Some women are obsessed with shoes. I’m more of a bag lady. But, like Nora Ephron, I also hate my purse
, especially last Saturday when I changed pocketbooks three times in one day. Connecting the dots a few days later, however, it ended up being a good thing.
“Where’s your purse?” I asked a good friend the night before. She was about to make a purchase, but there was nothing hanging on her shoulder, tucked under her arm, or strapped to her back or midriff. She’d been known to misplace her bag, though, and her hands were lazy dazy free.
“I don’t have one,” she said, slipping a slim wallet from her back pants pocket. My cheeks flushed with envy.
“Why do you need one?” she asked.
I rattled off excuses. My wallet, inhaler, pen and paper, glasses, lipstick, cough drops. Last Sunday’s bulletin. (The following week she started coughing at a concert. “Do you need a cough drop?” I whispered. Mmmhmm,
she nodded. See.)
“I just saw a purse at Goodwill like the one you have,” my youngest daughter texted me the next day, along with a snapshot. The Goodwill purse reminded her of mine and then of me
and that remembrance made all the difference in my day.
I realized my purse would match well with the dress I planned to wear that afternoon to my first ever Kentucky Derby party. When I reached
for it in my closet, another one fell down alongside it. I got rid of a slew of purses when I sold my house in 2013, but these two I kept. I bought the vintage one during the summer of 1991 at a little general store in Fire Island called Corliss on the Bay. My ex-husband and I had rented a cottage for the summer with our one-year-old baby girl, my older daughter, and the purse reminded me of that sweet summer. And the cottage where my baby took her first step.
The purse that fell down beside it was a present from my mother. She died a year and a half ago and last week was her birthday. That morning, I sat on my couch and sang some of the hymns she used to sing in church. Mid-day I drove to the beach and sat in the sun. For dinner, I ate a piece of her favorite chocolate fudge cake, placed a candle in the middle, and sang Mom Happy Birthday.
I really miss Mom. And last week I really needed to talk to her about the frustrations in my writing career. Only I couldn’t. So I distracted myself with a trip to Lowe’s Home Improvement store.
A sales associate miraculously showed up in my aisle, a tall African-American woman with long dark hair, and asked if I needed help. She spent the next 15 minutes or so patiently walking with me from garden hoses to insect repellant to storage bins. We ended up before a stack of bags containing cedar chips. My garden has become overrun with spider webs, crisscrossing between trees and furniture and smacking me in the face when I walk out the back door. I’d read that cedar chips were a natural deterrent.
“I know this may sound weird, but I love the smell of cedar,” Latolya said. I inhaled a big whiff that instantly invoked an image of my mother in the house where I grew up, opening the cedar chest at the foot of her bed. My voice broke as I relayed the story.
“You’re going to make me cry, too,” Latolya said. We instinctively reached for each other and hugged.
“So when you smell that in your garden, you can think of your mother,” she added, which had us trading stories about our own experiences as mothers and determination to raise strong, honorable children.
“I can tell you’re a really great mother,” I said.
“You’re going to make me cry,” she said. We hugged again.
“I hope I’m not overstepping my bounds,” she said. “But maybe you can plant a rose bush to remember your mother, too.”
“That’s a great idea,” I said. “Buttercups were her favorite flowers. Maybe I can figure out how to plant those.” We thanked each other and said our goodbyes, and I walked to the check-out counter.
I know this may sound weird, but somehow that text from my daughter felt like a through-line, crisscrossing in my head with all my other thoughts, and eventually leading me to Lowe’s a couple of days later. And then to a stranger who somehow prompted the invocation of my mother’s spirit and with it, the exact comfort I’d needed.