Are there too many purses?
By Mary Zachmeyer
Men are blessed with pockets, deep, dark pockets — hip pockets, back pockets, bib overall pockets, even shirt pockets. Men even have secret pockets made of acetate fabric hidden near their hearts. The rest of us humans carry PURSES: round purses, sequined purses, strawberry-shaped purses, midget purses. Every size, shape, color, design and fabric that a woman could desire crouch on shelves in stores waiting to pounce on their next victim.
My mother stored a box in a corner of her cellar in the old 1905 house. Its contents grew. It overflowed with the purses from her life. When I asked her why all the purses, she arched her eyebrows and stared at me as though I had asked an unforgivable question. Her eyes widened as she said, “Gonna have a garage sale and sell them for a quarter a piece.”
Spike heels used to be the curse of women. Now, purses are added to that list. It matters not how much we stuff or do not stuff into them, the searched-for item escapes our fingertips. I have a theory: If a woman goes to hell, she spends eight hours a day rummaging through her purse. She never finds what she is looking for. And that is how she spends hell.
The men in my life love to add to my curse. They hand their glasses to me to keep safe in MY purse. “They will fall out of my pocket,” they say. They pat one of their coveted pockets as a smile waltzes across their face.
My purses cradle everything from cameras to coupons. Geodes from southeast Iowa and Mexican black opals have nestled in my cloth bag. In the spring, I stuff cattails into them and orangey bittersweet vines in the fall.
Actually, this has gone on for generations. And, it is our own fault, Ladies! Like every other woman, I pushed my unsuspecting, precocious daughter down the same destructive path. I shopped for her Easter dress. There it was: a dress with a purse to match. I cooed like a baby. “This is the one,” I said. I knelt next to my darling toddler and pointed out the advantages of a tiny purse. When I got her home, I showed her how to fill her dainty purse to the brim with hankie, coins and toys. Thus, the curse continues to the next generation.
I wish designers and lexicographers would choose a name for these trickster pocketbook. Some man undoubtedly named it that to pacify an angry mob of women who envied men’s pockets. There are also wallets, money-bags, pouches and handbags. We have coin purses and money belts.
The American Heritage Dictionary hits it smack dab on the clutch in one of its definitions. A purse is anything resembling a bag or pouch. Spanish has the right idea. Bolsa is a bag...any type of bag. Bolsita is a small bag. Can we not do that with English?
It is not enough to have countless types of purses. We also have all sorts of purse substitutes. Lacy undergarments, grandma’s sugar bowl, husbands socks and golden compacts have hidden the folded green stuff and coins.
Years ago, I discovered a small box in my grandmothers attic. I sorted through them. There was a black acetate with hand-sewn rosettes. The zippered closing was scarcely large enough for my hand to slip through. The black taffeta lining swished like my prom dress from the 50s. A black velvet purse hid two pockets inside. The brass clasp closed crisply, but needed cleaning. Black sequins and beads covered another black satin clutch. Matching rows convinced me that the sequins were sewn on one at a time.
These purses of the past enchanted me. I searched each one, hoping to find a 1920s rhinestone compact. Surely, one of grandmother’s thread-thin, embroidered handkerchiefs would hide in a corner. I opened every purse, examined each design, looked for a lost love letter. I found nothing, yet these beautiful old purses walked me through another woman’s life to another woman’s imagination.
Until next time, guess I will find a corner in the basement for a big box. I need to start collecting my purses for my granddaughters to discover one day.