Guest Author: Susanne Skinner
Anna was my maternal grandmother. A stoic, soft-spoken and sensible woman with a life centered on her family. Her oldest daughter was my mom, with six more children behind her. She lived in a small mining town in northern Wisconsin with my grandfather, Frank, who was the local sheriff.
Anna was as far removed from royalty as you can get, but she had two things in common with the Queen of England. She never wore pants and she carried a pocketbook. It was practical, sturdy and over the wrist. No over the shoulder models for her and always modest in size. Devoid of design, it was dedicated to function, not style. It was black leather with a gold clasp at the top. The Queen does not make a public appearance without her pocketbook, and neither did my Grandmother.
The images I have of Anna and her pocketbook are inextricably linked to the life she led. She did not drive: her outings were limited to church (daily mass), visits with neighbors, bingo, and whatever shopping was needed for the family. She walked to all of these carrying a pocketbook over her wrist. If she needed a ride, someone drove her, and the grocery store delivered.
A Simpler Time
The contents of her pocketbook speak of a time gone by. If she needed something she could open it up and find it. It was not crowded in there. She did not have a wallet because she did not need one. She used a coin purse that also held bills. She had no driver’s license, credit cards, checks or keys. My grandparents did not own a car or lock their house. She carried no identification of any kind. In addition to money, Anna’s pocketbook held a rosary, a small lace head covering for church, Lady Ester face powder and lipstick. Occasionally there were Canada Mints. There was room for more, but no need for it.
It also held a handkerchief. Anna carried a handkerchief in her pocketbook and she had a beautiful collection. Most were square and floral; a few were embellished with scalloped edges, crocheted lace or tatting. There were bright colors and soft pastels. My favorite was a round one with tiny purple violets.
I loved those handkerchiefs and when I visited her it was my job to iron them. The pressed ones were stacked neatly in a drawer until she selected one and placed in the pocketbook. To this day I don’t know if she actually used them, but she was never without one.
I don’t keep them in a drawer. When they were given to me I found a vintage handkerchief box to keep them in (triangular, because that’s how they were folded) and placed it on the dresser. They remind me of Anna and my wonderful visits to Wisconsin. They are sentinels that stand among items that speak to a more hectic life and the passage of time.
It’s in the Bag
I don’t carry a pocket book. Mine is a handbag or a purse – I guess its nomenclature is dictated by style and size–and it’s definitely the over-the-shoulder model. I also carry a briefcase, mainly because I haven’t found a handbag stylish enough to hold a laptop. My life can be summarized by what’s inside.
On any given day, apart from a wallet the size of a paperback book, I have my cell phone, the company Blackberry, an assortment of keys, numerous store “discount” cards, the keycard for my office, at least two pens–one of them guaranteed not to write–a pocket calendar with a pad of paper, a check book, reading glasses, sunglasses, cleaner for the glasses, a packet of tissues, lip gloss, lipstick, Chapstick, Ibuprofen, business cards, laptop security fob, my iPod, a USB key (because you never know), hand sanitizer and Tic Tacs. Oddly enough, I don’t have a mirror. I used to have a small flashlight but I lost it. In days gone by my purse also contained Match Box cars, hair elastics, Band Aids, Handy-Wipes and at least one package of Teddy Grahams.
How did our lives get this complicated? When we were kids we made fun of my mom for this very reason. We called her purse The Mother Bag. It contained everything but the electronics, enough food for a family of five and implements necessary to remove your appendix should the occasion arise. She also carried a small photo album that could be whipped out at a moment’s notice to show family photos, and an item that embarrassed all of us–a pleated rain hat made of clear plastic. She did not carry a handkerchief. She had Kleenex, and would spit on it and wipe off your face without a moment’s hesitation.
I find myself longing for the simpler times. Perhaps it is because I don’t want to carry around all that stuff but feel I have to. Like the decision is no longer mine, but dictated by a job, social activities, or the fear of needing one of these items and not having it. It has stopped being an accessory or even a purse and become luggage.
Is there a happy medium here? Is there something we can do to offset this need to carry our lives around in a bag? I think there is.
I added a handkerchief.