Memories Stuffed in Little Purses

“As the purse is emptied, the heart is filled.” ~Victor Hugo

My mother had a quiet passion for little coin purses. We called them ‘change purses.’ She had them, lots of them, tucked away in her dresser drawers, in the night stand and her stored-away handbags. She sent them as gifts, especially to her granddaughters, handed random ones off to people who admired them, secretly slid a special change purse into the tightly packed suitcases of loved-ones leaving her home, and chronically gave in to the urge to ‘spend a little’ on a new one, or an old one at a yard sale, or a creative one at an art fair.

Maybe it was a throwback to her childhood days during The Great Depression, when people only carried change …‘Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?’ ….and when paper money was rarely seen. The purse was as important as the coins it held, and my mother seemed to still value and delight in the styling of those little pouches. One of the charms of living far from home, was the arrival of brown-paper packages filled with a menagerie of trinkets, newspaper clippings, and little things my mother was giving away, which, even in my children’s words, was ‘such a grandma thing,’ and is now missed. Always, there would be a change purse buried in the box.

My daughter quickly picked up on the love of the little purse. We’d find change purses hidden away in her room and closet, carrying an orphaned Barbie shoe, a sparkly sticker, sometimes an unstrung bead or a dropped bird’s feather, and a penny or two. Sometimes we would find tiny pieces of ripped up paper, a small colorful collection of seed beads, and strands of doll hair cut from the head of some unsuspecting doll; a collage of tidbits that seemed to have no rhyme or reason, except perhaps in her beautiful mind. Good Lord, we were always so curious, and a little nervous, when we opened them.

The tiny plastic change purse I bought for a dime in the 1960s.

The tiny plastic change purse I bought for a dime in the 1960s.

When I was little and we would spend our summers in our family cabin in Mid-Michigan, the summer wasn’t complete without a ‘trip to town’ and a stop at the old ‘Dime Store’ in Gladwin, Michigan. One time, my mother had given each of us little kids ten-cents for spending. That was big deal in my seven-year-old world, and we couldn’t wait to browse the wooden-floored, old-fashioned store with its aisle bursting of penny candy and childhood play things like pop-guns, paper dolls, coloring books, marbles, polished rocks, miniature puzzles, tiny games where we were challenged to line-up little steely balls into strategically placed holes, rubber snakes, whoopee cushions, wiffle balls and plastic bats, and six-shooters in kid-sized gun belts. My sister Clara and I eventually eyed our prized purchase, two little plastic change purses. Our eyes met, our hearts stopped; we knew right away that is why we had come to town. Those two little purses might as well have had our names printed on them. We were in a state of consumer bliss when we slid our skinny, silver dimes over the counter to the cashier. Fifty years later, we both still have them, and the sweet memory of that day.

My mother now gone, my daughter since moved away from home, I am here still holding on to a multitude of tiny money cases that once were treasures to those two beloved women in my life, plus a couple of my own. I even have one of my father’s. Worn leather with tiny travel decals now faded out; it was designed to look like a traveler’s suitcase of those romantic train travel days. I remember looking at it in wonder and seeing it in my father’s handsome hands that I loved so well.

Like so much of what we gather, hold on to, save, and cherish, I’m at that point in life when I’m incline to start letting these things go. Done filling rooms, no longer in hopes of finding a ‘big’ house for all my bits of antiquity; there simply isn’t a drawer or closet left for one more little change purse.

And yet, I look at them, this collection of my mother and daughters, and I put them back into a bigger bag and wait for another day; a day, when I am feeling courageous or maybe too feeble to care.

Sometimes I bravely muse at the possibility of selling those little change purses at a garage sale. I imagine some little girl, whose mother has given her a small amount of money to spend on some choice item during their day of exploring garage sales, eyeing my collection of change purses. I see her fingers plying the tartan, the beaded kitty, or tiny embroidery embellishments, her eyes wide open at the beauty of such a small purse that fits so nicely in her little hand.

