Monday, November 07, 2005

Mama's Got A Brand New Bag

Back when I was young and giddy, I had many requirements for a new purse. It had to be cute – cute, in the world of the purse, means having a mildly impractical color or fabric with some superfluous dangling bits. It had to have a reasonable price – if it was too expensive I would only wear it in the closet, and only when everyone was out of the house. It also had somehow to make my legs appear longer. Needless to say, I spent entirely too much time looking for purses.

Now I am old and bitter, and I have one purse. I took it in to be repaired recently, and the cobbler stared at the weathered straps, the darker marks from where my sweaty little hand has clutched it, the stains of unknown origin splattered here and there. He pointed to a line of splashed red dots marching down the side.

“Blood?”

“Robitussin”

He nodded and gave me his estimate for cleaning. I blanched.

“Well,” he said, a touch defensively. “If you go years between cleaning, it takes a lot of work to get it back into shape.”

I stood up straighter, a protective hand on my maligned leather security blanket.

“I got this purse nine months ago.”

Obviously, he’d never seen a real mother’s purse before.

The purse had entered my life unexpectedly. This past Christmas, we were parked on a fairly busy street moving packages in and out of the in-law’s house, when an opportunistic rat took advantage of the general holiday chaos (and our unlocked car) to boost my purse and wallet. In case you’re curious, December 27th is a fabulous day to get your driver’s license replaced. But as stressful as replacing the credit cards and essential IDs, the thing that really floored me was having to think about a new purse.

The purse had to be a neutral color, because I no longer have the inclination to change purses daily (that part of my brain is now taken up with whether or not Daughter has eaten carrots recently).

It had to be able to hold at least two books, one for me and one for Daughter, for those times we arrive early.

It had to be able to hold the random objects Daughter and I accrue throughout the day. Generally, the contents of my purse resemble the end of a scavenger hunt (lollipop stick, unused Dora the Explorer band-aid, one expired AAA battery, three expired coupons, English/Tagalog dictionary, etc.).

And it had to do all these things without making me look even more disheveled than usual.

It took a week of shopping – a week during which a patent-leather evening clutch functioned as my every-day purse – but I found it. It was neutral without being dreary. It was spacious without being cavernous. It improved my general appearance without making a mockery of my shoes. I loved and feared it in equal measure. It was simply too…pristine.

The first few weeks, the purse was treated as an honored guest. When I drove, it didn’t rest on the floor but in the passenger seat (it’s possible I buckled it in). At a restaurant, it sat on the table with me, far away from food. I kept expecting it to say, “I suppose you’re wondering why I called this meeting”. It had its own hook in the closet. Each night, I practically tucked it in with a hot-water bottle and good night kiss.

But into every life, some rain must fall. And by life, I mean "new purse", and by rain I mean “wet socks”. Daughter and I were walking through a local Children’s Garden with a substantial water element. I don’t know what I was thinking about, but I certainly wasn’t doing my job as mother, because when I said to her “If you’re going to play in the water, please take off your shoes” it didn’t occur to me to say, “…And also your socks.” I think we were all pretty shocked when Daughter came sloshing out of the fountain, creating her own water park around her. Without comment, she removed her wet socks and handed them to me. Without comment, I bunched them in my hand.

But as the afternoon progressed, Daughter made artwork, and I had to carry that.

Daughter was given a balloon animal, and I had to carry that.

Daughter took off her sweater, and I had to carry that.

I saw a kiosk which sold tea, and you know I had to carry one of those.

But this was the breaking point. I had simply run out of hands and crevices (the balloon giraffe was nestled in my armpit). Something had to give. I looked longingly at my piping hot tea sitting on the counter and at my hand holding the wet socks. I then looked at my pristine purse and thought, Gotta give it up sometime. The little wet socks went right into the purse.

So now, it’s seven months later and my elegant, go-everywhere purse appears to have accompanied Persephone in and out of Hades a few dozen times. The neat geometric corners have collapsed into something which leads strangers to offer advice like “Y’know, they could probably lance that.”

The color had started off as Camel but progressed to Dung.

However, in two days, when the cobbler has worked his magic, it will be camel-colored again.

It will a shapeless, beaten-up, Robitussin-flecked camel-colored purse.

Which smells slightly of little wet socks.

10 Comments:

Anonymous Chris (Ohio) said...

Mine is a used gem I got on Ebay- small but not too small, Coach-though it might be a Canal Street rip off-and it has a teenie pocket that I can carry my teenie new camera in..I will never give it up, in fact I want to find a brown one just like it for those brown days.

10:31 AM  
Blogger houseband00 said...

Thanks for making me laugh. I needed a good one.

3:40 PM  
Anonymous Melissa said...

You might want to reconsider the camel-colored purse. Black, brown and that dark reddish-brown color whose name currently eludes me are also neutrals, but they conceal the slings and arrows of life-with-child much better. Better yet, go with a backpack and call yourself retro, or pretend you're a student (as a bonus, you can give off that aura of "I'm just the nanny - not ultimately responsible for child's behavior").

7:13 PM  
Blogger Mel said...

I'm so unfashionable . . . I buy a purse a year at Goodwill for $1.99. I can't believe I just admitted that in public.

10:18 PM  
Anonymous Melissa said...

Oxblood - that's the name of the reddish brown color. I knew it was something disgusting

10:31 AM  
Blogger torontopearl said...

Quinn, spread your wonderful writing talent. Go to this site --www.freshyarn.com -- and submit some of your personal essays. Posts like these deserve a wider and varied audience.

6:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I went to the other end of the spectrum and spent the amount of a house payment on a handbag, but I have to say it had been carried for three years, never serviced, and still looks brand new. Well, except for the suede lining. It could use a cleaning. Damn sippy cups...

8:36 PM  
Anonymous Chris said...

Hi Quinn--Just wanted to let you know that you are one of the choices of a "where are they now" type site...the site is
www.celebritynooz.com--They have in the past churned up people that have some pretty wild things going on in their lives...hope they don't get ahold of anything too outrageous about you ;)..they pick one celebrity a week that readers vote on to read about. Chris(Ohio)

6:14 AM  
Blogger Quinn Cummings said...

Chris, thank you for your concern, but this is the craziest thing I do these days.

7:21 AM  
Anonymous Chris S. said...

This isn't crazy at all! You speak for those of us that are spread out all over the place yet we are truly ALL THE SAME! I love your look on the world. I am about a zillion years older than you have 3 sons-(two teenagers and I can proudly say I am surviving )and still laugh right out loud when I read your blog because it is SOOOOOO TRUE----Chris

8:52 AM  

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