Their only encounter had been decades ago, which makes it hard for them to remember the details.
But Maria Fisher never forgot the name of the man who in five minutes changed her life forever.
Last week, she came to Tacoma to thank him in person.
In the early 1980s, she was a 14- or 15-year-old in the Philippine city of Subic, struggling to pay her Catholic school tuition as one of 13 kids in her family. During her childhood, two of her brothers died from malnutrition.
To avoid traveling 50 miles to attend the nearest public school, she sold hardboiled eggs in a local bar.
One of her customers was Ted Lahti, then a 21-year-old U.S. naval operations specialist on a port visit in Subic with the USS OCallahan. He was there once in 1982 and again the next year. Theyre not sure which time they met.
Lahti bought all the eggs for about 50 cents total, and also gave her $50 and his contact information. He told her to call on him if she ever needed anything.
Then he threw her out of the bar, and they didnt see each other for years.
Until Sept. 21, when she, now 45, and, he at 53, reunited in Tacoma, where Lahti has lived since 1988.
His $50 put Fisher through her last two years of high school, and she went on to become a nurse. She moved around the world with her husband while he served in the military. She had two sons, later divorced and eventually become a U.S. citizen all the while trying to reconnect with Lahti.
He switched command not long after their meeting, so Fishers years of writing letters led to them being returned unopened from the out-of-date address. She eventually found him on Facebook in December 2010.
If youre the Ted Lahti I have been searching for I want to let you know that I made it to the U.S., she wrote.
It was a long time ago and how you remembered my name is beyond me, he wrote back.
To her, that was simple.
If someone did good things for you, you will owe that person forever and ever as long as you live, she said in an interview Thursday. She wanted him to know how much his $50 meant.
I dont want to think about the options (without it), she said.
He barely remembered their meeting, but the time line she gave corresponded with his visits to Subic.
They called and wrote each other online a couple of times a week, and eventually Fisher accepted his invitation to visit.
I had to think a lot, she said.
Lahti understood that.
Literally I was a stranger, he said. She was obviously nervous.
They got to know each other better with the eight-day visit, and they tease each other openly now.
Hes stuck with her, they joke, a makulit Tagalog for pain in the rear. (Lahti mainly knows only bad words in the language, he said with a laugh.)
Fisher takes no responsibility there.
He taught himself that, she said, also laughing.
During her visit they traveled to Victoria and Seattle, and caught up on almost 30 years of lost time.
She flew back to her home in Kansas City, Mo., on Friday, and will move back to the Philippines next month to spend time with her mother and siblings.
But it likely wont be 30 years before they see each other again.
Were definitely very good friends, and were not going to lose each other again, said Lahti, who now drives boats for an Army Reserve unit and has deployed twice to Kuwait.
Ill be back, Fisher said, I just dont know when.
This trip wasnt the first time she had been to the area.
When they visited Lahtis family in Rainier, Ore., last week, he said Fisher flipped out when she recognized the gas station by his mothers house as one shed stopped at last year.
She also drove to Seattle frequently with her family when her then-husband was based with the U.S. military in San Francisco.
She said its almost as if the region pulled her.
Now, she says, maybe she knows why.