92: Mother’s Handbag

92: Mother’s Handbag

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Amazing Mom

Mother’s Handbag

The more a daughter knows the details of her mother’s life, the stronger the daughter.

~Anita Diamant

I reach down into the wicker storage basket and pull out the large handbag. I brush off a little bit of dust and unclasp the lock. The first thing I find inside is a green packet of Wrigley’s Doublemint gum. I slip out a foil-wrapped piece and sniff; a faint scent lingers. Memories of my mother waft over me along with the minty fragrance. Her purse still carries a part of her identity, bits and pieces of her unique personality.

A paperback book is in the middle of the pocketbook, with a rubber band wrapped securely around it. Mom rubber-banded everything, including the pigtails on my older sister and the braids on my own head when we were young. I think she would have rubber-banded both of us to keep us still if she could have found one large enough. The title of the book makes me smile, Overcoming the Shake, Rattle and Roll in Your Life! My mother was an overcomer, a strong yet tender woman of solid Polish descent.

I riffle through several medical prescriptions, pill bottles, doctor appointment cards and health insurance papers. These items are a painful reminder of all the health problems she stoically endured. Yet in the middle of the medical paraphernalia lies a slim volume titled A Rainbow of Hope, reflecting her steadfast optimism and sincere faith in the face of her daily struggles. Tucked in a corner of the bag is a rolled-up rain bonnet, a thin strip of colorful, polka-dotted plastic in case of a sudden downpour. It might rain, but she was ready with some funky colors to brighten a dreary day. An address sticker is clearly taped inside the purse in case it wandered away from the owner and needed to be returned. She was even ready for that.

There is a flat case enclosing a square mirror to be sure she was always presentable. My fingers touch a filmy blue scarf, and I draw it out. It unfurls a bright banner of color. I grin, picturing her with the scarf tied securely around her neck or over her head.

There are other papers in the purse, including several religious tracts. She was determined to convert the world and would leave a trail of little booklets wherever she went. Without a doubt, she influenced far more lives than we would ever realize. I pull out all the tissues, causing a blur of soft whiteness. She was always ready for a sudden sneeze or to clean up an accidental spill. Usually, they were used to dry someone’s tears as she comforted them in their distress and offered compassion in the form of a clean white tissue and a warm hug.

I remember so many examples of strong character just from the perusal of Mother’s handbag. She gave me valuable life lessons to guide my way. I can hear the determination in her voice. “Cynthia, be courageous, fight for the right and look on the bright side! Always be prepared, look your best, reach out to others.” I’d smile and roll my eyes. How could I hope to live up to her standards? “Be loving, be kind, and remember to truly listen to others . . . .” Yes, Mother, I’m working on it.

Was she perfect? Excuse me, I just heard her laugh floating through the clouds. She would have been the first one to say no. She had a temper she struggled with daily. She possessed a quirky sense of humor, and she wasn’t overly concerned with the opinions of others. This fact was more obvious in the winter when she constantly wore mismatched mittens. I still wonder if she really couldn’t find the proper match or if it was a deliberate ploy to challenge the norm.

On days when I miss her deeply and the loss is more poignant, I pull out the handbag and allow the bittersweet nostalgia to soothe my soul. Every item carries significance, a slice of my mother’s life within the simple confines of her handbag. Clean it out? Throw out that stale, old gum? I think not. I carefully place it back in storage with a gentle pat, knowing that I’ll return again for more memories and life lessons from Mother’s handbag.

~Cynthia A. Lovely

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