There was a time when faced with an emergency, I could open up my purse and say "I think I have something in here..." and 9 times out of 10, could find a solution within the bowels of what my daughter called my Purse O'Plenty. What with backaches, shoulder pain, headaches and the lot, those days are long past. Now about the only thing I could fix from my carried supplies is a jagged nail or dry lips. When I grocery shop, even those emergencies are beyond me, as I carry in my pockets only my cell phone, keys and a very small, very cute Coach credit card holder. I still occasionally carry a larger bag, but only if there is a specific purpose for it, like I need to carry a pair of sandals to switch out my tennis shoes, or I am going to the movies and need a hiding place for candy bars, or I am on my way to music in the park with a few discreet airline-size bottles of alcohol. But mall shopping invariably finds me using a wristlet or small clutch. Besides relieving my shoulder/back pains, lightening the load of what I carry when I shop also means I don't have to constantly keep track of a large purse. My 85 year old mom, on the other hand, is the complete opposite.
I just returned from a month long visit with her and was appalled to see her still toting around a purse that easily weighed 10 lbs. Since she now uses a cane, slogging about with extra weight on one shoulder makes her not only stand crookedly, but also tires her out. So one evening, as we prepared to meet family for dinner, I brought out a much smaller purse and suggested that she only take with her vital, important, must-have items. At first she claimed that everything she had in her purse fit into that category, but she reluctantly agreed to let me go thru her bulging purse and eliminate some things. With that in mind, I started with her wallet, which was itself bulging with credit cards, receipts, cash, coins and a checkbook. "Do you really need every credit card you own and your checkbook to go out to a dinner you are not paying for?" I asked. "I like to be prepared," was the reply. "I do, too, but how about if tonight you just take one credit card and your driver's license?" "Those aren't in that wallet." "Where are they?" "Here," she said, pulling out a separate card case. "So what's in your wallet?" I asked, sounding like a credit card commercial. "Everything else I need." Ok, I reminded myself, as I reluctantly put the huge wallet and the card case into the smaller purse...pick your battles. Next came her makeup pouch, which contained 3 lipsticks, a compact with mirror, blush, mascara, chapstick, another mirror, pack of cotton balls, tweezers and a sample tube of foundation. I took out everything but the lipstick and compact, suggesting she could make do with only one choice of lip color. One packet of tissues went into the small bag, leaving 2 others in the old purse. Gum and 6 Tootsie Rolls made the cut, a day planner, 4 pens and a small can of hairspray did not. "What's this?" I asked, holding a small zippered pouch. "The box for my hearing aids, in case I have to take them out." "Under what circumstances would you have to remove your hearing aids?" I queried. "I can think of many," came the reply. "Name one." "They might malfunction and my ears might hurt from the loud noise." "Has that ever happened?" "Not yet, but it might." "Ok, then what is this?" I asked, moving on to another pouch. "That is the remote control for my hearing aids." "I thought that was in the form of a pen," I commented. "Yes, it is. That is the box that holds the pen, so that it doesn't get crushed, along with the instruction manual." Of course. We managed to agree on leaving behind a Bible, sunglasses, a notepad, full sized tube of hand lotion (no one has hands chapped enough for that to be necessary, and if you are thinking of sharing with others, let them bring their own), and an oblong weekly pill box with only 1 compartment holding actual pills. "What kind of pills are these?" I asked, having observed her taking her medications earlier. "They are for motion sickness." "The restaurant is on dry land," I said, helpfully, "but just in case they have relocated Casa Del Rey to a boat, I'll put one of these pills in my little pillbox with my Tylenol for that headache I feel coming on. Will that work?" Also left behind on the kitchen counter was a Target bag with an ink cartridge that needed to be returned, an envelope with dozens of receipts, her address book, a box of cough drops and a tire gauge. "Where did that come from?" my mom asked, pointing at the gauge. "You're asking me?" I returned.
By this time we had just about finished with the inside of the purse, which left the outside pockets. My mom favors purses that are the female equivalent of cargo pants, with many and varied places for storage. There were lots of discoveries in the pockets...a book of stamps, another packet of tissues, paperclips, rubber bands, a small tape measure, a rain hat, bandaids, a broken necklace. "Do you need of any this stuff?" I asked. "Of course not," came the reply. "but leaving the pockets empty is silly." Indeed. I raised my eyebrows as I removed the last item from the now empty outer pocket...her Kindle. "Really?" I said. "You were going to take your e-reader with you to the restaurant?" "Yes," she replied coolly. "If my ears hurt and I have to remove my hearing aids, I won't be able to hear the conversations, so I will just read." In that case, I thought, I should throw back in the tire gauge. That way if she gets tired of reading, she can go out to the parking lot and make sure we have enough air in our tires.