Columns

As I See It: A reflection: best friends forever (BFF)…right?

Do you have one… a few…some? Who are they?

Batch ’65 graduates of the Urdaneta Community High School (UCHS,) now the Urdaneta City National High School (UCNHS), consider themselves best friends forever (BFF) despite being dispersed and separated by physical boundaries all over the world. They are so close they are a family – extended family – that wherever they are, and how far they are, they find a way to meet despite the distance to be able to reminisce the grand old high school days.

I met one of them years back, when I found out he and his wife resided in the area where my daughter Tweety and her husband Jonathan and Hawaiian-born daughter Ellie reside in South Carolina during one of our visits there. My daughter’s family just settled in South Carolina after a 4-year assignment in Oahu, Hawaii. Jonathan is a Sergeant First Class (SFC) in the US Army, a weapons artillery instructor for new cadets and the drill sergeant of Echo Company.

We have to drive about two hours and a half (2 ½) from my daughter’s house in Blythewood, South Carolina to my friend’s residence in Beaufort, South Carolina. I haven’t seen him for a long time, so the encounter was very memorable.

My BFF’s name is David “Dave” Sumera, UCHS Batch ’65, married to Merry, long residents of Beaufort, South Carolina. The last time I saw and met him and Merry were during the Multi-High School Reunion in Las Vegas, Nevada on October 1, 2017 where the deadly 2017 Las Vegas shooting happened.

I recall, on the evening of October 1, 2017, Stephen Paddock, a 64-year-old man from Mesquite, Nevada, opened fire upon the crowd attending the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival on the Las Vegas Strip in Nevada.  From his 32nd floor suites on the Mandalay Bay Hotel, he fired more than 1,000 bullets killing 60 people and wounding 411 others. About an hour later, Paddock was found dead in his own room with a self-inflicted gunshot wound. The incident was later recorded as the deadliest mass shooting in the history of the US.

We both survived the shooting! He, his wife Merry and his cousins were trapped in the Strip and locked down at the Violago Hotel, while we were likewise grounded/lockdown at adjoining Tropicana Hotel where we were billeted, when the shooting started at about 10:00 o’clock in the evening of October 1, 2017.Everyone scampered for their lives towards our hotel’s parking area as police officers positioned themselves to track down the active shooter.

I remember another BFF Batch ‘65, Alberto Lapena and his wife Zeny from Melbourne, Australia who were also scheduled to attend the reunion with purchased tickets of the concert failed to make it due to an unforeseen circumstance. Had they made it, they may have been victims also considering that they will surely be attending the concert, so it turned out to be a blessing on their part.

Event coordinator Fe Gonzales Sepulveda, a graduate of the Our Lady of the Lilies Academy (OLLA), one of the three high schools attending the reunion, was worried and tried to call everyone making sure everybody is fine. She was happy we all are safe. The third high school in the multi-high school reunion was the Divine Word Academy (DWA).

Except for hours of fears, tension and no sleep till the early morning the following day due to the lockdown, all the BFFs in attendance were safe and sound. Going back to the Tropicana Hotel at 3:00 in the morning the following day when they were released by the police, Dave and company have to rush to the airport only to find out their flight was cancelled. All morning flights were cancelled but they were able to get booking for alternate flight bound to Atlanta and then to Georgia where they were able to get back home to South Carolina. They were given preferential treatment from ticketing to meals and other airline services because they came from the Las Vegas massacre which suddenly became an international breaking news.

We were also due to go back to San Francisco the following day but since our flight was in the afternoon where afternoon flights were not cancelled, we were able to fly safely back to San Francisco as scheduled and drove back home to Milpitas, California.

That was a scary moment of our life which we were able to avoid and thank God we were all safe!

Going back to Dave, after graduating from high school, he left Urdaneta and went to Tarlac, Tarlac where he had to do odd jobs to survive. He went through a lot of challenges in life until he and his two brothers applied to the US Navy. He was the only one of the siblings who passed the test and, so he joined the Navy which actually changed his life. It was the turning point of his life… actually!

He became a dental laboratory technician through the years which propelled him to be the chief of the department where he was assigned to different places including Japan, Philadelphia, and Hawaii. His last assignment was in South Carolina where he finally retired and settled after retirement as an E6 (got the rank of E7 upon retirement).

He met his wife Merry, in Hawaii when he was stationed in Oahu.  They are blessed with two sons and five grandchildren, now all grown-up. He is now living with his wife in South Carolina since all their children and grandchildren are all grown-up and have their own separate life.

His hobbies include fishing and playing golf spending almost 4-hour minimum in both sports almost every other day. He stores his catch in a big freezer as food for the future and giveaways to friends who visit them.

When we visited them, with my daughter Tweety driving and navigating the 2-hour-and-a-half distance from my daughter’s house in Blythewood to Beaufort, we took home a bagful of fish, dehydrated shrimps, bitter melon, and calamansi grown from their backyard.

My BFF Dave is enjoying a blissful retirement life with his wife Merry, children and grandchildren, as he claimed to have worked for 45 years throughout his lifetime! We hope to see him again this June as we will be travelling to South Carolina and Jacksonville, Florida for a 13-day vacation.

(Elpidio R. Estioko was a veteran journalist in the Philippines and an award-winning journalist/author in the US. He just published his book Unlocking the Chain of Poverty: In Pursuit of the American Dream which is now available with Amazon and Barnes & Noble. For feedbacks, comments, email estiokoelpidio@gmail.com.)