When I was little, my Mom had this incredible purse. One of those highly-structured bags from the 1960’s, it was covered in tan snakeskin with an off-center brass clasp along the top. Even the interior was lined with leather. Oh, I was too tiny and oblivious to appreciate all of these details back then. I merely thought the purse was pretty.
Mom had this bag made for her by someone in Nashville, Tennessee. I don’t know whether she designed it herself or if she let the maker draw it up for her. Either way, it was, to me, a priceless work of art.
My Mom is the most beautiful woman I know. Still. But, carrying that purse, she was electrifying.
The chic designs of the 1960’s gave way to the fashion disasters of the ’70’s, and Mom put her out-of-vogue pocketbook away, storing it far in the back of her closet, on a shelf at the top. For years, I never saw it.
But, I never forgot it.
When she asked me what I wanted for Christmas a couple of years ago, my mind raced back to that vanished bag. Of all the things I could think of that conjured my mother, nothing did it for me better. “Do you still have that big snakeskin pocketbook?” I asked, trying to be casual and not give away how much I craved it.
“That old thing? THAT’S what you want?” she asked, incredulous.
When I nodded, she said distractedly before hurrying off down the hall, “Well, I’ll have to go get the guns out of it first.”
MTM and I exchanged a look before quickly following her to her bedroom, the doorway into which we both saw her disappear. When we got there, she was up on a chair, rooting around in the top of her closet. She moved boxes and shoes and all manner of detritus before, finally, pulling that purse from the farthest corner. Even covered in dust, it was gorgeous. My breath caught in my throat, and I reached my hands out eagerly to touch it again for the first time in years.
Instead, she moved past me and put the bag on the bed, clicking open the clasp to reveal two guns: a Glock-type handgun and an antique pearl-handled pistol. She started to stick her hand in there and pull one out, when MTM stopped her. I don’t know whether this was all too Southern Gothic for him or what, but he did not want my mother handling her own guns. He eased them out of the purse like he was handling nuclear weaponry.
He and I were both shocked to see that the antique gun was loaded. Every chamber contained a bullet. MTM cried, “What are you DOING with this in the house? I’m taking these bullets out right now.”
My Mom – my prim, proper, dainty, Southern-lady Mom – said, “But, if someone breaks into the house, I want to be able to defend myself.”
How she planned to defend herself when it took her at least five minutes to FIND the bag that contained the guns in the first place was a mystery to both of us. MTM unloaded the weapon and left the whole mess there on the bed, and we’ve never seen those guns again.
Who knows where she’s hiding them now. If I ask for her wedding dress, will it come with guns attached?
Too Much is Just Enough: Strong Southern Women