, you hear ululation and drumbeats in rhythm and a wolf howling from a distance, and the time stands still. On the right side are two life-sized sculpture dancers dressed in elegance, doing waltz as though they're competing against Fred Astaire and Ginger Roger for the world championship of ballroom dancing competition. And on the entrance of the pathway to the house is another bronze sculpture of an old Native Indian that looks like the medicine man. I don't know if anyone noticed, but I could smell some medicinal herbs around him. 

    What is even more amazing is the huge American sculpture version of the Michael Angelo's Pieta in the backyard that for sure weighs at least 10 tons. It's awesome. But instead of the celestial Virgin Mary holding her son in her arms, it's the Lady Liberty holding a dying or dead soldier in her arms. It's unique, and my take is that Lady Liberty is trying to show and tell us that the soldier struggled, fought hard and died for all of us to live freely in peace. The soldier has sacrificed his own life for our freedom that most of us are taking for granted. When it was unveiled to honor the dead soldiers, Lon and Linda invited the big shots in that county, politicians, high-ranking military, and a couple of parents of the soldiers who died in Iraq, and most if not all of them came. The ceremony was solemn and in the midst of it, a Stealth Fighter plane glided through just on top of the trees in their backyard. Lon said you could not even hear the fighter plane's sound.

    The dinner was sit-in, served by waiters at the patio. The food and drinks were great but many of us were more occupied, wondering what's inside the huge house of more than 14,000 square feet. Immediately after dinner, every one was eager to get into the house and Lon gave us the tour that took about two hours, enlightening us with knowledge and information about authentic arts and giving us tips if we plan to purchase some in the future, as we went from room to room.

    Every bedroom of the house has a fireplace, but Lon and Linda use every room to house their different art collections of sculptures, paintings, memorabilia, etc., and taxidermy of different ferocious animals. The ceilings of the first floor, some of it shaped like a dome, are artfully and beautifully painted by a Russian artist with images that look rather pleasant and harmonious, not reverential like the ones in the church cathedral.

    A couple of the rooms were eerie especially the taxidermy room because those animals, although their mouths are closed, they look like their eyes would follow you and are ready to jump on you if you make a false move. But they don't look hungry though. Alone in the dark, many of the life-sized statues and sculptures could make your hair stand on ends and could send a chill up your spine. And every room has different art collection, a different gallery.

Personal thought
    I never really thought that Lon is an avid art collector because frankly he doesn't strike me as one. But then, looks are superficial. What's inside is often not revealed and difficult if not impossible to discern. Like a beautiful girl on a bikini, what counts most is what's hidden underneath that bikini. Of course, anatomical parts are a lot easier to imagine than the contents of the mind. Come on, Guys, easy on your imagination. Okay? I know why you were so eager to go out on the boat again because you were looking for girls on bikinis so you can take pictures.

    When you love what you do, you'll always do better, and Lon loves collecting arts, not as an investment, but as a hobby. He not only has the desire, but the focus, patience, enthusiasm and determination as well. Imagine the almost 20 years he collected his masterpieces and stored them in a rented storage, and just displayed them this past year or so. That definitely takes relentless patience. Yet I would say that Lon could never have done it without the love and support of his lovely wife, Linda. No matter how challenging the task you are facing, you're going to succeed even beyond your wildest fantasy when you have a spouse that loves and supports you and is willing and ready to take both the bad times and the good times. It has been said that behind the rise and fall of every man is a woman. With an uncooperative and resistive spouse, you could run rings around her, marshal a perfect wilderness of facts and display them in perfect order, but she will always have a point of resistance you can never overpower to gain her support, a resistance that's like a rock in the middle of a riptide.

    Lon even has a small house outside he calls Friendship House where he houses the pictures of those he calls friends which I'm proud to be one of them. He also has a small extension where he houses his collection of still unique arts and old news stories that mentioned him and his good friends, and some written dedication personally signed by the Pope given to him by his friend, an artist. 

    Since the house was finished with those arts in place, Lon and Linda have invited only 3 groups to tour around his art collections and we were the third one. But he locked the rooms in the basement for the first two groups and opened them all for us. We all feel privileged to have been invited and see every art collection in every room.

    There are arts that no matter how you look at them, read about them, immerse yourself in them, etc., you can never learn to understand, let alone appreciate them. Instead of being able to connect with them, you get confused and disconnected. Many of us have never cared so much about art before, but Lon's art collections are something we can easily relate to, understand and appreciate. We may not be sophisticated when it comes to art, but after the tour in Lon's art collection, as Leni said - we are now cultured.

    Besides having fun, none of us had expected that our reunion would be enlightening, enriching and therapeutic. Yet that's what we had - intellectual, emotional and spiritual enrichment. Our friendly close relationship has made some significant changes in us. It is now rooted more deeply in trust and mutual respect. We have become more tolerant to jokes about each other that we'd rather respond with more laughter than feel violated with our sensitivity. We have learned to understand that each of us is endowed with many qualities, some more enhancing than others. It is at least our hope that our friendship would make us ignore our lesser qualities and make us focus on the good instead so that the good will flourish in us, in ourselves, in all situations.

     Life is so much richer when we have friends with whom we can share not just our jokes and stories, but also our joys and troubles. Just to think that we can call on our friends anytime and feel free to have a chat, to tell jokes and stories, or ask for advice, gives us a sense of well-being. Spanish proverb says: "Unshared joy is an unlighted candle."

     On behalf of those who attended our Class 1972 reunion, Joe and Elena, Lon and Linda, thank you so much for giving us memories that we are tucking away in the treasure box of our minds.

Year 2010
    For our class reunion in 2010, our plan is to have something different like perhaps more family bonding. We'll rent cottages somewhere in the mountain of North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee or which ever state in the U.S., where there is a lake nearby so we can fish, and we do our own cooking. Leni and Pidot will inquire about the cottages. They are positive we can have them in the month of May when they are still cheaper and there are more vacancies. However, we are open to any suggestion.


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