I emptied my summer pocketbook the other day to move everything into my winter purse. In truth, the words “pocketbook” and “purse” can hardly be used to describe the satchel I carry over my shoulder every day. As I looked over items strewn across the table, I had to ask myself, why do I carry all this stuff around?
Do I need a pocketknife, a mini flashlight, a roll of Burt’s Bees Outdoor Bug Bite Relief, packets of Gas-X, dental floss, band aids, chewable Pepto Bismol tablets, an anti-vertigo pill, eye drops, hand sanitizer, a Tupperware full of non-dairy Coffee-mate, and a travel size toilet paper roll? That’s in addition to all the other “normal” stuff – like a wallet, cell phone, eyeglasses, sunglasses, keys, tissues, toothpicks and breath mints. What can I say? I like to be prepared – for anything.
I can attribute this cache of supplies in my pocketbook to my mother and her lifelong warnings about crises and calamities. She only has to read about or imagine a disaster happening somewhere and she immediately begins outfitting me with emergency supplies.
When my children were very young and were required to sit in car seats, my mother suggested I carry a single-edged razor in my purse – in case I ever have to quickly extract the kids from their car seats. She saw a TV program about it. “By the time you fiddle around with those contraptions, it’s too late,” she warned me. “With the razor, you can quickly cut the straps and get the kids out.”
Every time I saw her, she asked, “Do you have a razor in your purse yet – for the car seats?” After several negative responses from me, she finally took matters into her own hands and supplied me with a small pocketknife. “Here; take this,” she said, “until you get the razor.” I still carry the pocketknife, though my youngest child is now 27, and drives his own car. Who knows? I may need it to peel an apple some day.
My mother also gave me a mini flashlight as a precaution – in case I’m ever shopping in the mall and the lights go out. She read a newspaper story about that happening once in a mall – somewhere on planet earth. People couldn’t find the exits because the emergency back up lights were out too. “Now, if that happened to you, and you had a flashlight…” she said, holding one in her hand and offering it to me. How could I say no? If we were shopping together in the mall one day and the lights ever went out, I know my mother would ask me, “Do you have that flashlight I gave you?”
When I was working in Manhattan, I kept the flashlight handy in my purse in case the power went out and I had to walk through those underground subway tunnels that are full of icky things that crawl around in the dark. You think that never happens? It does; and it did.
Back in August 2003, the city had a blackout that lasted several days, and lots of commuters probably wished they had mini flashlights in their possession. Besides the subways and trains shutting down, anything that required electricity was out. Credit card machines couldn’t process purchases as simple as a water bottle or as necessary as a comfortable pair of sneakers to help with the long exodus of hot commuters walking in uncomfortable shoes down city blocks and over bridges. People with mini flashlights and wads of cash did fine; the others were left to fend for themselves, some sleeping overnight on the dirty hard steps of city buildings.
Years of heeding my mother’s emergency preparedness warnings rubbed off on me, and when I took a job in the city, in addition to my regular pocketbook that carried the pocketknife, the mini-flashlight, Tylenol, Pepto Bismol, Gas-X and other survival items, I carried an oversized business bag. In the side pockets I stuffed a variety of snacks – granola bars, peanuts, raisins, fresh fruit, a bottle of water and a small thermos of coffee.
Hidden discretely underneath a calculator and a notebook were my personal overnight emergency supplies. There was a phone charger, an extra pair of undies, a clean bra, deodorant, travel size toothbrush, toothpaste and mouthwash, dental floss, tweezers, a razor and my make-up bag. In the summer months, I carried containers of baby powder and Gold Bond Triple Action Foot Powder, as well as an extra roll of travel size toilet paper. The only thing I didn’t pack was a blow dryer. I figured, in an emergency, I wouldn’t care what my hair looked like, as long as I had enough toilet paper to last a day or two.
One day, I reached into my bag to pull out my calculator and had to shove back a pair of panties that got tangled in the calculator tape. The accountant I was working with noticed them and smirked.
“I like to be prepared for anything,” I said.
From the surprised look on his face, I don’t think he understood my meaning, so I went on to explain, “In case there’s a snowstorm or a blackout, and I have to stay overnight.” He looked out the window. It was a balmy summer day, and we left it at that.
I don’t work in the city anymore, so I don’t need all the overnight items, but I assure you, all the items I carry in my current shoulder bag are necessary – if not directly for myself, often for the comfort of others around me.
How many times has someone asked me, “Can I borrow a tissue?” I always have tissues in my pocketbook, but if I give you one, it’s for keeps. I don’t ever want it back.
In the spring and fall seasons, I carry Claritin and a tiny bottle of Systane Ultra Lubricant Eye Drops for myself and for my son, since we both suffer from seasonal allergies and dry eyes. I won’t leave home without Tylenol in my purse. I also carry Advil and Aleve for those times when you just need something stronger.
I even have a small sewing kit in case someone pops a button, tears a bra strap, or needs stitches. Though someone else will have to do that because I can’t stand the sight of blood.
I started carrying a mini spray bottle of bug repellent in my purse this summer after my mother showed me the value of being prepared for any calamity – no matter how small. When we were attacked by a swarm of gnats one evening, as we walked through the park, I noticed that she wasn’t bothered in the least, while I was swatting and smacking myself and cursing up a storm.
“Didn’t you spray yourself before we left?” she asked. Then she pulled out a bottle of Burt’s Bees All Natural Herbal Insect Repellent from her pocket and saved the evening.
I’ll keep the roll of Burt’s Bees Outdoor Bug Bite Relief and insect repellent for another month, until the picnic bees and mosquitos are gone for good. If you’re dairy intolerant, like I am, I will share my Coffee-mate with you. If you’re feeling gassy or have an upset stomach, need a band-aid, have a headache or a case of vertigo, I have a remedy for you in my bag. And if you’re stranded in the ladies’ room with no toilet paper, call my name. If I’m within the sound of your voice, you’re in luck.