Tuesday, September 13, 2016

The Purse

Her favorite.  "It goes with everything." 

No matter how many times I've explained to Meems that Wedgewood South is an "all-inclusive resort" that doesn't allow tipping, she just feels better if she has her purse with her at all times.  Every now and then, she thinks she's eating in a school cafeteria and feels compelled to give $1.25 to the lunch lady.  The purse.  It's common for women with dementia to hold on to this last vestige of identity.  And, the contents of those purses fascinate me.

A toddler fills her purse with small toys and gummy bears and, perhaps, a TV remote.  During the twilight years as the mind begins to dim, purses tend to become more and more empty except for the occasional random penny coated with lint, an ancient gum wrapper, or a wadded piece of Kleenex.  The tug of the weight of a handbag resting in the crook of an arm provides security and identity to  both toddler and senior alike.  But for an elderly lady with days upon days filled with the feeling that something is missing, a handbag becomes more of a lovey or a pacifier.

One of the ladies that lives in the "all-inclusive" resort with Meems dresses immaculately.  Coordinating blouses and pants, sometimes with a nice jacket, are her trademarks.  She wears rather large clip-on earrings that are ornate and colorful.  Same earrings every day.  I've heard tell that the small purse that she carries daily is totally and completely empty.  She regularly takes up her purse and wanders the facility asking "Is this where I live?" and "Can you show me which apartment is mine?"  

About a month ago, a broken hip left her wheelchair bound.  Her purse, now nestled next to her lap, has become her constant companion like a lap dog.  Same neat, matchy-matchy clothing.  Same earbobs.

Meems' near empty purse has a hollow echo.  I can tell you with 97% absolute certainty what you would find in it on any given day:  2-3 wadded up pieces of Kleenex, her huge plastic dark glasses that she wears over her regular glasses, a tube of coral lipstick, and, in the matching coin purse that came with the bag, quarters.  Lots and lots of quarters.  If you've already guessed that she likes to sit out on the porch on sunny days, feels undressed without lip color and has a constantly runny nose, you are very astute.  I'll bet the quarters have you baffled.

Bingo Winnings
At Wedgewood South, Bingos and Blackouts are rewarded with quarters.  My mother is very good at Bingo.  She can't even read the numbers on the cards, and she's good at Bingo.  Her coin purse is heavy with her winnings.  Every week or two, I put the quarters in a baggie and bring them home for safe keeping.  I stack them in 4's so that I can keep a tally of her earnings in my mind at all times.  She's up to $15.  Really, she's up to about $20.  I gave my niece, Kelly, about 20 quarters a while back to use as laundry money.  "Mom!  You're up to $20 in Bingo winnings!"  That always gets a triumphant smile.

The 3% of uncertainty regarding what else might be in her purse is reserved for any random thing that she happens to absently throw in her bag like a few checkers used to cover the giant numbers on the Bingo cards or a used dinner napkin or a "Happy Fourth of July!" card she received in the mail.  It is those unexpected treasures that make my heart smile.

At the age of 90, if the building catches on fire, Kleenex, king-sized dark glasses, a tube of coral lipstick, a few quarters and a couple of red checkers will be all she needs to navigate the world.  Life is easy.  Life is simple.  I've got her back.  My purse, thank goodness, is pretty full.

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