by Judith Cullen
It was not really what I had in mind when I asked for a small purse. For years it has been my habit to carry something clutch-sized, smaller when I could, and have a larger bag in which I carried all the stereotypical what-nots that the "prepared" woman is reputed to have at her fingertips: sewing kit, flashlight, Band-Aids, aspirin, tiny hand tools, battery-operated devices to fold space and time. You know the litany. I would carry these supposed accoutrements of womanhood in a larger bag - the small purse inside it - and when I went into stores and such I would take the purse out and only carry that. Likewise, if I ventured out and was only going to a single store destination, say the grocery, I would leave the bag at home and only take the purse. This was my pattern: agile and flexible. I had worn out decades full of large bags, and small purses, with this modus operandi.
I needed a new purse. The current one had been make-do for longer than I intended, and its strap (for wearing bandolier style, my preference) had long since broken. I never really even liked the color, an unimaginatively dull navy that pretended like it wanted to be a light black. My larger bag was also showing signs of wear, but it would last a while longer. So, I dared to add the request for a small leather-like purse with a shoulder strap to my Christmas wish list.
Let me put this in context. The other females in our family - my sister and my mother - definitely carry bags. Sometimes the bags they carry are really bags. I mean, bags whom you name in the same manner Rowan Atkinson's character "Blackadder" does when he says the word "bag": with the puckered deliberation of the "b", followed by the open throttled extension of the flat "a" in all its glory, concluded by the crisp hard snap of a fully realized "g." Bags that you can lose entire counties in. Bags from which you might not be surprised to see an intergalactic Time Lord emerge. Bags that would suit Mary Poppins, with the casual approval "that will do." This is our family legacy.
My mother has a gift for making sure that every compartment in her bag contains a small packet of Kleenex, so she doesn't have to remember which compartment she put them in. My sister was fortunate enough to happen on a bag creator who had faced the reality that shifting the contents of a woman's bag from one conveyance to another was more work than is reasonable in this modern age of conveniences, and who had developed a system for trading out the fashionably decorative exteriors of the bags easily while retaining the planetary mass in a simple, yet vast, interior enclosure.
At my last annual physical, my Doctor picked up my bag, looked at me and said, "this is much heavier than you should be carrying." As our family all share the same General Physician, I would like it noted for the record that I did not peach on Mom and sis with my suspicion that they kept small, armored assault vehicles in their bags for unforeseen emergencies.
That brings us back to Christmas, and that little request for a humble purse. You might well wonder, with our family's history of baggy engagement, why I did not anticipate the possibilities. Christmas Day arrived and there we were. The presents were passed out by my 21 year old nephew, who had distinguished himself this Christmas by doing all his shopping by himself in less than an hour. This is the same lad I sent into a grocery store a year before to buy a single greeting card for his mother, and it had taken him 45 minutes. His progress was joyously acknowledged.
We took turns opening our gifts in a rotation, everyone opening one gift per round. I finally came to a rather large gift sack in my stack with a grinning Santa printed on the side, cradling a deceptively innocent looking puppy dog adorned with a cheery red bow. I reached in and pulled the tissue away to reveal . . . a bag. It was definitely a bag. Not the purse I had envisioned in my mind, but a real bag. It was not as capacious as some of the other family bags.
Rhode Island, as an example, or one of the Seychelles
would not have tucked neatly into its welcoming interior. As bags go it leaned to the modest side. It was black leather and it came with a
generous, fully adjustable shoulder strap.
It was from my one and only nephew.
You know how sometimes you are surprised by unexpected gifts? Those times when someone thinks beyond your proffered wishes to get you something you instantly adore, and that you never even realized you wanted? There's that trill of excitement, sometimes tears, as the dopamine cascades through your brain like the spring thaw. Your mouth spontaneously stretches into an effortlessly goofy grin that spans your entire face, remaining fixed there for the next 20 - 30 minutes. You struggle to find the words to express the immensity of your surprise and how incredibly happy the gift giver has made you. You can never say "thank you" quite enough times, but you still try.
I looked at the bag, and there was not even a millisecond of disappointment or regret. There was none of the awkwardness that comes with a gift that really is not right, which seems to land with an ugly thud as it squashes the festive spirit of the moment. I loved that glorious bag on sight. This was the bag that my nephew had chosen just for me. He had chosen it by himself. He was proud of himself, and of it. I was overflowing with pride for him.
Such is the nature of gifts, and gift giving. There are those that fulfill a utilitarian need, and are gratefully accepted as you mentally check one more thing off your "to get" list of necessities. There are gifts that delight, and gifts that surprise, all given by generous hearts which are always appreciated. Then there are occasionally those completely unexpected gifts that transform you in small, difficult to perceive ways. They are gifts that connect you for a single moment in an electric exchange of overwhelming love, leaving giver and receiver glowing.
I love my bag. Forget the puny purse. I will carry this bag with bursting pride until the strap wears out. Then I will carry it faithfully until the leather splits, and it can no longer be reasonably expected to serve its purpose. I love my nephew. I love this bag. He could not have chosen a more perfect gift to give his beloved aunt on this particular Christmas Day.