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I introduced myself. “How does this work?” I asked, hinting at the price. “You can send me a check for $101,” she said.
I reeled. That was a lot. This wasn’t just a lark or caper, something I could joke about afterward with friends. It meant that I had bought something or bought into something, a whole ideology. I hesitated. “Well,” I thought. “If that was the going rate for spirits to leave, nowadays….” I took down her address.
Before she started her procedure — blay gisn, it’s called in Yiddish — she asked for my Hebrew name and my mother’s name.
My mother’s name is Rachel. My name was a different story. I had at least four names, actually, given to me at different times by people who inadvertently made a big mess of things. To give you an idea, the first Sabbath after I was born, my father, who was not an observant man at the time, stumbled into a synagogue, of I don’t know which denomination, in Nashville, Tenn., and told the men that he wanted to name his daughter Yishayahu Falk. According to family lore, he was calmly told that this was a man’s name and unsuitable. The synagogue congregants promptly gave a name they thought was suitable, but my father, who was completely unfamiliar with the Hebrew language, could not remember it. And so…. The ayin-hore lady cut through the clutter. “Your name is Ruchama, daughter of Rachel,” she pronounced.
There was a sound of pots and pans clattering. I asked what she was doing. “Heating lead on the stove,” she explained.
I felt a little shock. How medieval. But what did I expect? I was entering Grandma Estrella’s realm now, an overwrought, superstitious world I had sworn I wanted no part of. Okay, but when everything’s falling apart, you sometimes have to reach for the irrational.
I heard men’s voices in the background, people coming in and out, doors slamming, voices calling out friendly rabbinic greetings in Hebrew and Yiddish. There seemed to be a yeshiva in her house, men who had arrived in time for supper. The ayin-hore lady made casual conversation with her visitors and with me. She projected no aura whatsoever. I liked her plain speech.
More pan movements. “What now?” I said.
“I’m pouring the melted lead into another pan with cold water,” she replied; then she went quiet. I got the feeling she was praying. Or maybe she was really making supper? Who could really know? Maybe there was a bunch of pots lined up on her counter, each needing its own ayin-hore treatment. Better not mix up the pots, I thought.