We’ve all seen or heard it. You know, that Capital One commercial promoting it’s credit card with the tagline “What’s in YOUR wallet?” That line came to mind this afternoon as I was having lunch with a friend. She noted that she needed to clean out her purse, because it was beginning to weigh as much as a large sack of potatoes! I commented that I had recently gone through my own purse to clear out some old receipts and lighten the load. It was amazing that the contents (and excesses) of each bag were very nearly identical. She said, “Now, there’s a topic for your blog!”
As I contemplated this conversation, it occurred to me that the contents of one’s purse (or wallet and pockets for the gentlemen in the crowd) can say a lot about one’s stage in life. Our age, and what we consider important, dictates what we decide to carry around with us and the containers we choose. The era we live in and the social norms also influence our language regarding these items. For example, my mother and grandmother referred to their purses as “pocketbooks,” my grandfather would have carried a large watch on a “fob” in a small vest pocket and I have heard many others call a purse a “handbag.”
As far as I can remember, I did not have an “official” purse until I was seven years old. I may have played with some bag containing plastic coins and other sundry items, but I have no true memory of that experience. Yet, I clearly recall that my first purse was white plastic-coated cardboard and contained a rosary, prayer book, a handkerchief, and white gloves! It was the purse I carried on the day of my First Holy Communion.
At that time in my life, the only other carrier I used was my “satchel” or “book bag.” Before the beginning of each new school year my parents would purchase a small suitcase like bag with a main compartment, and a front pocket. The main compartment had a flap cover that was secured with two buckles and had a plastic handle attached to the top center for ease of transport. The front pocket generally snapped shut but sometimes had a buckle. Walking to (and from) school each day, I would carry that bag, filled with books, pencils, pens, paper, ruler or whatever supplies were necessary for that school year. These bags were used in the same way as today’s “backpacks.”
In eighth grade, I remember having a purse that matched my Easter dress. That year was the first time I was allowed to wear “high heels.” They were beige pumps with a tiny one-inch heel. It took me several days of practice to be able to walk in them without wobbling. My dress was a beige sheath with a scoop neck and it had a coordinated avocado green and beige brocade full length coat. I also had a beige “pillbox” hat. In those days we dressed quite formally for church and ladies always covered their heads. Gloves, however, were becoming passé. I was so excited and eager to walk into church on Easter Sunday in this “grown up” outfit. My purse included a rosary, “change purse,” pale pink lipstick, “Kleenex,” and a sanitary belt and napkin (just in case). By this time, the missal I carried to church each week (Latin with English translation) had to be carried separately because it was too large to fit into a little handbag. It snowed that year and my mother made me wear my winter coat, hat, mittens, and snow boots to church. So much for my lovely ensemble, but at least I was able to carry my fashionable purse!
At age twenty I gave birth to my first son and began carrying a much larger purse along with the obligatory “diaper bag” This purse would now include a driver’s license, wallet, checkbook with pen, breath mints, family photos, tissues (we were avoiding the use of brand names when referring to common items), tampons, notebook, and a couple of Avon catalogs. Yes, I was a “ding-dong Avon calling” representative in those days. I was in to spontaneous prayer, so my rosary was relegated to a drawer in my bedroom. The diaper bag included diapers (of course) but also, changing pad, diaper rash cream, wash cloth, plastic bag, extra outfits, extra pacifier, bottle of formula, bottle of water, a couple of baby toys or books, “burp cloths,” and an extra blouse for me (just in case he missed the burp cloth)!
Before I turned thirty, I had three children. The difference in the contents of the diaper bag was that it no longer contained formula because I was “nursing” (it wasn’t openly called breast-feeding). I also included a “receiving blanket” for discreet feeding times. However, my purse had added a few “Hot Wheel” cars, crayons, and toys to occupy my nine-year-old son and four-year-old daughter. During these years I also found it quite helpful to carry a small vial containing Tylenol.
By age forty, I no longer needed the diaper bag and was back to carrying a large purse/book bag, because I had returned to college and would have to spend any spare moment reading or studying for exams. My wallet now contained a credit card or two, medical and auto insurance cards and several store discount cards. I organized my necessary school items by including a small faux-leather kit with elastic holders for scissors, eraser, ruler, stapler, tape, paper clips, and extra pens and pencils. Thanks to a hysterectomy, I no longer needed to carry the feminine sanitary products!
Five years later my husband had triple bypass surgery and my mother’s health was declining. I began carrying a list of my husband’s and my mother’s medications, and my mother’s “advance directives for health care”. Once again, I began carrying (and praying) the rosary. New to my purse was a cell phone roughly the size and weight of half a brick. I was also working at two parishes, so I would often carry some notes, books, files and/or other work related documents. Instead of a small wallet, I had a clutch with an entire section dedicated to plastic credit, insurance, store discount, and gift cards. It included a space for my checkbook and register as well as a partition for cash. Because I was often going straight from one job to the other, I would also carry lunch or a couple of granola bars.
Shortly after this, (surprise! surprise!) I began having back spasms! My doctor instructed me to “ditch the purse,” which often weighed over 10 pounds and threw off my entire spinal alignment. So, for a very short time, I carried nothing but the wallet/checkbook/change combination “clutch”, but I kept other “tote bags” in my car with all the other items that had occupied my earlier back-breaker. The only problem was that, when I arrived at work, I had to make several trips to carry in what I began calling my “dog and pony show.”
In the next few years I lost my wallet (a couple of times) and realized carrying a purse with a handle or “shoulder bag” did have it’s advantages. My youngest son and his girlfriend gave me a new designer purse for Christmas, so I decided to try “carrying” but I would keep the contents simple and light. I began by including my wallet clutch, but I removed all the excess store discount and credit cards and tried to keep my loose change to a minimum. I got a smaller pill case. I began carrying batteries for my husband’s hearing aids, keys to a friend’s home (in case of emergency), my rosary, hand sanitizer, extra reading glasses, an I-phone, a sample-sized tube of hand cream, breath mints, and a tube of lip balm! It is amazing how we begin to dry out as we get older!
I don’t know what the coming years may bring. All I can say is that when my mom passed away, her purse contained, a small plastic folder of family pictures, tissues, a small change purse, some loose pills, a rosary, a recipe card, and a tube of red lipstick.
What’s in your purse (wallet…pockets today)? What do the contents say about your life?