One of the highlights of meeting our Hot Mamas every May is the opportunity to see parenting and motherhood through someone else’s lens. Each Mama receives a sort of “getting to know you” questionnaire the first time we meet. A thinly veiled attempt to extract life lessons and mothering tips from complete strangers? Why, yes. Yes, it is.
My own Hot Mama, Colleen, has always dispensed the kind of life lessons you might find as the caption to a pencil drawing in The Old Farmer’s Almanac: even a broken clock is right twice a day. A whistling woman and a crowing hen always come to no good end. You can’t take it with you. There’s no use crying over spilt milk, especially once the cow’s out of the barn.
I guess these are standard truths, but any Boxcar Child with an almanac could get up to speed on these axioms (while brushing up on lunar planting cycles) and still command respect down at the railyard. For real life lessons from my mom, one would have to dig a little deeper: way on down to the bottom of her purse.
My mom’s purse was a fashion accessory last and a vault of highly classified chattel first. She guarded it the way a starving Doberman Pinscher would guard a leg of lamb, and it was rare to be asked to fetch something from within it. With limited spelunking opportunities, my siblings and I caught only the occasional glimpse of items inside that dark-side-of-the-moon-with-the-leather-feel; today, we can only speculate about the unseen mysteries it held.
Based on the few contents I have seen (including her Jackie-O-meets-Superfly sunglasses), I’m convinced that I’ve learned just as much about life from my mom’s purse as from anything she actually said.
She always had a rain bonnet. She always carried Kleenex® for blotting her lipstick. Not a travel pack of Kleenex®, but five or six individual tissues that floated about, covered in lip imprints of assorted hues matching the many Avon sample lipsticks she also carried. She kept a compact with a mirror for applying lipstick and a skinny white rat-tail hairbrush for fluffing what the rain bonnet had flattened if her pink-handled hair pick didn’t do the trick.
She always had some kind of mint – usually the crappy kind that you’d never deliberately buy, but that you’d eat in a moment so ravenous you wouldn’t care how old it is or how much of the wrapper wouldn’t come off. Likewise, my mom kept a wealth of cellophane-wrapped toothpicks (mint flavored) that may have come from the same restaurant that provided the crappy mints. Occasionally, she’d reveal that she had some Dentyne® or Doublemint® gum. Inevitably, she’d be down to her last piece, which, when halved, was like eating one of the tiny-sized Chiclets®. Still, she was always willing to share.
You could count on her for hand lotion and nail clippers. She was never averse to giving herself a spontaneous mani, right on the spot.
My mom was the human ATM decades before the ATM in the sense that she always dealt in cash. She carried a checkbook, but used it sparingly. An envelope secured by rubber bands was all the account reconciliation she needed.
Every item in my mom’s purse was a talisman with a specific message: Don’t look into the sun; you could go blind. Don’t ruin your hair in the rain. Put some color on your lips or you’ll look washed out. Don’t wear your lipstick too dark or it’ll get on your teeth and everyone will notice, but you won’t know until the end of the day unless you check your look in the mirror. Don’t let your hair go flat. Free is good. Take this mint and do something about your goat breath. Share your last piece of gum. Don’t go around with chicken stuck in your teeth. Groom your nails the moment one goes bad. Moisturize. Pay cash – when it’s gone, it’s time to go home.
Collectively, the contents of my mom’s purse (and I can only speak for the items I’ve seen), spelled out an even more important life lesson: Mom will take care of you…
…and she may or may not know the whereabouts of Hoffa’s remains, but that information is classified, so step away from the purse.