by A.M. Larks
I picked up From Scratch: A Memoir of Love, Sicily, and Finding Home by Tembi Locke specifically because it was a travel memoir and I was stuck in a lockdown in my hometown in California. All my travel plans had been canceled, and any future traveling was becoming more and more improbable as the COVID case count ticked upward every day. Why not read about the Italian street I might never see or the Sicilian sites that I might never visit? And while Tembi Locke fulfilled my wanderlust, she also gave me so much more during a time when I needed it the most. From Scratch restored my hope in a time when hope—the world’s most precious resource—was in short supply. Locke’s account of a lifetime of love through racism, cancer, death, and grief reminded me of what makes life worth living at a time when we all were reconsidering what we value most and fighting to keep hope alive.
Like all great loves, Locke’s begins with a chance meeting when she was studying in Florence during college. She quite literally ran into the man that would be her future husband, Saro. “He wore a black leather bomber jacket and white pants. In October. His jacket was open, underneath I could see a white T-shirt with the word DESTINY written in big orange bubble letters across the center of his chest.” The fact that Locke didn’t instantly fall for the handsome Sicilian chef but judged him for his fashion choices makes Locke just the narrator that you want to follow. Her life feels like it was ripped out of the pages of the latest romance paperback. “And why do Italians wear shirts with random English words emblazoned across them? I turned away, but not before I saw his shoes. They were ankle-high black boots. Instantly I thought of elves.”
Love in real life faces obstacles so great that they may not be overcome. The “will they or won’t they” is what drives our most infamous love narratives, and it is the tension underlying this Florentine love affair. She is a black American girl and he is a white Sicilian boy. They are supposed to be together, but can they make it work? In Italy? Out of Italy? And especially when the issue of racism seeps into their relationship bubble. Family is a core element of what shapes us, what supports us, and when Saro’s family refused to come to their wedding because his family did not approve of mixed-cultural relationships, the reader is dealt a blow that made it hard to breathe and likewise hard to bear. “When the response came from Sicily two weeks later, it was decisive and delivered in a three-minute crackly phone call. His father, Guiesppe, said, ‘Non ho più figlio—I have no son.’” There is a finality about statements like this for both the Locke as she relates it and reader experiencing it for the first time, and this finality can quash all hope. For what could ever change such an extreme viewpoint?
Illness. For family drama was not the only obstacle that this love affair had to endure, and it was also not the most devastating. Saro’s health took a turn for the worst when he was diagnosed with a rare soft tissue cancer. It all seemed like too much. “‘You know, you don’t have to do this. People do leave,’ Julie said as we sat at The Ivy on Robertson.” But Locke refused and what she learned through the experience was that we need to show up for one another no matter how bad it gets. That “[i]f you’re in it, you’re in this together.” Which is precisely the message that this book offers and the message the world needs to learn right now. We are in this together, whether the issue be racism or health, whether the issue is in America or Italy. We are all in this together. And Locke reminds us that the epitome of love is to be together in good times and bad, in sickness and health, and through life and death.
And there are good times. There is love, and laughter, and lots of fabulous food. The adoption of a child, Zoela, brought with it not only a new perspective and understanding of love for Locke and Saro, but a new dimension as well. Locke would also reconnect with Saro’s family, spurred by Saro’s illness. Locke’s words about hope and change and how to explain this difficult world to her daughter resonated with me the most:
One day I would have to articulate what at the moment remained unspoken: that we were a family stumbling toward connection and the process of forgiveness is sometimes graceless. I would tell her about the drive for love, the capacity for human change, and a reunion in a hotel garden by the seas, I’d have to try to illustrate how life required constantly repairing and rebuilding relationships. How her dad’s illness had brought us closer. And how her birth had changed everything.
Locke’s memoir is more than a travel memoir, more than a recounting of grief. It is an example of a life lived with an open heart. It is a message of hope maintained through all kinds of love; familial love, romantic love, platonic love. It is a reminder that despite the appearance of finality, we are not done yet. Endings and beginnings are permanently linked. Locke’s narrative didn’t end at her wedding, and it didn’t end at Saro’s death. It ended with the promise to go somewhere next. The promise to go on in love and with hope for the future.
AM Larks writes fiction, nonfiction, and drama. Her writing has appeared in Scoundrel Time, Assay: A Journal of Nonfiction Studies, and the Zyzzyva and Ploughsharesblogs. She has performed her stories at Lit Up at Town Hall Theatre in Lafayette, California. She is the former Fiction Editor at Please See Meliterary magazine, the Photo Editor at Kelp Journal, a multimedia literary revue, and she is the former Blog Editor of The Coachella Review. She earned a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature, a Juris Doctorate, and her Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing and Writing for the Performing Arts from the University California Riverside Palm Desert's low residency program. She lives in Northern California.