Before my first job out of college at 22, I carried a five-dollar bill and my license either in the back pocket of my well-worn jeans or tucked discreetly in my 34B 100 per cent cotton bra. I went dancing that way, walked into bars that way and drove around in my 1963 black and red MGB that way. That was really all I needed for ID and survival.
But right before my first-ever faculty meeting at Crawford High School in San Diego, Calif., I knew I needed a pocketbook, a purse, a bag, the ultimate symbol of being a grownup. Mothers carried pocketbooks. Matrons carried bags. And ladies who lunched carried purses. So I went shopping and bought a respectable receptacle, and the morning I was getting ready for my first-ever faculty meeting as a high school English teacher, I pulled out the paper that puffed out the new satchel and put in my two pens, my five-dollar bill and my license and stood in front of the mirror modeling my new look. The bag was deflated. Sucked in at the sides, anorexic. And the reason for that was because it was empty. So I put back the filler, the stuffing, the paper and looked again. Perfect, I thought, and off I went, older, wiser and ever so grown-up.
Sitting next to me was the new French teacher, also young. When I opened my bag to get my pen she looked a little to her left, a bit askance and down. Probably because of the rustling sound as I searched for my writing implement. That was 1963. On the way out of the meeting she said, can I ask you something? Sure, I said, knowing already what was coming. What was that . . . in your . . . you know?
We are still laughing over that long ago and faraway moment.
In the 50-year interim, one would think I would have gone through a nifty plethora of silk, canvas and wicker hold-alls, but that is not the case. After teaching, I went right back to a bill in my pocket and a spring in my step.
Until this week. Don’t ask me about motivation. Don’t ask me if age has brought on late sophistication. Don’t ask me what in the world got into me. I have no answers. But I found myself in a somewhat hypnotic state on Ebay (of all things) bidding on a stylish leather backpack — and lo and behold I won. So now I am the proud owner of a $400 designer container that I got for $79. It’s actually gorgeous and functional with zippers and compartments and comfortable straps in a stunning mahogany brown.
But when you see me, don’t ask me where it is and why I’m not using it. I can tell you it’s hanging on a hook near my closet. But if you need a few bucks, I can reach into my back pocket or my ancient bra (not the same one but close), and there, nestled between denim and skin will be my Mastercard and my license . . . just in case. Some things almost never change.
Nancy Slonim Aronie is the author of Writing from the Heart: Tapping the Power of Your Inner Voice (Hyperion/Little Brown) and teaches the Chilmark Writing Workshop. She is a commentator for NPR.