Although my own blind faith in Lola’s inviolability lessened predictably over the years, I was still willing to afford her the benefit of the doubt throughout my adolescence, given the implausible yet overwhelming wealth of repeatedly-occurring supporting evidence.
When my eldest brother Tony turned eighteen at last and claimed his driver’s license at the earliest possible opportunity, Lola insisted that his first trip should be to the grocery store, where she claimed that she had to pick up several inestimably crucial household items. This in itself was highly unusual, as Lola Ging usually went to the grocery only on the first of each month, commandeering a veritable fleet of household helpers in order to amass the preferred foods, supplies, and cleaning materials needed to sustain a home of eight family members and sundry. On this occasion, in contrast, not only did she unaccountably run out of Tide detergent in the very middle of the month, she averred that she required no assistance whatsoever to pick up the multitude of things that were so sorely needed from South Supermarket.
Regardless, Tony was so exhilarated at the chance to demonstrate his new skill and privilege that he instantly agreed; indeed, he drove several times around the block instead of simply parking to wait for Lola to emerge from the store with the predictable assortment of bags and bag boys. The pair of them had traveled nearly three-quarters of the way back home when, quite without fanfare, orange-yellow flames erupted from underneath the hood of our once-trusty family station wagon.
With admirable speed and presence of mind, Tony immediately stepped on the brakes; shouted, “Lola, get out of the car!”; and ran for his barely-begun life—only to turn around, several meters away, and discover that Lola Ging was still seated placidly in the passenger’s seat, rolling her latest rosary between her fingers with maddeningly methodical calm. Gathering all his resolve, courage, and sense of familial love and duty, Tony gritted his teeth and turned back with the intent of dragging our recalcitrant grand-aunt out of the potentially-explosive vehicle.
As soon had he taken hold of her obstinate arm, however, the offending hood of the inflammable car promptly blew off and catapulted through the air, landing with an ominous thump in the precise spot where Tony had been standing just seconds prior, thinking himself out of harm’s way. “Lola!” Tony scolded her later, still exasperated although neither of them had been so much as scratched. “Why didn’t you get out when I told you? You could have been killed!”
“I knew that God would watch over me,” Lola told him, completely unperturbed. “So I stayed still to remind Him to take care of you also, because it is sin verguenza to address the Lord while running about like a chicken.”
My second-eldest brother Gene was the wild one in the family. In fact, he had taught himself to drive at the age of twelve, and only we kids and Lola Ging knew that he would sometimes switch seats with the family driver and drive us all home at the end of school days. By the time he was in his senior year of high school, he drank, smoked, habitually cut classes, and had so many girlfriends at the same time that the inner door of his closet was covered with graffiti charts of whom he had dated, how often, and whether or not he had already professed to love them.
It was therefore a great surprise to everyone when Gene suddenly opted to take college at the Philippine Military Academy—voluntarily shaving his head, donning the PMA uniform, and subjecting himself to the myriad hardships of cadet life in the far-off Baguio campus. “Excuse me, cadet,” Lola Ging said, when we were finally permitted to visit; tapping the shoulder of a random sunburned, emaciated, and bald young man in uniform. “I am looking for Cadet Eugene Arambulo.”
“Lola, it’s me,” said Gene, smiling with mingled amusement and fondness.
“Dios por dios, Eugene, what has happened to you?!” Lola cried out in horror, and proceeded to stuff him with fattening lugaw the instant she managed to get a moment with him in private.
With the exception of Lola Ging, we were all surprised still further when Gene simply disappeared from campus towards the end of his freshman year. Even Lola was mystified as to his whereabouts—although, unlike my panic-stricken mother, she was certain that Gene was fine and simply up to no good, as usual. “Once a rascal, always a rascal,” she pronounced direly; and took one of his old t-shirts, lit it with a votive candle purloined from our parish church, and proceeded to burn it in our bedroom.
Our shared bedroom was truly an outlandish place of worship—festooned with posters of floppy-haired, come-hither teen idols on one side, and dominated by a massive altar overpopulated with saints, dried everlasting flowers, and dewy-eyed Santo Niños on the other. On the best of days, it was not the most spacious of chambers; and on that evening I awoke from sleep on the verge of imminent asphyxiation from smoke inhalation. Teary-eyed, I stumbled across the room to throw the door open, and accidentally bumped my hip against my little bookshelf, knocking one of my old school yearbooks to the floor.
The book fell open—by what certainly seemed like sheer happenstance—to my brother Gene’s sophomore class photo; and Lola peered at the book through the smoke, nodded sagely, and said with a sniff, “For once, at least, he has gone to the library of his own choosing.” And it turned out that he had in fact been hiding in the ceiling of the PMA library, living on packets of crackers and Cow Label dried beef until he had judged that the search for him had died down enough to allow him to truly effect his escape. (“I guess I’m just not the military type after all,” Gene decided later; for a change, he was the only one surprised by this revelation.)
(to be continued next Tuesday)
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