Ok, I really like Kate Spade handbags. I started collecting them about three years ago when I discovered a new shopping district that, for DC, shimmered with glamour. There, Kate Spade store windows held purses flung like confetti and frozen behind glass.
I wandered into the store and immediately made friends with the sales women. Untold dollars and three years later I have my own small Kate Spade museum.
Have I been ensnared in consumer culture? Perhaps. Could I have used that cash for more uplifting things? Certainly. Am I having a grand time carrying camels, monkeys and cacti on the crook of my elbow? You bet.
Simply put, I’m having fun. One of my handbags is a black-and-white striped lunchbox affair with a pink monkey offering me a rose. Irresistible. I named the monkey Chance and the mini wallet inside Genevieve. Sometimes I sport a perfectly matched scarf around my neck, and off we go.
Chance and I have memories. He joined me when Jeremiah, Kasia, Kevin and I went condo-hunting in Arlington. Here was my younger son taking enormous steps of adulthood, loving me and simultaneously loving the future. Letting go of my hand to grip the loving hand of another. Have a rose, Mom, said Chance. It’s ok.
Then there’s Olivia, my wicker camel, whose saddle hinges to reveal a spacious interior and whose eyelashes flirt demurely. Olivia joins me in more public places. I curate her appearances. For my Mother’s Day outing one year, we all went to the National Zoo. She relished the shy glimpses of little boys at her eye level, and once we even lifted her up to see the elephants.
Olivia is sassy and filled with the kind of confidence it’s taken me 60 years to acquire. She’s also sweet: I brought her to the Outer Banks for a beach weekend with friends, and she became besties with my teenage niece during a girlfriends-only DC visit. Sometimes Olivia dresses up to send birthday greetings.
Olivia is all camp: my alter-ego, my wannabe. I say to myself, I don’t have to be Olivia as long as I am with Olivia.
My last favorite handbag has a southwestern floral vibe, even though it’s snowy white. This one has no name. I debuted her during a weekend summer holiday with a dear friend to celebrate our 40th high school reunion. We traveled home to the northern beaches of New Jersey — where 19th century houses and 19th century trees lead to miles of shoreline with views of Manhattan.
My friend and I toasted Sea Bright’s sand and rolling waves. And then we savored an hour-long wait at the Inlet Cafe in Atlantic Highlands, where we drank wine, gazed at the bay before us and wondered why we had ever left Monmouth County.
My festive bag also joined us for drinks at the Rum Runner. Rebuilt and glitzy after Superstorm Sandy, the bar is across from the beach and overlooks the Shrewsbury River. It sits on a strip of land that has improbably survived many attempted marriages of river and sea.
And then a group of us met for breakfast at a tiny 100-year old cafe in Little Silver, called Edie’s. More friends. Past meeting present, so much changed and so much essential goodness exactly the same.
Looking back, I see us perched high together, almost like the Rum Runner — gazing back at the tumultuous ocean behind us and looking forward, westward, at the more serene river with its banks of houses and sloping lawns. Lovely now, but capable of swift and life-altering changes too. For that moment, my friends and I enjoyed companionship and love. The days ahead would sort themselves out.
This handbag I dedicate to the future. It’s undoubtedly more conventional than Chance and Olivia. It’s both solid and colorful, amusing and serious, reaching backward in style and utterly forward to all the gardens I haven’t seen yet.
Maybe that’s what this bag is: a garden representing my friends, whose love nourishes me still.
So, here we are. Three handbags that hold far more than credit cards and water bottles, old receipts and cell phones. In many ways they hold what is most important to me. Although I pull them out for special occasions, they stand for a lifetime of memories and all the love I give and receive every day.
I decided years ago that Olivia was too pretty to hide in a closet. And so she sits in our living room. (My husband is a patient man.) She gives me joy whenever I look at her. Perhaps now I actually know why.
I wrote this piece for Five Minute Friday, a faith-based community blogging site at https://fiveminutefriday.com/2019/05/23/fmf-writing-prompt-link-up-culture/ Scroll all the way down and check out the other short essays on the topic of “Culture.”