If you were a kid back in the fifties, sixties, or even seventies, mom’s pocketbook was the go-to place for almost anything. Need a tissue, Chapstick, gum, or Lifesaver? Mom had it in her pocketbook. My mom’s also contained Saltines from a restaurant, a package of peanut butter crackers, rosary beads, small prayer book, house keys, clear plastic rain hat, silver utensils like a spoon or fork, small bottle of Jean Naté, mirror, and comb – plus a little bottle of holy water just in case she met the devil or needed to baptize someone on the number 5 bus to Clifton.
My mom walked to work every day down some of the worst streets in Passaic. One day, I noticed that my Mattel Detective Special cap gun was missing – the cap pistol that looked like a real chrome .38 revolver and fired plastic bullets. When I asked where it was, she told me she carried it in her pocketbook. If someone bothered her on the way to work, she would take it out. I just laughed! But one day, on her way home, a guy started to follow her on a deserted street, coming up fast. She turned toward him and pulled out the cap gun. From 20 feet it looked real enough that the man turned and ran. Starting the next day, my dad picked her up in his work truck.
About 20 years later, I took my mom to the cemetery in Paterson to clean my dad’s grave. As I gave her a lift from kneeling, I grabbed her pocketbook and noticed it was heavy. Peeking inside, I saw a real .32 automatic. “Ma, where did you get this?” I asked. “You don’t want to know!” she answered.
Aunt Lori, my mom’s sister, was a little more conservative in the contents of her pocketbook. She had enough tissues to wrap a gift, several slices of Melba toast in a baggy, the same silver utensils (like a spoon or fork) that my mom carried, rosary beads, a mass card, and her weapon of choice for self-defense: a box cutter. She would say, “If anyone bothers me, I will cut their face off!” And she meant it. These two sisters, raised on the Lower East Side of New York, were tough cookies.
She also carried a box of Chiclets gum. Aunt Lori was a firm believer that Chiclets were the magic cure-all. Have a headache? Have a Chiclet. Nervous stomach, you kids are getting on my nerves, need to sit quietly in church? Have a Chiclet. So Aunt Lori always kept a stock in her pocketbook.
One unwritten code for kids was that you never, ever went into your mom’s pocketbook for any reason. Besides, mom never kept her money there; it was in the pocket of her dress, apron, or housecoat. You would ask first and she would get what you wanted, or there would be hell to pay – like a missing hand! My mom passed away 20 years ago and I have her pocketbook. I just went into it, and boy, did it feel funny, because I knew she was watching me.
To all the moms and moms-to-be, have a happy Mother’s Day!