Purses R Us

by Judith H. Rose  <mamagal@juno.com>

It's my "maiden voyage" as a college lecturer and I'm scared to death. I've not slept a wink the night before. Dressed in "college casual" style, and primed with an I-can-do-this pep talk, I prepare for my grand entrance. I take an extra deep breath and sail bravely into the classroom. Without warning, in mid-stride, I hear a pop and feel my purse strap detach from my shoulder. It falls to the classroom floor with a gigantic thud. Where's a big hole when you really need one?

Did I take the hint and swear off purses permanently? Of course not! Take my husband if you must, but leave me my purse. It is the one indispensable item in my life: my portable desk, my emergency kit on a strap, my security blanket. It is, in fact, my mate for life. Without my ever-present companion securely by my side, I feel--well--naked.

As a woman isn't born with a purse in her hand, how is purse-imprinting accomplished from generation to generation? How does Mother Nature forge this critical relationship of woman to purse? Simple. You can forget the onset of the menses as the defining passage to womanhood. A girl doesn't really become a woman until she buys her first purse. In fact, "the curse" is why she suddenly needs a purse.

Scholarly and discerning observers can tell much about a woman--even her marital and family status--by the type of purse she chooses. Young girls, as previously mentioned, carry none. Teenagers, intent on purchasing all manner of self adornment at local malls, carry either clutches or minuscule purses about the size of their credit cards. With no responsibility but themselves, they keep it simple.

My own daughter's metamorphosed from one approximately the size of a postage stamp to a coordinated leather handbag the size of a small trunk. In a pinch, she could probably use it to replace her exercise weights. My sister's husband occasionally shops with her. When the packages begin to accumulate, he becomes chivalrous. "Why don't you take the packages, Dear, and I'll carry the heaviest thing," he offers as he gallantly reaches for her purse.

But with marriage comes Purse Graduation. A wife cannot survive with anything smaller than a bread box. Mothers are the marathon purse carriers of the gender. I'm not talking simple purses here. I'm talking suitcases. Diaper bag purses. Heavier-than-the-baby purses. Mature purses must be large enough to carry keys for everything except the Taj Mahal, old programs from a child's recital, a filofax to keep track of their performances, that pair of earrings you've been meaning to return, sun glasses -- yours and the kids' . . . This list is by no means complete or inclusive. Each woman is unique and creative in her purse contents. Indeed, no two purses are exactly the same. (Some women executives invest time and money in briefcase purses that are minutely organized and include Franklin Planners. Don't, whatever you do, get in their way.) Perhaps someday technology will catch up and use women's purses as unique identifiers for ATM machines.

Eventually there comes a time when things end as they began and a woman hangs up her purse for good. She stops carrying it because she never goes anywhere, couldn't care less, and couldn't find it even if she needed it. You can be assured that this woman's days on earth are limited. She has terminal I-don't-have-strength-left-for-the-mall syndrome; she has pared her life down to the essentials--and they're right next to her easy chair.

Until that happens, women carry purses. So how should a purse be designed? First, the purse itself should weigh about one ounce and shrink and expand to fit its contents. The perfect purse would have color-coded compartments, a voice-activated clasp to save my fingernails, a pneumatic lift to elevate those pesky items that fall inaccessibly to the bottom, and an alarm that would shriek for help in the event the purse and I get separated. I know that science will someday make all this possible. We must be patient. But I despair of modern technology's ability to ever design a strap strong enough to resist the relentless pull of gravity. Maybe in another life.


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