She must have seen my fidgeting. I didn’t even have to ask. She reached into her large, shiny white patent-leather purse and pulled out a box of brand-new crayons and a full-sized coloring book. My young self was instantly rescued from the boring Sunday morning Southern Baptist rhetoric. Grandma Ruth and the contents of her purse saved my day. And, I was not the only one grateful for her over-sized pocketbook. Leftovers at a restaurant? Tinfoil instantly appeared from the bowels of her bag. Uneaten food became dinner for either her and my grandfather or their already overweight Dalmatian, Dolly. My Grandma Ruth was prepared.
I guess it’s no secret why I, too, carry a store on my shoulder. I don’t understand why there is even a market for those small, petite, fashionable purses. Who uses them with any real-world sense? Big purses are the only way to go. You need something, I got it. An ever-present five-and-dime, right here, on my person.
Splenda, Tums, highlighters in multiple colors. Lipstick, Chapstick, nail clippers, dental floss. Emery boards and paper. Crumpled tissues that look used but truly aren’t. Lunch from last week. Mold from last month. Chewing gum. Advil for my head and Alleve for back. Frequent buyer cards from every store in the Washington DC Metro area. Receipts for my taxes. Old movie tickets. Coins – some of which aren’t in US Currency. Expired coupons. A spare set of keys.
Anything you might need – or want – here in my purse/luggage. Portable, available, ready to go. Just in case. Always, just in case.
Because, what if I need something and I don’t have it? After all, I don’t live in – or travel much – to the bush. There is a red-signed CVS on every freakin’ corner. Little chance that I will be stranded with no way out. But, oh no. Gotta have it. Right here in my gigantic purse. Just in case.
My kids won’t even go in it. They fear that they won’t come out.
“Mom, do you have any (fill in the blank)?
“Of course, Honey. Right there in my purse.”
Their familiar face of horror stares back at me. “Never mind,” they sigh.
My experienced children know that it’s much better to do without then to risk permanent damage to their hand and fingers. Besides, it would take hours to find it. Amazon Prime would be faster.
I guess I inherited more than my grandmother’s love for large totes. Underneath our desire to have what we need when we need it lurks ever-present anxiety. That beast must be genetic. If I have everything I might need in my colossal bag, not only do I not have to suffer without, I don’t have to ask for help. I can meet my own needs, thank you. I can avoid any sense of powerlessness, limitation or vulnerability. I can pretend that I don’t need others.
But, fierce independence is a heavy load to lug. And yet, somehow, it seems worth the weight to avoid the fear of needing something and not being able to get it. Better to be a bag lady than to risk having to ask and still coming up empty-handed. Such multiplication of pain seems unbearable.
So, I foolishly choose to hurt my back and shoulder than to force the lightening of my load and thus, add a different baggage – the ensuing inevitable anxiety. Besides, changing to a smaller purse would entail distinguishing between essentials and unnecessary extra. Better to carry it all than to face that harrowing process.
When my daughter was young, one of our favorite books to read together was “The Big Green Pocketbook.” The story is about a mom and her daughter who spend a day in the city. Everywhere they stop, the little girl puts a symbolic trinket from her adventures in her big lady-sized green purse. A bus ticket, a lollipop, a key chain, a sack of gumdrops. Eventually, she loses her purse. When her mom offers to replace the purse with a straw one, the wise little girl exclaims, “I want my big green pocketbook. My whole morning is in my big green pocketbook, and now it is lost.”
Like that little girl in the story, I fear that if I lost my jumbo-sized purse, my life would go with it. The finder would surely be disappointed at the seeming junk. But, I carry it as treasure. My knickknacks, my comforting self-reliance and the memories of my grandmother – all stuffed in zippered side-pockets, ready and available whenever my heart tugs. Just in case.