Thursday, April 18, 2013

The power of the purse

This photo is the very genesis
of my love of fashion. But that's for another entry.

I've had a long standing love of purses, wallets, suitcases — really just about anything with handles that allows me to tote around my most important possessions and make a fashion statement at the same time. I remember my first purse (picture on the left) but I cannot possibly imagine what the four-year-old me held it that sweet little white handbag.

My love of purses has been handed down from my own mother and her mother. Old purses were often given to my sister and I to play dress up with, and purses were frequently gifted to us — always containing one penny.
"It's bad luck to give anyone an empty purse," my mom informed us.

In moments of boredom, like long car rides or waits at doctor's offices, our mom would sometimes let us go through her purse. The scent of gum and lipstick, the crumpled tissues, the matchbooks emblazoned with restaurant logos and wedding dates, the bright lipsticks, and perhaps best of all, the muffled, mysterious sound of items jostling around the dark interiors could hold my interest more than a Highlights magazine. I especially liked going through her wallet; reading her drivers license and looking at the photos of a younger me, my sister, cousins and my dad, and seeing how much money she had — counting down to the last penny. There was always at least a penny.

But rifling through her purse was strictly by permission only. My own father wouldn't dream of placing a hand on that secret world without express permission.

It seemed to me that carrying a purse was the very essence of womanhood.

Recently my dear friend Teresa lost her beloved grandmother. In a quiet moment, away from the rest of her grieving family, she went through her grandmother's purse. She cataloged the items and shared this amusing list:
  • Two tubes of cherry Chapstick.
  • One half-eaten strawberry nutri-grain bar, in open package, folded over (obviously saving it for later), and one empty nutri-grain wrapper.
  • Three crusty combs — the small kind (with tiny teeth) that old-man barbers use.
  • A snapshot of Opi, but his head isn't in the shot — all you see are the bottoms of his ears, his nose and then the rest of his body. (Why did pick that one to put in her purse!??)
  • A little black case thing with two Happy House business cards in it. (Happy House was an antiques store she owned years ago.)
  • One tube of Revlon lipstick: "Softlit Ruby"
  • One folded up restaurant napkin, two folded up tissues and three used tissues.
  • Two prayer cards of "The Miraculous Infant Jesus of Prague.
  • A laminated prayer card: "To St. Raphael the Archangel"
  • Her YMCA pass that expired July 31, 1982 (her photo is fabulous!)
  • One goldfish cracker (yes, one!).
  • A pill that looks like she spit it out of her mouth into her purse.
  • Her wallet, which contains nine bobby pins (no cash!); another little plastic case with seven more Happy House business cards in it; and an old piece of scrap paper with her social security number, her name and address, Mom's work phone number, Mom & Dad's home phone number, Sabrina's phone number (and her old Palatine phone number crossed out) and a really old phone number of mine.
  • A loose stack of note paper, unused, all with strawberries and flowers on each one (undoubtedly purchased at a garage sale for a nickel)
  •  charm embossed on top. It's so tiny that I can't read who it is.
  • And one more little plastic case. This one's jam packed: Grandma's Illinois State ID card; three band-aids; a small sticker from the Pike Brewing Company in Seattle (??); Jacob's sixth-grade school photo; an AA card, with the 12 steps and 12 traditions and serenity prayer on it; a Crystal Lake Motel business card; various other business cards (physical therapy center, day care center and podiatrist); and -- yep, you guessed it -- two more Happy House business cards!

The purse inventory gave Teresa, and those of us she shared this with, an intimate peek into the last days of wonderful, colorful woman.

After Teresa shared this with us, she and our friend Anne made a pact: "I vow to immediately confiscate your purse after you die and go through the contents." I take this oath as seriously as my marriage vows. The contents of my final purse can be analyzed only by my dearest girlfriends.

A woman's purse says so much. It's contents not withstanding, a woman's purse symbolizes a woman's economic power and her ability to provide for her family. Many of us continuously juggle family, jobs, and our own needs. It's difficult for me to imagine the struggle of a woman who has little or no financial means to help "fill her purse."

I just joined a great organization, Mothers & More who is dedicated to helping these women every year with their  Power of a Purse campaign.

A nonprofit organization,  Mothers & More is a 25-year-old organization dedicated to improving the lives of mothers through support, education and advocacy. For five years now they have been running a Power of a Purse program.  Members and chapters donate more than 20,000 purses and thousands of personal items financially disadvantaged women through shelters and other nonprofit organizations.

For the month of April, Mothers & More is running a Writing Contest in celebration of Power of a Purse that is open to both members and non-members. Contestants are invited to share, in 300 words or less, how the mission of Power of a Purse resonates with them through their “purse-onal” story. Mothers & More will publish the top 5 stories on their blog, Mothers' Voices. The top story will be featured on Brain, Child magazine's website.

And the coolest thing (and a shameless plug for me) I've been asked to be one of the judges for the essay contest. 

So, for details on how to enter, the fabulous judges, and a complete list of prizes, please visit the writing contest page here.
To learn more about the campaign, visit Power of a Purse 2013 on Mothers & More’s national website.


  1. Great blog entry! I can visualize my mom's purse with her eyeliner, bright lipstick, and tweezers neatly tucked away. I can't wait to read the winners. Also, can I donate a purse? -Jamie

    1. To donate a purse you can contact the DuPage County chapter of Mothers & More if you are near them ( If you are in another location, write to to see if there is a local chapter new you to take your donation. Thanks!

  2. Love this Lori. I think I need to start carrying a purse again so my kids have something to do when I die ;-)

  3. Love this! While reading, I was actually reminded of going through my Grandma's old cosmetic case whenever I could (which I now proudly possess) and then you mentioned her purse! Thanks for the memory. I may be inspired to write something. :)

  4. Thank you for this fabulous post, Lori! We are so excited to have you as a judge for our first-ever writing contest! And now as a member, too. :)

    Lisa Blackwell
    Power of a Purse National Manager
    Mothers & More

  5. Lori,
    Loved this; your story and Teresa's! I also would like to donate a purse or two. Jan