Left in Andover: The universe in a pocketbook

By Susan Leader
©2021 Telegraph Publishing LLC

According to my smart phone, I now carry 7,282 photos with me everywhere I go. They comprise an impenetrable mishmash of videos of grandchildren, photos of trees, as well as documents and reminders to self.

I get lost in them, unable to distinguish which are of value. I would delete nine-tenths of them if doing so were not such an overwhelming task.

No less random in subject matter, but far more manageable, are the contents of my recently resurfaced red leather wallet from 9th grade. The ID tag indicates I started using it in 1966, but, like my smartphone, this wallet holds a record of my life history until then.

Susan’s leather wallet from the 9th grade.

Family and classmate headshots from grade school, my financial aid award letter for Northampton School for Girls and my original Social Security card have shared company for the past 54 years inside the long zippered compartment meant to hold paper money.

My three losing raffle tickets for a Simonsville Ladies Aid quilt are tucked behind the coin pocket, along with one losing ticket for an Andover Bicentennial Doll. To this day I remain convinced I will never win a raffle.

I have no memory of ever using this wallet for money.  For me, as for many other young girls, setting up a wallet was a rite of passage, test run for a first real pocketbook.

In my case that was a delayed experience. When I did leave home at age 17, it was to hitchhike off to college. A small hand-sewn bag hung around my neck for security. I had no drivers license, credit card, checkbook or official ID — and no need for a wallet. A few dollar bills and a card with my name and home address sufficed.

It was not until I became a mom in the mid-1980s that I acquired my first real checking account and a nice roomy pocketbook. Sadly, I do not remember it, although I can guarantee it was a local thrift shop find.

From the 1970s onward, my own mom favored wearing a small backpack, along with a change purse stuck into her jean pockets. This worked until she was in her late 80s. That was when my sister gifted her a wondrous multi-compartmented canvas bag with an over-the-shoulder strap.

This bag became a bit of a bellwether for Mom’s mental acuity. From 2007 to 2009, when she was still living independently in her own home but before she had outside help, I made frequent trips to Northampton to check in on her.

One such visit turned tragi-comedy, featuring Mom’s canvas bag as her nemesis. Mom’s big weakness in her old age was muffins. Since she refused to heat up her huge gas oven to bake a few at a time at home, our trips downtown together usually included stopping at a bakery.

This time it was my treat. After a few bites, Mom carefully wrapped the remainder of her blueberry muffin in a napkin and deposited it in one of her bag’s five compartments.

Susan’s wallet contains three losing raffle tickets for a Simonsville Ladies Aid quilt one losing ticket for an Andover Bicentennial Doll. To this day, Susan is convinced she will never win a raffle.

When we got back to the house, Mom went nuts trying to find it again. Every single compartment of her bag was jammed full of combs, change purses, hankies, pens, calendars, vitamin pills and address books. Mom was not one for make up, but she did acquire some tubes of concealer as she aged. All of these she repeatedly sifted through, but nary a partial muffin could she locate. Try as I might, I also gave up in despair.

It was heartbreaking to leave her at the end of this particular visit. But late afternoon I finally said goodbye. She was set up on a couch on the sun porch. Fortified with a cane, emergency button necklace, Valley Advocate, phone, water bottle and apple slices, she seemed safely headed for a nap.

Late that night back in Vermont, I received a phone call. Mom was jubilant: “Guess what! I found the muffin in my pocketbook!”

Mom’s pocketbook continually amazed me. It was imbued with endless mysterious corridors. During those years, almost every time I visited her disaster was barely thwarted, as things given up for lost magically reappeared in some remote unmapped section of it.

A whole universe hung right there on her shoulder, a ticket to undreamt of adventure and suspense, scavenger hunts and fairy tale feasts. Real stuff, unlike my 7,282 photos.

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Filed Under: Community and Arts LifeLeft in Andover

About the Author: Vermont native and noted potter Susan Leader grew up on Popplewood Farm in Andover. At age 17, she was inspired to take up the potter's wheel by "a charismatic potter" from the Society of Vermont Craftsman. She spent 18 months apprenticing at pottery villages throughout Japan. She returned to Popplewood Farm, where she and her husband, fiddle player John Specker, raised their two daughters.

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