It was November 2011, and Nitz and her former high school classmates were all crammed in three vans headed for a farm in Bulacan. When it came to a stop, her male classmates—all of them then in their 50s—alighted first and noisily approached a man standing in the field.
Inside the van, the 53-year-old Nitz was waiting excitedly for a glimpse of her high school teacher who had been her secret crush. But when she saw the man her classmates were talking to, she frantically called for a retreat.
“Ayoko na! Ang tagal kong inalagaan ang feelings ko tapos ang laki ng tiyan tapos hubad!” she told her girl friends in the van.
But then her classmates approached another man. Bert Dumo, then 64, was lean and neatly dressed in a white and red shirt and fresh denim jeans.
Inside the van, Nitz’s friends cheered. “May iba pang nilapitan, payat! Guwapo pa rin si sir.”
That bit of news from the field revived Nitz’s spirit. “Thin” is a word that perfectly described her high school crush. She looked out the window again and saw the other man, who still stood and sat ramrod straight after all those years.
“That’s him!” she yelped. Nitz would recall later, “I retouched my makeup, sprayed perfume, and went down the van to meet him.”
Out in the field, widower Bert was being prepped by his former Citizens Army Training (CAT) cadets to meet a pretty girl “who looks like Alice Dixson.”
The two were reintroduced that November afternoon and they lived happily ever after.
Really, they did. And they still are. But first were 37 years of stories of lives lived apart.
A whole lot of waiting
In 1972, 15-year-old Nenita Ortega would wake up at dawn to wait for the CAT cadets and their instructor to jog past their house. She would open a window just a tad to see and not be seen. She would remain there, in the same spot, until the group jogged back.
Nitz would then hurriedly get dressed for school. But first, a detour: She would wait at an alley to see Bert pass by on his way to school.
“He was so handsome,” she recalls. “He dressed so well. Everything he wore was crisply ironed. His shoes were never dirty.”
When there were military formations, Nitz would watch from the second floor to see her crush in action. She would wait until the exercise was over.
Twenty-four-year-old Alberto Dumo arrived at the Meycauayan Institute (MI) in 1970 armed with an Agricultural Education degree from the then Central Luzon Agricultural College (now Central Luzon State University).
He had also finished his advanced Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) and had spent six months at military camp training for service. But Bert realized that the military way was not his calling, and he found a job in construction. After a year of working in the construction industry, he decided to shift gears and work as a Practical Arts teacher—the only job opening at the school then. Bert eventually taught math and handled the school’s CAT corps, and he was the class adviser for Nitz’s section.
Months later, Bert met Edna Inocencio, a fellow teacher who taught Physics. They got married in 1974 and had four children.
Nitz knew it was not proper to act on her burning crush on her teacher. “Bata pa ako, mag-aaral pa ako,” she recalls telling herself. She was also thankful that her classmates managed to keep her feelings a secret among them, and that the teasing would stop whenever the teacher was around.
Nitz graduated from high school in 1974 and worked while trying to get a college degree. She finished a secretarial course and went on to finish Business Administration, majoring in management. She got married in 1986 and had two daughters.
Unfortunately, her marriage was over after just 10 years or so. Her husband had a habit of mixing drinks with violence. She filed charges and later sought legal separation in 1997 and raised her daughters on her own. Her children finished college and are now both married.
“When their father got sick, they took him in to care for him,” she says, clearly proud to have raised soft-hearted and kind daughters. Her ex-husband passed away last month.
The best things in your life come at the right time. — Bert
Bert’s married life was short-lived as well. Edna succumbed to cancer in 1985, 11 years after they were married. In the beginning, Bert found himself frequently in his own version of “London," which, he says with a laugh, means "Loan dito, loan doon."
His in-laws were a great help. He managed the household and sure, had girlfriends along the way, but kept his promise to his late wife that no stepmother would raise their children.
He retired from teaching in August 2011 and was set to focus on farming.
“I thought this is it, my life will end with my retirement, single,” he says.
12 days of texting
On Nov. 12, three months after retiring, he was having drinks with friends at his farm, when three vans pulled up. Out came some of his former students. They were there to inform him of a reunion they were organizing for January 2012. But he noticed that he was being pushed beside one particular all the time for pictures: Nitz.
“Tumibok ang puso ko,” he recalls. “Isinara ko na, akala ko wala na.”
Bert called one of his students and learned that Nitz had a crush on him way back in high school. He wasted no time. For 12 days, he texted Nitz and learned more about her.
He was quick and straight to the point. “Do you love me or not?” Bert asked on Day 12.
“I called my best friend: What will I do? What will I say?” Nitz recalls.
“You’re old enough for this,” said the reply. “You don’t want to wait for another 37 years.”
She said yes and they had their first date.
Reunion with a chance of love
The Meycauayan Institute Class of 1974 had a fun reunion with a lot of teasing on Jan. 21, 2012. And unknown to Bert and Nitz, their class was planning an event especially for the two of them.
Just a week later, on Jan. 28, Bert and Nitz were herded to a surprise mock wedding with one of their classmates as priest, assorted fresh flowers as bridal bouquet, and lots of food. Some of their children were in attendance.
“Dad, baka naman pauwiin mo pa si Tita,” asked one of Bert’s children after the rites. It was 77 days after their first meeting at the farm.
That was 11 years ago. They have been together since. Their children and grandchildren have melded into one cohesive unit and spend holidays together.
Bert is now 76, Nitz is 65.
“The best things in your life come at the right time,” Bert says.