I’m charmed by the thought of ‘giving them away’ for some other child to bring back to life just by hearing some coins jingle in its pouch once again.

I could do that; give them away, let them go. Except maybe not the little soft-haired cowhide one that my daughter loved to rub up against her rosy cheeks, or the one that my father carried for years with the tiny travel labels faded off, and certainly not the last change purse my mother carried before she died, her perfume still lingering on the green leather and tiny golden shamrocks, reminding me of her love of change purses, now almost as obsolete and devalued as the pennies people once cherished.

Memories, all stuffed in little purses, like little bits of torn colored paper, a tarnish locket, or an ancient Avon lipstick sample; holding, holding, holding…for someone like my mother, with a story, a child’s heart and a reminiscent smile, and a few coins to spare, to come along and carry away in a new pair of loving hands.

A Penny for Your Thoughts

cropped from scanIn the late 1940s, when my dad traveled with his college football team to games around the country, he would send a one or two sentence message to my mom for one cent and a longer letter for just a few cents more. His letters were not gushing with heavy sentiment or blatant lust, but in their innocent simplicity, were still full of affection and longing, which I found enduring. Words like “swell’ marked the times they lived in, and nicknames like “Slim” and ‘Buddy,” are a sweet reminder that they were once young and hopeful, full of possibilities and dreams, before the days of diapers and bills that we all lived

My mother and father on their honeymoon out west, in the San Luis Valley, Colorado 1950

My mother and father on their honeymoon out west, in the San Luis Valley, Colorado 1950

through together.

The digital age has it’s perks, and I am certainly grateful for the opportunity to not only sort through my parent’s boxes of letters, trinkets, flowers smashed between pages from long forgotten bouquets, and personal relics, but to also be able to scan them digitally in an effort to preserve them long after even my generation is gone, is just remarkable. It’s interesting, though, how before text messaging and email, people took the time (because that was their only means) to write postcards and letters from weekend get-a-ways or excursions just to ‘drop a line’ or write a ‘goodnight’ or ‘miss you’ passage on hotel stationary and local postcards and post it quickly…without much effort. The effort, it seems, was in the ‘stopping’ to contemplate words that silently said, “I took the time…was focused on only you”…and literally sent a ‘penny’s’ worth of thoughts.

During my life with my parents, my father often mentioned a wish to see certain far-away places and reflected on the few travels he was able to experience with fond remembrance. But, the normal burdens of raising a large family on a teacher’s salary required he often work during his summers, and as the years ticked by, dreams of traveling were always prefaced with ‘someday.’

He got to Florida and California to see family and took a few jaunts to neighboring states, but my father never got very far into those ‘somedays’ before his life ended. We had our summer weeks at the ‘cabin’ in mid-Michigan, where dad, I’m sure, relived his boyhood memories, and perhaps on some level those rugged, lazy days satisfied some of my father’s desires to ‘get away’ or ‘go places.’ But, there were greater places that he dreamed of seeing, including ‘the Alamo,’ which is now just thirty minutes away from my home. Well-versed in American History and a lifetime of western movies, when my dad learned that I was moving to San Antonio, he was so excited about the prospects of seeing the Alamo and experiencing the vast mystique of Texas, that he immediately started planning a trip. Time and fate had another journey in store for him, so that trip was never to be.Letters sent to Mary Ann from Miles on the road_0001

Letters sent to Mary Ann from Miles on the road_0002I sometimes wonder if that is where I got my wanderlust, all those reflective talks of Colorado, St. Louis, and Oklahoma…places he had only gotten the chance to ‘stop’ at

Dad at far left standing. The tallest guy, always.

Dad at far left standing. The tallest guy, always.

during his team traveling: places he wanted to share with his family.  Perhaps my father’s unfulfilled dreams are what fuel my desire to drive…anywhere…just to see a new landscape, to immerse myself in history, and learn how other people live.

