Monday, January 12, 2009

A Comprehensive Inventory of the Contents of a Loved One's Purse

When my mom died suddenly in late 1982, she had her purse beside her. My dad gave it to me later, and I store it in a box of memorabilia on a closet shelf. At first, I felt sad when handling it (there’s some dried blood on it, and several of the items inside are broken). It became easier, though, and every couple of years I spend some quiet time with the purse, remembering her things, remembering her.

“I’m going to blog about my mom’s purse!” I hollered to my husband in the next room.

“I thought purses were private,” he said, because I’ve been telling him that for almost thirty years (because my mom told me that).

“This is an exception,” I said. “Like when you can’t resist opening my purse to answer my cell phone, even though I’ve asked you not to open my purse or answer my cell phone.”

The purse is burnt-orange leather, medium size, with short handles. It’s designed to close with a drawstring, but the stiffness of the leather makes that problematic. It looks expensive, and I bet she bought it at a garage sale.

Conspicuous by its absence (she liked that figure of speech) is a wallet. She always carried a wallet, and I don’t know where it is. That bugs me. There are no family photos, no driver’s license, and no money. There are two check registers, but no checks.

Here’s the inventory:

One pair of over-sized sunglasses. The plastic frames are straw colored, and the lenses are brown. There are two small yellow daisies with green stems painted on the bottom edge of the left lens. I tried them on, and the lenses are large enough so that the painted flowers lie outside one’s field of vision.

One National Semiconductor calculator (Datachecker) with a dead battery.

One black plastic mechanical pencil with a gray eraser, and the words “U. S. Government” printed on the shaft. One fine-point Bic pen.

One pad of paper (eight sheets, 3.5 inches by 5 inches) with the words Billet Office centered at the top, with her name below and to the right.

One index card titled Phonetic Alphabet (alpha, bravo, charlie, etc.). Handy.

An assortment of business cards, some of which include appointment information:

Memorial Hospital in Long Beach, California

A radiologist in Long Beach, California

A dentist (Dr. Sakai) in Harbor City, California

Kwik Kopy Printing in San Pedro, California

Timpanogas Community Mental Health Center in Provo, Utah

An endodontist in Salt Lake City

A lawyer in American Fork, Utah

Allstate Insurance in American Fork, Utah

Big-O Tires in Orem, Utah

Porter’s Place in Lehi, Utah (“Fine Food from the Old West”)

One of my husband’s cards (dark-brown ink on light-brown paper) and one of my cards (black ink on bright-yellow paper). We had hundreds printed just for the hell of it, which—in retrospect—seems like something my mom would do (probably at Kwik Kopy).

An assortment of plastic cards: Visa, Mervyn’s, a phone card for long-distance calls, and a membership card for a private club in Salt Lake City.

One check-guarantee card (a “Supercard”), with a photo. My god, she’s beautiful. She’s just had her hair done, and it’s big and dark as it flatters and frames her face. She’s wearing plenty of makeup. Her eyes are bright; her smile is broad. Her teeth look flawless (they aren’t flawless, but they look flawless). She’s wearing a caramel-colored cowl-neck blouse in brushed cotton (my sisters and I borrowed it occasionally). She looks eager and energized.

One of my dad’s longshoring check stubs.

One receipt for film developing (the envelope-flap type). Tragically, by the time I called about it (many months later), the photos had been destroyed.

One deposit slip.

Two check registers. There are notations regarding two months of checks from a California bank, and ten months of checks from a Utah bank (she’d recently moved to California to be with my dad, but still had family--and a house--in Utah). Her bookkeeping and handwriting are impeccable.

The California register has calendars printed on the back cover, and she put X’s through each month, up to and including September 1982. She wrote checks for rent (California), mortgage (Utah), a truck loan, credit cards, utilities, insurance companies, union dues, dentists, doctors, and newspaper and magazine subscriptions. She wrote checks to the LDS church (welfare fund), the Muscular Dystrophy Association (telethon donation), Ted Wilson (campaign donation), Readers’ Digest (a dictionary for my birthday), her niece Marcene (graduation gift), her oldest daughter (to purchase a baby swing), her youngest daughter (to make a layaway payment on a stereo), and several cash entries for $6 each (“weight contest”). She withdrew $100 on September 28, and she wrote in the memo line: “Polly’s here!” On October 15, she sent her oldest daughter a check for $100, with “Trip to California” in the memo line.

On October 29, the day before her death, she wrote eight checks, which overdrew her account by $69 (just now, my husband and I giggled immaturely when I added up the checks and announced that number).

“Maybe I shouldn’t mention the overdraft,” I said. “Maybe that violates her privacy.”

“No…you should!” he said. “Isn’t that the goal? To empty out your bank accounts right before you die? Think of her as an overachiever.”

In the interest of accuracy, I should mention that the 29th was a Friday, and Friday was pay day, but she hadn’t logged the deposit amount yet.

The final eight checks were sent to: their landlord; the telephone company; a dentist; a radiologist (for the balance owing on a mammogram); a credit union (for “shares”); someone named Nora Nelson (weird, huh) (for a clock made out of a porthole, which currently keeps excellent time in my husband’s home office); and me (reimbursement for an outfit for my infant nephew). The final check was for $10.60, but she never listed the payee.

The Utah check register includes many of the same types of checks, but also has entries for groceries, prescriptions, and frequent hair care (thank you, Robert). That year, she also wrote checks for: food for my younger sister’s wedding for $63.61, “pants and blouses” (plural!) for $12.57, “dress and bathing suit” for $9.94, “crafts” for $13.10, “fabric” for $25.38, “typing stuff” for $8.23, and “Jane Oliver record” for $6.29. Memo lines often list “stuff,” “whatever,” and “who knows?” She stopped using the account on October 22, with a balance of $2.51.

Continuing the inventory:

One small red-vinyl address book. The inside flap shows their California address and phone number, their Utah address, my mom’s social security number, and my dad’s social security number (it was a more innocent time). There’s a complete and predictable list of family members, friends, medical professionals, insurance companies, and banks. She includes her hairdresser, the longshoremen’s union, a travel agency, and “Young Mothers’ School.”

One navy-blue weekly planner for 1982. She had one for each year, and she used it for efficient journaling. I’d quote from it, but it’s at my older sister’s house right now. It’s full of fascinating and poignant information, and when I get it back, I’ll share.

One book of matches from the Maritime Bank of California.

One stick of Doublemint gum. Two C&H sugar packets.

One bottle of Caffergot (about a dozen), for migraines. One bottle of Tylenol 3. One plastic packet of Bayer aspirin.

One small rectangular mirror that slips into a rubber sleeve printed with the words “Utah Army National Guard.” The mirror is in shards.

One envelope of floss threaders (with instructions for use).

Three emery boards in assorted sizes.

One plastic container of cold cream (the plastic is broken, but the cold cream is still contained; it smells a bit rank).

Two well-used tubes of lipstick: Max Factor’s Iced Watermelon and Max Factor’s Rose Petal Frost.

Two perfume samples: Avon’s Foxfire cologne and Avon’s Odyssey cologne.

One small, red-and-white-striped, zippered makeup bag. Contents: mascara, four shades of blue eye shadow and one brush, tweezers, one small pocket knife with two blades, one 13-cent stamp, eight bobby pins, three safety pins in assorted sizes, one rubber band, one large paper clip, and one small weight for a fishing lure (I have no idea). There’s also a metal clamshell container that once held perfume (in paste form), but now holds dimes (for phone calls, I presume). It’s gold, with a round turquoise stone set in the lid. A gift, as I recall, from a woman, but I can’t remember the details.

I wish I could remember the details.

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