“I don’t know why you are still carrying that hideous purse after all these years,” my sister chastised.
We were at a wedding and since I was dressed in my fanciest clothes, I was also carrying my fanciest bag, a black leather clutch with a kiss lock clasp, circa 1960.
“That bag is old and downright ugly,” my sis went on. “The Prada knockoff that I gave you for your birthday is much cuter than that.”
My sister, by the way, is a bit of a purse-a-holic. She knows about purses and buys new handbags often. But in the wide arena of purse obsession, she is not alone.
Every year, the fashion world watches the New York and Paris runways intently, waiting to view the IT bags of the season. The most coveted handbags carry five or six figure price tags and lengthy waiting lists for the uber rich who will proudly display those bags all around Hollywood.
And according to studies, the average American woman grooves on handbags as well, and she purchases three purses every year. Department stores carry an extensive variety, many imitating those runway favorites. At my local Kohl’s, I counted close to 100 different purses for sale, some with price tags up to $200. One in ten American women say she is very comfortable spending $150 or more for the right purse.
But even for those who are NOT among the one in ten big spenders, purse admiration and purse envy are still very real for some women. I have noticed that my black and white floral print bag from Relic, retail price $64 (before my 30% coupon, of course) draws more compliments than my clothes, shoes, hair, my professional work, or even my stellar personality!
So it seems that a snazzy purse can draw attention. Some even assume that purse choice makes a statement about who you are and what you value! When it comes to my little black purse, these assumptions are absolutely correct.
I am not the first owner of this black leather clutch. Before it was mine, I borrowed it, again and again. My mother kept that purse wrapped in layers of tissue paper inside a shirt box, tucked in the top of her bedroom closet. She always unwrapped it with a bit of ceremony and fuss whenever I asked to borrow it. I have carried that purse to five high school reunions and to almost every wedding I have ever attended. The purse became mine after my mother’s death.
My mother was a strong woman who was strong because it was her only choice. She became a single mom at age 37, with four children, including an infant, at a time when divorce was uncommon. Desperately needing to take care of her brood on her own, she went to work and she learned to drive. It was a time before car seats and Baby Lisa (me) traveled in a bassinet, laid on the back seat of our big sedan. But those big ole automobiles of the 1960s were not exactly built for a petite 5 foot female driver so my Uncle Herb helped out by strapping wooden blocks to the gas and brake petals so Mom could more easily reach them. Sitting tall atop a phone book or two, my mother managed to get us where we needed to go.
To my 2016 sensibilities, this scenario sounds ridiculously unsafe and a lot like a wacky sketch from I Love Lucy, with reckless, but comical, driving and lots of screaming by Lucy and Ethel. But it was 1967 and times were different.
Like all moms, mine did some things very well and some things not so much. Like most of us, she was a work in progress. But she was gritty and resilient and she stood back up when she was knocked down. I watched her face hardship and extreme grief and she soldiered on. Because, as a mother who loved her children deeply, she had to keep doing her best, for us.
So occasionally, I carry her little black purse. And it does reflect what I value.
My favorite picture of my mother is from New Year’s Eve, 1966. She is wearing a cocktail dress and a New Years party tiara adorned with crepe paper and glitter.She has a cigarette in one hand and a high ball glass in the other. She is nine months pregnant, as the photo was taken just days before I was born. (Different times, remember? ) Given the flux she was experiencing in her life at the time, I imagine that she was mustering strength for the challenges to come.
And given her fancy dress, I also imagine that sitting on a table, just outside of the photograph’s frame, was that little black purse.
To all of you scrappy, resilient REAL moms who have worked hard and put your kids before yourself, even when motherhood wasn’t all white picket fences and Prince Charmings, I applaud you.
Happy Mother’s Day!
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