Now appearing in the Fall 08 issue of Interweave Crochet, my Sweet Lorraine lace throw began, not as home dec, but as a scarf for Lorraine. She was my other mom and the best person you could ever know.
From Lorraine I learned the secrets of how to cook for her son, my partner John. This was not gourmet cuisine, but hearty, homemade food that spelled C-O-M-F-O-R-T. For each of the holiday meals I was privileged to share with her family, Lorraine provided a bounty of South Philadelphia Italian favorites. There was always enough to feed several armies and all if it was made from recipes passed from nona to mother to daughter. Each dish had its own family spin on it, prepared the way it had been for generations. So instead of arguing that garlic and onions should not be allowed to brown, or suggesting that using lightly sauteed fresh tomatoes made a fresher tasting sauce for pasta than using canned tomato paste or insisting that chops and roasts did not need to be incinerated to be edible, I simply went with it.
Through Lorraine’s kindly and patient tutelage I learned how to make the red gravy (spaghetti sauce) heavy with wine, simmered for hours with sausage, bracciole and hunks of pork; also ‘scarole soup with mini meatballs ladled over savory, eggy croutons, ricotta cheesecake, a crustless pie topped with cinnamon, and my personal favorite, fried dough, twists of yeast bread dough (some with an anchovy filet tucked inside) deep fried in her ancient electric skillet, the non-fishy ones tossed in sugar.
Part of the family tradition required that we (well, mostly just the guys) eat until we could not breathe. The best remedy to avoid suffocation was a walk around the block, often impossible to administer since the other tradition entailed drinking so much wine that we couldn’t stand up.
It wasn’t a one way thing. I managed to give back some food/love of my own. Lorraine, already late in her life when she adopted me as un-official daughter-in-law, had long ago stopped fussing with baking. So that’s where I could step up. After a couple of seasons I figured out her dessert and carb buttons and kept her supplied with special baked goods. Every birthday I showed up with a Mandarin Chiffon Cake made with freshly-squeezed tangerine juice. At Easter I supplied her with popovers laced with fragrant grated nutmeg. At Christmas I plied her with Almond Torte containing half a pound of almond paste, or Buche de Noel dense with chocolate ganache.
In the past few years, as my crochet career took up more and more of my time, I had stopped crocheting gifts for friends and family. Except for Lorraine. How she cherished the things I crocheted especially for her. Last December I stole precious time from design work to dream up a new gift for Lorraine, a lacy pretty little scarf that I knew would look terrific with her dressy coat. I tinkered with a lace pattern called “Strawberry Stitch” because she made a mean strawberry shortcake. I used a couple of small hanks of a cloud-soft cashmere/silk boucle yarn from the stash and finished the scarf a couple of weeks before Christmas. Nestled in some awesome holographic tissue paper, neatly boxed and gloriously gift-wrapped, Lorraine’s scarf was ready and waiting to be delivered on Christmas Day during the traditional family gathering and dinner.
I couldn’t believe it when we got the call days later. Lorraine was gone, quietly slipping away a week before the holiday, a week before I could see her and give her one more gift of love. The second stage of grieving is denial, huh? Well then I was stuck in second for months afterward.
What helped me to move on was the act of letting go of Lorraine’s scarf. Don’t get me wrong. The actual scarf is still in that gift box. Still on my mantle. What I offered to Kim Werker and Interweave Crochet last spring was the design. The process of writing the crochet instructions and stitching the sample for photography turned out to be just the therapy I needed. This was a chance to memorialize my other mom and in a small way share some of Lorraine’s abundant love with you.
So if you decide to make the design, whether as a scarf, stole or throw, perhaps as a holiday gift for a loved one of your own, maybe you could think of her just a little bit. And, I know this is asking a lot, if you could imagine you are hearing the voice of Nat Cole singing a chorus or two of “Sweet Lorraine” while you are crocheting, even better.