There are a number of ways in which I take after my grandmother Della. I’ve always had a fascination with girly stuff like perfume and make-up. I wear a lot of black. And I have a deep and abiding fondness wallets, purses and multi-purpose pouches. I spent many years pilfering my grandma’s stash before slowly beginning to accumulate my own. When I inherited apartment 2024, I also acquired what was left of her store of small leather goods.
Yesterday afternoon, my visiting sister mentioned that she was in the market for a new wallet. Later that evening I pulled out the collection for her to rummage through. She was overwhelmed by the amount of stuff and after her first pass through, asked me to take most of it away, as she couldn’t deal with the number of options. She evaluated the narrowed down options, checking out the different slots and pockets that each of the wallets had to offer.
I was focused on my computer screen when I heard her say, “Whoa.” I looked over and she was holding our grandmother’s last wallet, the one she had used up until her death, along with a pink packet of Sweet ‘N Low that she had just found in one of the folds of the wallet. Who knows how long it had been tucked inside there. It was a tangible reminder of the kind of woman she had been, one who always kept a spare pack of artificial sweetener in reserve, just in case it wasn’t available and she wanted a cup of coffee or a glass of iced tea.
My mom wrote a poem about her mother’s affection for leather goods and here it is.
By Leana McClellan
Mom had a thing for good handbags
(and wallets and glasses cases and credit card folios)
all in quality Italian leather,
precisely stitched and classically styled.
Mom kept her sister, my three cousins,
my two daughters and every domestic worker
she ever employed in fine leather goods.
I haven’t bought a handbag in 30 years.
Today another arrived, sent by my daughter
from mom’s still-going-strong post-mortem stockpile.
Opening the box, the familiar smell of my mother
submerges me in an ocean of missing and memory.
It is the scent of leather cured with
Shalimar perfume, hair spray,
mint Lifesavers, money and hand lotion.
I shake out this handbag, the little assembly
of lint and unexplained silt that collect in
purse bottoms, then open it wide and put
my whole face deep inside. In the fragrant darkness
I see my mother sitting by me on the couch,
absently stroking my hand as we read