94: My Mother the Bag Lady

94: My Mother the Bag Lady

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Best Mom Ever!

My Mother the Bag Lady

You can never guarantee you’ll be the smartest person in the room, but there is no excuse for not being the most prepared.

~Brendan Paddick

I picked up the soft black and white tote bag and touched my face. If only I could kiss the owner one more time. Sorting out my mother’s things after her death at age ninety overwhelmed me. Now what would I do with this bag with “Gladys” boldly written in red letters?

My mother loved purses and tote bags. As a child I would ask, “Do you have…?” Mom would dig into her leather purse that held Life Savers, tissues, pencils, paper, and safety pins. A piece of string and rubber bands were essential tools to have on hand. The purse even held a small sewing kit.

Some people might look at the black and white bag and say, “It’s just a tote bag,” but it was filled with memories for me. I remembered walking down the halls with “Gladys” on my arm. Weekly it went back and forth with me to the assisted living facility with drugstore items, extra snacks, and other things that Mom requested. The large size enabled me to bring clothes and toiletries during her frequent hospital stays. Now the treasured tote made me cry. I put it in a drawer to decide its fate later.

My memories of my mom seemed to revolve around bags. Earlier in my life, a bag held Sunday school teacher’s lessons or minutes of the neighborhood garden club meetings. Another one held the Girl Scout leader’s handbook and supplies to my childhood weekly scout group.

My mother, an artist, carried a green one that contained a small sketchpad, two artist pencils, and a separate eraser. She might find a cute dog, a small creek, or a beautiful flower to draw along the way. The sketch would later become an oil or watercolor painting.

My parents eventually moved into a senior retirement community in my city. Weekly, a red bag with black monogram initials accompanied her for phone duty at the senior complex. Mom could easily be entertained with a crossword puzzle or book — both of which she kept handy.

She loved to knit and demonstrated it by making gifts for the family. A bag with the logo of the senior complex contained knitting projects. Several seniors knitted blankets for the patients at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. Mom knitted hundreds of hats in multiple designs and colors. When she and the other knitters were featured on a local news program, Mom proudly showed off some of the finished hats.

When Mom started using a walker, she attached a black bag in front. On doctor visits it held a large-print book or a Kindle, which her granddaughter updated regularly. And let’s not forget the small box of tissues, breath mints, a tablet of paper, pencil, water bottle, reading glasses, and sunglasses that filled the black bag.

Wherever she went as Gladys, Mom, or Grandma, my mother was ready. I seem to have inherited the trait. One year on a trip with two friends, I took twice as much luggage as they did combined. When I mentioned it, they answered, “We know when we travel with you, we can pack light because you bring everything we need.” Or the time I went overseas and took an extra disposable camera — just in case. On the second day one of my fellow traveler’s camera broke. And who came to the rescue? My closets contain many totes in colors and sizes that I have used in my own activities and trips. My mother taught me well.

One afternoon, I opened a drawer and saw the black and white bag again, still waiting for me to decide its fate. For several weeks I had been busy with the affairs of Mom’s estate and I had forgotten about it. I pulled the bag out and gently ran my fingers down the sides. And then I felt something hard inside, something I hadn’t noticed before. I pulled out a small golden pair of clip-on earrings in the shape of angels.

How did they get in there? I vaguely remembered them with all the other clip-on earrings months ago in Mom’s jewelry box. Goosebumps ran up my arms. Sensing a heavenly connection, I could almost hear my mother say, “See, I was prepared for my final trip.”

A black and white bag with gold earrings will be treasured in remembrance of the best bag lady I ever knew — my mother.

~Sharilynn Hunt

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