My friend Freddie Arrastia died a few days ago. He had gone to ICU with pneumonia, kidney failure and erratic blood pressure. He didn’t make it back. I’m sure when my husband met him up there, he asked, “Bakit hindi mo binitbit si Gilda?”
Freddie was among my first friends in Malate, where my original family settled after World War II. His gangmates were the Ocampo brothers—Toto, Bien and Gueling (now all dead) and Shok Fernandez, who died early, when we were still seeing one another. I wonder where Rolly and Louie de la Rama are now, who were once part of that gang.
The group knew but were not close friends with Marcelo Fernando, whose friends were Mac Macaraig, Diding Imperial and Hugo Guetierrez (all dedbol). And Tito Pronove, who is now 88 but complains that although he’s still got muscles, “ang mata isa na lang ang on-going.” But yes, Alex Z. Reyes, now 94, is still breathing well.
It was Freddie, though, who antedated them all as my friend. It was Freddie and gang who calibrated anybody who could be suspected as being a prospective boyfriend of mine. Including Mr. Fernando.
Ellen and Myrna Dizon lived in Baguio and were the children of papa’s good friend. When they had to study in the University of the Philippines (UP), they lived in our house in Georgia (now Luis Guerrero). And so Ellen met and married Toto, and Bien married Nilda, and now Nilda and Ellen have long been widows. Ellen is still around, but Myrna passed on a few years ago.
Our pals were Letty Santos (later Bonoan) whose Tony has gone ahead, Guding Albano who married Ting Santiago (now also RIP) and Loida Lara on whom Estelito Mendoza once had a crush. I haven’t heard anything about those girls for a while. So they must be still OK.
I got to know Cheloy Dans through her sister Offie (now also gone). Offie used to tell me all the war atrocities she and Cheloy had witnessed. That’s how I was able to write all those people-in-the-war stories that I got known for. People in Cheloy and Offie’s stories are, of course, all dead.
My classmates in St. Theresa’s were Nit Paez (Gutierrez), deceased, and Fe Paez Behringer, who lives in America. Alice Paez Lorenzo is alive and well, but it is her daughter Isa and partner Rachel Rillo who are my dear friends. Perla Macapinlac, a nun, has always been one of my best buddies and is, halleluya, alive!
In my teen years I had very many male and female friends. It was then the custom for groups of boys to come and just visit. No intention to woo anyone. I had pretty girl friends who were always in my house. Ernie Martelino who played great piano music came with Andy Andaya and, I think, Benny Gana (last two, long deceased). Ernie Ledesma died young in a Baguio zigzag accident. Ours was open house to friends on weekends or on holidays, when there were no classes.
Everybody just sat around chatting, telling jokes, playing parlor games, eating my mother’s brazo de mercedes. And we got to know one another very well. Unlike today when everyone gets presented, already hooked to one another, and never in the safety and friendliness of a home.
Freddie Arrastia was still close to me in our old age because he lived only a few streets away. He liked the fresh green pinipig (which he called duman) that my cook bought every Sunday and always demanded a pack of it. One of my last adventures with Freddie and his wife Daisy was a leisurely ride around Malate. But because the street names had been changed from US states (like I lived in Georgia and Freddie lived in Vermont) to names of prominent Filipino figures (Luis Ma. Guerrero, Julio Nakpil), we got all confused and couldn’t locate our old addresses!
Now Freddie’s new address is a columbary in Christ the King Seminary, and although it’s beautiful I feel like crying. When I die I’d like my ashes to go under our 100-year-old santol tree so that I can still be fruitful, which I cannot be in a steel cabinet.
Most of my contemporaries are gone or in the departure area. In two months I’ll be 85. Please, Lord, just don’t let me be the only one left standing!