Journey of Purses
By Lisa Dickinson
When I was a young girl, my mother took me on a road trip to visit my grandmother to beat the summer heat in the mountains of North Carolina. She put me in the back of the family station wagon on top of a quilt-covered mattress where I could play with my dolls and make faces at the drivers behind us along the eight-hour journey to the Blue Ridge Mountains. Many parents didn’t use car safety seats for their kids back then; it was the late sixties and not yet legally required.
I remember the long, hot ride through the state capital of Columbia, looking at the back of her head as she steered the car, the jet-black “Jackie-O” over-sprayed flipped up hairstyle, the occasional cigarette ash-flick out the window, listening to the clink of empty Pepsi-cola bottles on the floorboard and finally feeling the cool mountain air in my face as we started up the switch-backed mountain roads. Even though the trip seemed to take forever, my mom kept me entertained with stories of growing up and how she was kissed by Elvis at age seventeen. Armed with a steady supply of candy and soda to keep me maintained on a prolonged sugar buzz, we cheerily headed down the road together.
On this particular trip, we were planning to stay at my grandmother’s house for a few nights and then the three of us would go to the little town of Cherokee, North Carolina, to see the sights and do a little shopping. Cherokee is a tourist destination with a Native American theme, with lots of little variety stores selling moccasins, leather goods and beaded gifts. After finding a parking place and getting my grandmother out of the car, I was ceremoniously handed a five dollar bill. “This is for you to spend today,” my grandmother said. “You can get anything you want,” my mother told me. Yes! Let’s go shopping! My mother loved to shop, and she had passed the shopping gene onto me.
I looked down the center of town, the wide cobble-stoned street was closed to traffic and walkable, with so much to explore. Was that an ice cream shop at the end? Excitement was in the air, and that five dollar bill was burning a hole in my pocket. We heard an announcement over a loudspeaker: “Hey everybody, the Wild West show is about to start in front of town hall so duck down and look for cover.” We immediately darted into a huge gift shop, loaded with trinkets and treasure; it was almost too much to take in.
That’s when it caught my eye – a bright and shiny daffodil-yellow patent leather purse with a big buckle on the front. I was in love.
It was absolutely gorgeous and I had to have it.
“But this is the first place we’ve been into. Don’t you want to see what’s in the other stores first? Maybe there is something else you’d like better,” they said to me, almost in unison.
“No, I want this purse. This is the one,” I stubbornly declared.
This decision was not readily accepted by the older women. “Lisa, we just got here. This purse cost five dollars, and you’d use up all your money. There would be nothing left for the rest of the day. Are you sure?” my mother asked. The next ten minutes were spent trying to persuade me to save my money for later, but I was unshakable and wouldn’t hear of it. I took the beaming yellow purse to the counter and passed my money to the sales clerk. She put it in a paper bag and gave it back to me: Victory.
For the rest of the afternoon, I could only watch as my mother made her purchases while I carried my purse with pride and stubbornness. I still have that yellow purse, darkened with age and the fierce independence that was carried inside of it.
Over the years, my mother’s health began to fail, but she continued to buy dozens of purses for me – special occasion clutches, oversized baby bags, fashionable beach carry-alls, basic black handbags and the required high-quality leather purse for everyday use. These gifts were facilitated by the accessibility of online shopping and her inherently strong opinion that every woman should carry a good “pocketbook” that matches her outfit.
I have a feeling she was carrying some type of fabulous accessory over her shoulder on that particular day when she happened to catch the eye of the one and only Elvis Presley.
About this writer
- Lisa Dickinson is a freelance writer and native of Pawleys Island who now lives near Lake Tahoe on the border of Nevada and California. She frequently travels back and forth to the Low Country to spend time drinking sweet tea and eating boiled peanuts with her family.