Like Tony, the twins, too, were victims of a vehicular mishap. They had decided to conduct a pulse-pounding bicycle race across the flat roof of our house (“And when did you acquire the delusion that you were circus performers?!” my mother demanded of them at the hospital) and ended up pedaling their way to the local emergency room. Charlie had broken his good right arm and Manny, his left leg. These had snapped in such an alarmingly innovative way that the doctors warned my apoplectic parents that the boys might never recover the full use of their afflicted limbs.
“Good, it serves you right!” our mother yelled at them, and promptly burst into disconsolate tears. Lola Ging, of course, did not weep, but instead set to work the following Monday, once my parents had left the house for their respective workplaces. She summoned the helpers to fetch the twisted remains of my brothers’ traitorous conveyances, from which she scraped the dirt on the tires, picked up from the surface of our all-too-slippery rooftop. This she blended with holy water that she had sent me to wheedle out of our befuddled but obliging neighborhood priest, creating a muddy concoction that she then smeared on the twins’ casts (over much protest from them, in stereo) and her own aging but sturdy limbs. Since the culpable dirt was now blessed, she explained, she would compel it to perform atonement by transferring some of the health from her arms and legs to those of the twins.
After many weeks of this sacred spa treatment (coupled with a cleansing ritual involving a solution of mundane water and bleach just before my parents came home each day), Charlie and Manny recovered completely from their respective injuries, neither significantly worse for wear. But I was not the only one who noticed that, on rainy days thereafter, Lola would sometimes walk with a barely-perceptible limp, and gingerly flex her right arm when she thought no one was looking. She attributed this behavior to increasing age and worsening arthritis whenever the subject was broached.
Lola Ging was indeed getting older. She had taken to dyeing her hair a light-absorbing shade of absolute black; and I suspected that she would always be indignantly disappointed that the Crispa Redmanizers had ceased to exist as a team when their sponsor company had folded—while their long-time bitter rivals, Toyota, continued to survive and thrive.
As for me, never quite as intrepid or accident-prone as my siblings, Lola helped me in a quite different way. I was getting older, too—at fifteen, my adolescent angst manifested in a vague but urgent sense of desperation for a boyfriend or at least some semblance of a notion of what I was going to do with the rest of my life. So Lola Ging taught me to cook—her way, broiling meat and baking pastry with the fire of multi-purpose pagan/shaman/Christian religious conviction.
“Lola,” I said to her, dragged unwillingly into the kitchen after a lifetime of being unable to so much as fry bacon, “this is the 20th century, you know. If the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, then he’s not the man for me.”
“To make perfect crepes the way your mommy likes them,” she dictated, blithely ignoring me, “you must keep the batter in the pan for no longer than one Our Father, one Hail Mary, and one Glory Be. Then you put it in the plate; add too much cream and mangoes; and shake on very, very little confectioner’s sugar. Then you are finished and your soul is saved from Purgatory at the same time.”
I remember staring perplexedly at the stove, trying to determine how to convert this culinary catechism to the seconds or minutes commonly used by the other 98% of the global population. Ancient or not, Lola Ging could have been the world champion at Rapid Rosary Recitation, if they had ever held the Olympics at the Vatican. It was almost dizzying, listening to her intone the mysteries at velocities approaching Mach 1: “HAIL-Mary-fool-of-grace-the-Lord-is-WITH-you-blessed-are-you-among-WEEMEN-and-blessed-is-the-fruit-of-your-womb-JEESSOUS…”
I was more than old enough by then to wonder if the Blessed Virgin—who was not, as it turned out, a god herself and therefore not omnipotent—could possibly understand what Lola was saying. Certainly there were times when I had trouble myself; it had only been during my confirmation ceremony a few years earlier that I had learned that the Act of Contrition did not, in fact, go: “Oh, my God, I am partly sorry for having offended thee” or “Oh my God, I am hardly sorry for having offended thee.” This resolved a rather troubling issue for me, as I had always considered it rather a disrespectful way to petition my Creator for forgiveness.
But I could not argue that Lola Ging certainly had more experience with such matters than I did, nor with the fact that she had evidently discerned and effectively alleviated my then-growing confusion as to the eventual direction of my life. It was over the course of our curiously Catholic cooking sessions that I discovered, with some astonishment, that I wanted to become a chef. That was how my own personal, rather sedate road to Damascus ended up leading me to London after high school, studying at Le Cordon Bleu to pursue my divinely-revealed dream.
And that was why I wasn’t there when Lola Ging died peacefully in her sleep in our once-shared bedroom, at the admittedly ripe age of ninety-four years and seven months old.
(to be concluded...?)
Check out the rest of the posse!