We all have problems that we know, someday when courage permits, must be faced. Could today be the day that I am tough enough?

Maybe I can’t really do this myself. Should I summon professional help?

It is time to excavate the interior of my purse.

I mean, really. I’m ordinarily not one to skirt issues. And yet day rolls into week morphs into month, and the cycle repeats, and I can’t make myself do it. Until finally, when hoisting it to my shoulder prompts an objection from the shoulder’s innermost being, I am finally forced to say to myself, What in the name of all that matters is IN this dadgum thing?

Sometimes it helps to face truth by typing it out in front of you, so here is an (admittedly partial) list of what emerged when I shoved my paw nervously down toward the bottom and began heaving out.

  • Small bag of nuts to ward against poor snack choices when blood sugar is low.
  • Bag of nuts and seeds added because first bag of nuts was hidden by other purse trash.
  • Promotional bag clip. I always need these in the kitchen, but generally don’t search for one in my purse.
  • Eyeglass cleaning cloth, filthy and unusable.
  • Instructional booklet for new sunglasses; when did sunglasses begin to require instructions? (Sun out?  Wear.  Toss booklet.)
  • Monogrammed handkerchief that belonged to my dad. Now, this is a comfort aid that I like having with me, like my granddaughter likes to tote Big Big Bunny for company. But it might better honor his memory if I washed it occasionally, because Dad was a gentleman who was orderly and neat in all things .
  • USB power plug, sans cord.
  • Handwritten cards with “homework” suggestions from therapist. Apparently she didn’t recommend that an orderly purse is a balm to the soul. Perhaps in a future session?
  • Parking garage entry ticket. How did I get out without paying?
  • Envelope for tickets to recent James Taylor concert. What a great show, but apparently, there were no trash cans in the arena?
  • Three metal bottle caps. Three! These mystify me most of all. I’m pretty sure I don’t randomly drink beer in the car or out on the street while carrying my purse. Flavored sparkling water is my travel drink of choice, and those bottles have plastic caps. Perhaps it is best not to think this one through.

I could go on, but it would be too embarrassing. It’s not that this problem has never been called to my attention in the past. Helping to unload my car when I arrived for a recent visit, my active and physically fit brother grabbed the handles of my purse and groaned when he hoisted it. The old joke that inevitably followed—What do you have in here? All your money?—clearly fell on deaf ears. Perhaps I didn’t wish to note that all my money wouldn’t weigh much, but that’s a different tale.

It might be reasonable to blame this problem on flawed fundamentals of Carry Strategy 1.0. This bag, by any standards, is large for a daily purse. In some restaurants, it needs its own seat. The thought process behind up-sizing went something like this: If I carry a “tote”-sized purse, it is big enough to insert a file, or an iPad, or even my laptop (see photo evidence), thus rendering unnecessary another bag, the cursed briefcase. All these things would be feasible if dimensions alone mattered. But you’ve spotted the flaw here, right? These items rarely fit because there is too much other JUNK IN THERE.


Can the problem be blamed on a weakness for fashion? Maybe. A little. Big bags are in, or so it would appear on the streets, or in the elevators of our office building. And I must confess partiality to this particular bag, which has drawn the unsolicited admiration of more than one female under 40 in just the last week or two. What more does a female crave as style validation when she is, shall we leave it here, no longer 40?

This problem weighed heavily, you might say, at the end of a recent weary day when I was followed into the elevator by another woman who looked, like me, so glad to be exiting the premises. Well, lookee there, I thought to myself as she struggled to free a hand to push the her floor button, she’s carrying a tote AND a briefcase AND a lunch bag! My own burden could clearly be worse. Just before the door closed, a man jumped in and cheerily punched his own floor button, both hands fluttering free as two soaring birds. He was carrying: nothing.

It was too intriguing to let this pass. Do you ever wonder, I said to my fellow Bag Lady, why we seem to always carry so much stuff?

“I KNOW,” she lamented, with a tired sigh. “I don’t know why that happens.” We both turned to the male before us, who instantly sensed his vulnerable state. “Hey, I don’t carry things home because I try not to work on the weekends,” he began, reinforcing his hands-free status by throwing both up in self-defense. “And, I mean, I don’t, well, I, just, well, I better not…”. The door opened at his floor, and he vanished.

Bag Lady and I sighed, with no further words exchanged. We both got off at the next floor, shouldered our burdens with difficulty, and strode out to carry on.






School roared back into session just a few weeks ago, and like night follows day, it’s already here.


And thus arrived my first opportunity to serve as the sales target of an earnest and highly focused six-year-old.

It began this way:  As I walked into the room, I observed him turning to his mother for consent.  “It’s OK,” my daughter affirmed.  “You can ask her.” He wasted no time before launching his pitch, and no words on frilly preliminaries.  Presenting himself immediately in my path, he began, “Evie, would you like to buy a City Saver book today?”

Well, I don’t know, Buddy, I replied, stalling for time while dropping into a chair to get to eye level.  What’s this about?

He came forward with his sample and presented his order form.  “It’s for my school.  If you buy this book, you can save money, and the money goes to my school.”  The flow of funds was slightly distorted in this preamble, but I got the gist.  “You put your name right here,” he rolled on, pushing to close, like any good salesman.  “Just write it there, and I’ll put your money in the envelope.”

