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Love for His Mom Tied Up in a Scarf


MILAN, Italy — I've always heard about someone having a favorite clothing item.

An old flannel shirt that sends a husband desperately digging in the Dumpster, where his wife just tossed it. A hand-me-down baptismal gown worn by five generations of babies. A moth-eaten sweater a co-worker snuggles into--you know, that old thing that is just as revered as the shirt and the baby gown.

Forget Prada, Gucci, Versace and Armani. Who cares about Dolce & Gabbana, Fendi, Ferragamo and Trussardi? I'm here to review the collections of world-renowned designers, but when you've got a special garment or accessory filled with memories, that's fashion.

Until Tuesday night, I thought I never had one. Then I lost a long, triangular scarf that has been everywhere with me since I left Texas for California almost 12 years ago. It's been to the Oscars, to the White House, to the Louvre, to Jerry's Famous Deli in the San Fernando Valley, to La Mascota Bakery in East L.A. Most recently it kept me toasty warm in the snow as I headed to the presidential inaugural balls. The scarf most recently went to a cocktail party for designer Miguel Adrover, who complimented me on it. Later, designer Paul Smith thought the scarf was very cool and retro at his store's opening.


It is. It originally belonged to my mother, who I remember wearing it in the 1960s when I was barely in the first grade. I swiped the scarf--a sheer cotton geometric print of circles, lines and squares in black and white--from her room before I left Texas. We were doing some spring cleaning, and as I removed drawers from a dresser, there it was.

I figured that having something so personal with me, something my mom wore and still had her perfume on, would be comforting. It rekindled memories.

I remembered how she'd drape it over her long, braided hair and then toss the tips of it over her shoulders. She'd complete the look with big Jackie O black-rimmed sunglasses and fire-engine red lipstick. Other times she'd wrap the scarf once around her neck and let it flutter on the sides. She'd use it as a belt. And once, I'll never forget how she turned it into a piece of jewelry as she wound it around and around and around a wrist until there was just enough fabric left to tie it.

My mom, the fashion diva.

These days, she prefers T-shirts with gold letters that spell out "Las Vegas," which is why I slipped the scarf into my suitcase--it was way too retro not to be worn.

Only now, that scarf--at 1 a.m.--was MIA in Milan.


I first noticed it was missing when I entered my hotel room at the Principe Di Savoia here in Piazza della Repubblica. I checked the pockets of my overcoat, my suit coat, my briefcase, the floor around me, the hallway outside, the stairs down the hallway, the lobby.

I had removed the scarf at dinner at Primafila Ristorante in the Via della Spiga area, many piazzas away. My dinner date, Doreen Binder, a producer with Canada's Fashion File program, had admired it, too.

"It's my mom's. I kinda stole it from her. This is its fifth trip to Europe," I confessed as I removed it and casually tossed it on a chair where I had imagined it still was--or, worse--on the floor to be stepped on or used as a napkin for spilled marinara sauce.

Or maybe it was in the taxi that brought me to the hotel. All I knew was that I had to find it. I called the restaurant--five times. No one spoke English. I explained my story to the concierge and asked him to please make a call on my behalf.

Of course, he said and then scolded me for being so careless, shaking his head as he dialed the phone. "Your mama, she is No. 1! You should have never removed it from your neck," he said as I agreed, thinking to myself how that simple scarf has brought me so much comfort wherever I've traveled simply because it belonged to my mom--and how I had to get it, no matter what.


Minutes later, the concierge had the restaurant on the phone. At first, the news was encouraging. The restaurant had the scarf. Retrieving it was another matter.

"They are closed tomorrow," the concierge said.

"Can they mail it to the hotel?"

"No," came the answer.

"I'll go over there now."

"Signore, they are closing. It is too late. I would worry for you because the restaurant is hard to find."

I must have looked dejected, defeated, distraught, because instantly came the solution--actually, a very L.A. kind of answer.

"Signore, the ristorante will send the scarf in a taxi."

Messenger service, Milanese style!

"Fifteen minutes, the taxi will be here," he said.

I waited in the lobby and sure enough, in 15, a cab drove up and flashed its lights outside the hotel's glass walls.

I ran outside.

"Signore Quintanilla?" the cabby asked.

"Si, si, si," I said as he handed me a large, brown envelope and I offered him the fare and then some. The cabby then motioned for me to open the package, and when I did, there it was, my mom's scarf. And like the concierge, he then gave me a good dressing-down, shaking his head every now and then, peppering his reprimand with the only word I understood: "mama."

For me, the scarf is not just about looking trendy in something vintage. It keeps me grounded in the fleeting world of fashion, connecting me with who I am and reminding me to stay humble--an enduring lesson from my mother.

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