My Mother’s Sweater

Elissa Orlando shares a special Empty Hanger story that will resonate with many. For those who own cherished pieces of clothing, worn by loved ones no longer with us, you already know that the memories and meanings attached to those garments are priceless. Thank you, Elissa, for introducing us to your beautiful mother, Catherine Tauroney Marra.

This is my mother’s sweater. Every time I put it on, I try and remember how it came to me. I know that it was hers and that she gave it to me. I cannot remember the circumstances. That moment is lost among many other memories of me and my mother together. I remember, and still feel, that I was fortunate to receive it, along with several other pieces of clothing that she gave me when I was in my 30s and she was in her 70s.

My mother was well-known in our small town for being well-dressed. But she was more than well-dressed. She was beautiful and well-dressed. She was poor. She was Italian, the daughter of immigrants  She was not vain, or conceited. She just always looked fantastic. She never seemed to work at it.

When I was in my 30s, Mom and I spent a lot of time together. In those days, I came to understand my mother differently than I had ever known her in any other time of my life. She grew up without a mother, separated from her father and brother. The extended family that raised her was poor and rough. She befriended other Italian kids who were being bullied. She was intelligent, went to public school and horrified her aunt and cousins when, after high school, she and her best friend, went to work in a bank. They were single working women in the 1930s. Scandalous for an Italian family living in the “flats” of Watertown, NY. Still, she told me stories of saving money and then shopping at Nugent’s or the Globe Department store in Watertown. She loved shoes, and she loved the color blue. She and her friend Rita wore boxy tweed suits and stylish hats to work in the bank. My mother became a bookkeeper and Rita went on to become the first woman bank president in the region.

From a tiny apartment and then a tiny house, my mother and father raised three daughters. My mother kept all her clothes in beautiful condition. Once my sisters and I came along, I never saw her shop for herself, but her older clothes held up over the years. This sweater is still in impeccable condition. I am very sorry that I don’t know more about the sweater. All I know is that it’s a Smartee sweater. They made clothing in the 60s, so I believe my mother must have worn this to work around the time I was born.

My mother was very proud of me and of my career. Whenever I wear this Smartee sweater to work, I think of her as a young woman — smart, kind and somewhat alone — making her way in the world. I feel close to her and proud to have loved her.

As told to The Empty Hanger by Elissa Orlando.

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