Once upon a time, my pocketbook was a functional yet personal item. I’m not the type who needs a chic and trendy accessory to match my wardrobe. I do need something big enough to carry the contents of my house, and then some. I’m often the target of teasing from the peanut gallery, aka my family, when I reach deep into my bag, Mary Poppins-style, and pull out whatever anyone needs. They think my bag is bottomless and make requests: “Can you please hold my wallet?” “My keys?” “My bicycle?”
The state of my pocketbook had always been a family secret until recently. In my rush to catch a flight straight from a Bat Mitzvah celebration at my niece’s house, I remembered to take my suitcase, but forgot my handbag. There is what to be said for the argument some make that, based on its size and weight, it would make more sense to check in my pocketbook and take my suitcase on the plane. My husband had kept my passport in his carry-on, so forgetting my bag was just a minor inconvenience. Sort of.
When I called my brother to ask that he look out for my bag, in one irreversible moment, my secret was out. My abandoned pocketbook, which had been sitting quietly in some corner of the house minding its own business, was suddenly catapulted into center stage under a heavy-duty spotlight. My extended family was shocked when they noticed my rag of a bag. The pale pink leather has taken on a not-so-pale gray hue. The zipper is broken. The handles are frayed. It’s ugly. They wondered why would I take that thing anywhere other than to the garbage bin? My brother lovingly suggested that I use a supermarket bag to carry my stuff rather than my old pocketbook.
Truthfully, independent of my family ridicule and not-so-subtle pressure, I’d been on the hunt for a new bag, but had not yet found one that met my requirements. The time for confrontation had come. My husband sat me down and emptied the contents of my pocketbook onto the kitchen table. He nonchalantly put most of what was in there in the “doesn’t need to be in the bag - or anywhere else, for that matter” pile. He made allowance for my wallet, daily planner - although nobody understands why I’m still using such an antiquated item either - and phone. He was done. But he doesn’t understand us shleppers mothers. We need to be prepared for any situation that may arise.
The negotiations began as I tried to justify the pocketbook-worthiness of each item he discarded. My husband thinks it’s unnecessary to carry around a siddur, and a Tehillim, and an Aneini, and a Mincha/Maariv booklet, and a booklet with the special tefilot one says at a cemetery. Reluctantly, I turned over the Mincha/Maariv booklet, but with a red alert warning that if we ever have to daven Mincha when on a family outing, there won’t be enough for everybody. My husband reassured me that somehow, we would cross that bridge when we came to it. Ding! Round one: his. He tried to dump my alcogel but that was not happening. Corona? Omicron? Remember? Ding! Round two: mine. He pulled out 87 store receipts and old shopping lists (only 87 because I had recently cleaned out my bag). I forfeited that one. Ding! Round three: his. He okayed the lip gloss, but that is actually the one item that I would have appreciated had he tossed and said, “Honey, you don’t need this stuff.” I won a round that I would have preferred to lose. Whatever. Ding! Round four: mine. He benefits from my Tylenol supply when he gets a headache so he left the pills alone. Chucking them would have been cutting off his head despite his face. He wouldn’t go near the never-ever-used trial-sized sunscreen, hand cream, Band-Aids, and antibiotic cream knowing it would be an exercise in futility. Ding! Round five: mine. He questioned my assortment of tissues: loose ones. Packaged ones. New ones. Used ones. Must I explain that nobody wants to be caught without a tissue when they have a big sneeze, and nobody in the vicinity wants that either? “How many pairs of glasses do you need?” he asked. Reading glasses for reading and sunglasses for sunning. But I suppose one of each should suffice. He gave a pass to my gum since he often needs a few pieces to keep him awake when he’s driving. But the loose pieces on the bottom had to go. Agreed. He wondered about my pocket-sized notepad I carry everywhere. His mouth formed a meek, “Why?” but his rolling eyes were far more expressive. Because one never knows when inspiration will strike with an idea for my column. Without it, I’ll forget all my ideas. How can I let my readers down? Ding! Ding! Ding! Man down. Game over! By the time we were done, the contents of my bag had only lessened ever so slightly.
Well, I finally did it. I bought a new bag. My son noticed it laying prominently on the dining room table, still wrapped in its packaging, and asked, “Why do women need pocketbooks and men don’t?” Ah! The answer to that question lies within the question itself. Men don’t need to carry pocketbooks because women do it for them. I recall seeing a family of seven in a park in upstate New York many years ago. There were five young children, and the mother looked as though she would imminently give birth to a sixth. She lugged a big bag over one shoulder containing the contents of their home, and with her “free” hands she held onto as many children as she could. Her thin, unburdened husband approached her with a bottle of sunscreen and asked if she would mind holding it. Need I say more?
But maybe things will change for me now. My husband and I have a round anniversary coming up, b’ezrat Hashem. I’ve been hinting for him to buy me a Sherpa, one of those porters who shleps the equipment of those brave enough to hike Mount Everest. It would be the perfect gift. I would just need to figure out how to fit the Sherpa into my bag.