It is certainly easier to travel now, even by car. With GPS systems that talk to you, cell phones that can save you in a desperate situation, or to just ‘check-in’ with those that are worried, have made the scary and dusty road of travelers a safer place, to some degree. No need for the hotel stationary or picture postcards either, when just a click of one’s phone can get you and a monument pictured all over the worldwide web and a quick ‘I am here’ message can cover more territory that a one cent stamp ever could. One can send an “I love you” or “Goodnight” without the effort to find a decent pen, and calm the hearts of mothers and lovers with ease and some level of immediate satisfaction, as well.

But with all things new, there is something lost and something gained. The gains of the digital age go without saying, but the losses…the anticipation of a letter from far off places, the unique scroll of a personal signature from the hand you love, even the ‘art’ of the stamp…are certainly ‘lost’ to our comfort with immediacy. Someday, not too far in the future, there will be no more boxes of letters, postcards tied-up in once-worn hair ribbons, or those precious markings of personal handwriting left to future generations to sort through, run their fingers across, and read.  Who will ever know of the deep abiding love between two people, secret letters, and children’s words to Santa or from summer camp, or see specially selected cards with hearts and kisses penned inside, if all of our communications are just floating in a cloud? It may make no difference at all to the people who exchanged such words, but to those left behind; those before us will become more of a mystery than they already were.

Since the beginning of time, man has written on ‘something’ to leave his mark on the world or on the hearts of others. Letters and postcards are artifacts of another time and people.  Their thoughts and affections are the ties that lovingly bind us to family and friends like the ribbons they are tied in. They are sacred, real, and evidence of who we are and where we come from. They are words on a real ‘wall’ to tell our stories that will last.

Once this digital age of people disappear, what will people know of us? Surely, just as dreams of traveling roads to new and interesting places will be lost to obligation and duty, now our very thoughts and reaching words will be lost, as well. Stationary, stamps, pens, even worse… eloquent and descriptive words… will be lost to time eventually. “I ‘heart’ U” will replace a poetic tongue, a deeper meaning, and the message of “I took the time…” will lose its value. Perhaps it already has.

From a small pile of letters that my mother saved, I have gotten a glimpse of a young man and his youngLetters sent to Mary Ann from Miles on the road_0004 love for my mother, and it’s painted a lovely portrait of a 1940s couple, just as their hats, gloves, and shoes do in photographs. It documents a time in history, a union that still cultivates family roots and belonging, and reminds us how to talk to each other…even as one is just running off to meet a train or a plane…or drifting off to sleep. A penny sent a lot more than just a quick message, and is was worth so much more than we will ever know and understand again.

Certainly our grandchildren won’t know, and if we are able to save what is left of the written word in diaries, personal letters, and photographic images, they will surely see these ancient artifacts as a marvel of meaningful intention from a more enchanting time when every stroke of the cursive hand and now unfamiliar words, meant people had ‘time’ to consider others, to find the right words of love and affection, and to send them across the miles through some magic world called ‘theLetters sent to Mary Ann from Miles on the road_0005 mail’ where others ‘waited’ patiently to receive them. They may shake their heads in wonderment, but what a gift of history they will be able to experience hands-on and a personal connection to people who once were theirs.

Maybe a spark of romanticism will inspire them to do the same, and ‘writing letters’ on paper with a pen, in one’s own hand using original thought, will become a new trend again. Handwriting will return to the school curriculum where ‘writing specialists’ will be hired and revered on campuses across the land. Stationary will appear on store shelves again, and countless people will become employed by the US Postal Service.  Best of all, the writing of beautiful ‘words’ through the art of communication…may become valuable again, and people may stop and ‘take the time’ to send a line or two just for the love of it, leaving evidence that they once loved, were ours, and were here.Post cards sent from Miles to Mary Ann 1948-49_0014Post cards sent from Miles to Mary Ann 1948-49_0013

Post cards sent from Miles to Mary Ann 1948-49_0003Post cards sent from Miles to Mary Ann 1948-49_0004