I’d be happy to support your school, Buddy, I replied, but I don’t have any cash on me, and I’d rather pay with cash.  Could we do this some time in the next few days?  A small , serious nod followed, along with confirmation that a week or so remained before the deadline.

It’s not entirely clear whether superior follow-up was part of the sales training foisted on these pint-sized revenue generators, or just a natural part of Buddy’s tenacious nature, but every encounter over the next couple of days began with exactly the same polite reminder.  “Evie,” he began again, calmly, “would you like to buy a City Saver book today?”  Finally, I remembered to get cash from the ATM, and we sat down to close the transaction.  I entered my name as instructed, handed over a twenty and a five, and watched while he ogled these bills of such scope to a small boy.  Watching him stare, a memory came flooding back, and I wondered if there might be something more that I could offer him.

Back in the 1960s, small towns like ours in central Kentucky still had those magical, dusty emporiums known as “dime stores.”  Our little town had two on Main Street, one named for history’s ultimate master of frugality, Ben Franklin.  A visit to Ben Franklin was a chance to spend your allowance coins on penny candy, or select a birthday card and a matchbox car for the little brother who loved them, or just accompany a parent in search of laundry soap, a replacement frying pan, or some other essential item.

One spring afternoon when I was about seven, I joined my dad on a visit to Ben Franklin that occupied him long enough for me to wander off and browse the toy section.  I stopped to stare at an old-style push carriage for a baby doll, an alluring pink plaid with shiny silver wheels, perched on a high shelf, literally and figuratively out of reach.  I had gotten a new doll the previous Christmas, and how I wanted to push her in this charming little conveyance.  It had a handwritten price card perched in front of it that my mind’s eye can still see to this day:  $2.99.  It might have been $1 million.

Except for an inspiration my father gave me.

“His gentle means of sculpting souls took me years to understand.” from Leader of the Band, by Dan Fogelberg

Locating me in the toy aisle, staring upward, Dad shooed me out the door and into the car.  Maybe I was daydreaming on the way home, and through dinner, because I don’t think I said much.  Just before bedtime, he called me over to his easy chair, where he was finishing the newspaper.

“Thinking about that doll buggy, hmmmm?”  he asked.  I nodded.  “You really want it, don’t you?”  Another nod.  “Okay, sweetie, I’ll tell you what, I’ll make you a deal.  You come up with the first $1.50, and I’ll match what you save, and we’ll get your doll that buggy.  Think you can do that?”

And so the match of enterprise was lit.  I can’t remember how long it took me to raise my seed capital, but it was surely many weeks.  I think my allowance in those days was 15 cents a week, or maybe a dime, but I asked for, and received, extra chores to earn additional cash.  I folded laundry and ran it up the steps from the basement, did extra dishes and helped my mom in the garden, and slowly my little jar begin to fill with coins that I must have counted a thousand times.  When finally I reached the mountaintop, he drove me back to Ben Franklin and carried through the lesson to the very last step, insisting that I shake my own coins out of the jar onto the counter so the saleslady could count them before he laid down his money.  “That’s her money, that she earned and saved,” he told the lady, who nodded her approval at me primly.  I pushed the buggy on the sidewalk out to the car, my heart bursting from the joy of accomplishment and the pure greed of acquisition.

I think back on this episode now with such wonder at my father’s insight.  He was a complicated and challenging man in so many ways, but strategy like this was his greatest strength and perhaps most enduring gift to his four children.  It was not just the genius of teaching a seven-year-old to take charge of and work for her own desires in this world.  Looking back through the smoky shadows of the decades, I remember how my heart was lifted by the simple solidarity, the shared goal, the joint effort implied by his offer.  If it matters to you, he was saying, then it matters to me, too.  I hear you, I care about what you care about, and I’ll walk with you to get there.  I won’t carry your load for you, but I’ll share it.  That’s the essence of what he said—to such a little, little girl.  He and I, we were in it together.

Isn’t that all we want in this life?

And so, across my dining room table the other day, I finished completing my rows on the order form, handed Buddy the pen back and asked him some questions.  How many books are you hoping to sell?  He looked a bit uncertain.  Do you have a sales goal?  Still no answer, but I could tell he was pondering it.  I tried a different tack.  What happens if you sell them?  This rang the right bell, and I got a litany of possible prize options for sales achieved. I asked if three would be a good goal, and he nodded that it would.

Well, you did a good job selling me one, I said, so I’ll make you an offer:  if you sell another one, I’ll sell a third one for you, and that will get you to three.  But you have to sell the next one first, understand?  I won’t do my sale until you get your next one.

He signified agreement with this, though I could see, deep in Buddy’s highly analytical mind, he was wondering what was in it for me.  Nevertheless, he persisted, nailing his next sale with his indulgent aunt, and it was time to uphold my end.  I invested in the past in fundraisers for the children of a work friend, so I tapped her for a easy yes, and the deal was done. Buddy sold another book to his mom, turned in his money, and collected his prizes.

Will he remember that I helped get him there?  Who knows?  I’ll probably get another chance to work the Matching Grant idea again for some future endeavor.  I bet it will work like a charm with his younger sister, who never saw an activity attempted by her brother that she wouldn’t hurl herself at like a Major League fastball.

As to what’s in it for me, in addition to all those coupons?  It’s just a chance to pay forward a gift I was given a very long time ago, a chance to show, in real time, how a challenge is lightened when it is shared.  And the chance to pass that on to this enterprising young fellow, so intent on everything he does, is a gift, in itself, to me.