Monday, December 14, 2009
Christmas, Christmas , Christmas
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I will be featuring Christmas meanings, celebrations, quotations, stories, starting today until December 25. This is my first entry.
LOLA. A Christmas Legend
She was the grand dame of Christmas. She was the life of family gatherings. She was a local ballerina. Everybody just love grandma: her amazing energy, her joyous and sunny demeanor, her insatiable appetite to experiment new recipes in the kitchen, her friendliness to all people is a trademark known to both young and old. To Lola Del everyone is a friend. I can remember myself perched on her high stool in her kitchen during holiday seasons when we visit our grandparents house. Lola Del as we call her has concocted dozens of recipes in her lifetime. Recipes for birthdays, anniversaries, Christmas recipes, recipes for local visiting dignitaries, recipes for Sunday gatherings, recipes for lunch, breakfast, supper, etc., you name it she has done it. She is always on the lookout for new, exotic, tempting, delicious, varied food, sprinkled with magic in her kitchen.
There were times I would peek in to see what’s the aroma coming from her nook is all about. I have been mesmerized by the arena of rainbow colored ingredients arrange in rows over the counter tops and the delicate smell of something cooking, baking, boiling, broiling almost everyday those vacation times. I grew up identifying the different smell and aroma of different spices, combined with recipes so yummy your saliva trickles slowly every time you entered her kitchen. She collected recipes locally and from outside the country carefully placed in her recipe boxes. She has a fleet of pans and cooking, and baking utensils, I wondered how she can remember how to use each one of them. To me, a fork and spoon is all I need to survive the kitchen.
Lola Del would always have a grand entrance when she finishes off a new recipe she made, ready to be presented on whoever is around on certain days. We would get a big laugh when she starts tapping her heels ready to make the grand entrance. The family would of course gather and clap their hands in appreciation to her new inventions and everyone gets to taste exotic dishes with the accompaniment of ooohhhh and aaaahhhhs from appreciation, delight, or surprise. Tango, cha-cha, boggie, these old time beautiful dances often follows the celebration of a newly discovered dish. I tried following in the dance steps but I never had the gift of executing leaps, bounds and steps. I have to be content sitting at the sidelines and clapping with the rest of the family members enjoying the celebration of cooking successes. What I learned better at those times where the identification of what spices or ingredients were mixed with the new recipes presented. My nose became so attuned with these ingredients I became a connoisseur of smell.
I never dreamt that Lola would someday stopped her grand parades and entrances and eventually let some strangers take over her kitchen. Slowly, it seems that the drum rolls gradually faded. Slowly the aroma coming from the kitchen did not seem to caress my nosestrils anymore. Slowly the excitement from the kitchen has come to a sickening halt. Slowly, my Lola, has inched her way out of her kitchen when we were in our college years.
We visited Lola almost every Sunday in her eldest son’s house for the past three years now, because they said she cannot manage herself anymore. They said, she cannot remember our names anymore, and even she cannot identify our faces and voices anymore. Somehow to me this cannot be happening. She was my grand Lola…..the Lola who would greet me on holidays with her authentic smile and a big twinkle in her eyes telling me and the rest of us children that a surprise is coming.....another uniquely concocted dish specially for us children.
One day, my mom, my brother and me, decided to visit Lola. She was sitting on one of the dining chairs in the kitchen and was staring blankly and was so far away that even I was not able to reach her. My cousins told me she was like that for days now. As if she can hear but refuses to acknowledge us. I tried feeding her with the food we brought but she never move or blink her eyes. We wanted to visit her that day because we want to cheer her up or something. My brother told her, if he could bathe her, well a miracle happened, she nodded and consented to my brothers request. So we prepared her things and my brother started bathing her. Lola by this time was 83 years old already. She was too me, frail, tiny and thin, not the grand Lola my mind kept seeing, but at that moment I refuse to see the reality of her getting old. In my mind she was the Lola, so young, so full of life, so much fun to be with. After she has taken her bath we told her if she wanted to visit her doctor, she nodded her head and we got ready to carry her to the car. My brother carried her and placed her on the front seat. I was still inside my uncles house when suddenly I heard mom cried. I rushed outside and saw my mom crying.
My brother told me to that Lola pass away moments after he seated her in the car. I rushed to her side, and tried every ounce of my strength to shake her and wake her up, but to no avail. We rushed her to the hospital, but the doctor told us she has finally rested. We struggled to accept the reality that someone as grand as Lola has to past away without honor, trophy or what. People we do not know came during the wake and we had about three hundred or more mourners who attended her funeral, each one, saying they tasted one or the other of her exotic cooking. No illness, no pain, no agony, no grand entrance this time, no exotic dishes....only the last simple breath of a great family kitchen chef.
Lola Del died six Christmasses ago, the tradition of sampling, finding, sleuthing for new dishes is still on. The family even did a contest once on who can prepare the most unusual dish by the next coming Christmas, and the one who could bring it would then have the honor to parade in with the drum rolls. I have taken the challenge by heart so far as surfing, researching, collecting dishes from far and wide.
I have been experimenting with a variety of dishes, and still have to find answers to my hypotheses on how she did it all. But In my heart Christmas will never be complete if Lola’s spirit is not celebrated. This Christmas, I have to be that parade winner. I have to learn though how to tap my heels in Lola’s unique fashion. I have to do her brand Marilyn Monroe-cum Lola pose. The staccato of the drum rolls, the deafening rhythmic mesmerizing clap is heard, the last Criminal Tango is turned on and from afar, I smelled the last aroma of that last ingredient I still have to find, this Christmas, LOLA’s legend lives on inside our hearts.
( Lola means grandma in our dialect)