The couple promised they wouldn’t lose touch again, and they haven’t.
Ted Lahti and Maria Fisher saw each other for the first time in 30 years when she traveled to Tacoma to see him in September, and they’ve kept communicating while she visits family in the Philippines, where they first met in the 1980s.
He was a 21-year-old Navy operations specialist on a port visit to the Philippine city of Subic. She was a 14- or 15-year-old, struggling to pay her Catholic school tuition, with 12 siblings, two of whom died from malnutrition.
Fisher sold hardboiled eggs in a local bar to raise tuition money, which is how she met Lahti. He bought all of her eggs for about 50 cents and gave her $50, then threw her out of the bar, with instructions to call him if she ever needed anything.
She tried to reach him for years to thank him, but his address had changed. Finally she found him on Facebook in December 2010, and they reunited Sept. 21 this year in Tacoma, where Lahti has lived since 1988.
Since then they’ve kept in touch about once a week with the help of calling cards, texting and the Internet.
Fisher now is an American citizen working as a nurse. She left her home in Missouri after her visit with Lahti to spend time with her family in the Philippines. She’s been helping her sister run stores that sell over-the-counter medicines, and caring for family members.
“My sister and I take turns,” she said this week. “We have a lot family that don’t have jobs. If I have extra, she’ll tell me: ‘Hey, it’s your turn for Mom.’”
The cost of basic supplies is unbelievable in the Philippines, Fisher said. Patients must buy their own plastic gloves for health care workers, which Fisher said costs about $7 apiece.
Over-the-counter medicines are hard to come by, she said.
“Even when they’re sick, they have to eat first before they buy medicine,” Fisher said. “I could not believe I went through this kind of stuff. I just can’t believe it.”
Lahti sent a care package for Fisher’s friends, family and neighbors, with items such as ibuprofen and cough syrup, and threw in linens and clothes he wasn’t using.
“I’m not rich by any stretch of the imagination, so I gave what I could,” he said.
Fisher also had a special request from her nieces, nephews and other children, which Lahti fulfilled.
“The kids came to me: ‘Is it true you came from America? Do you have American chocolate?’” she said.
The package has yet to arrive, but when it does, there’s some Hershey’s candy inside.
Fisher sent several boxes of supplies herself before she left, anticipating the exorbitant prices she’d find when she arrived.
“You can barely buy anything, you know?” she said.
She expects to fly back in May, though it might be sooner. One of her two adult sons, who lives in New York, may get married before then, which could bring her back as soon as January, Fisher said.
Either way, she’ll visit Lahti upon her return, she said.
Single after previous divorces, both are just good friends for now, Lahti said.
As for the future: “We’ll see.”
Alexis Krell: 253-597-8268