Somedays I’m pleasantly surprised – and bizarrely amused – by the brain’s ability to trigger memories based on a something very small. Perhaps a smell, the way the light hits someone’s face, or a just a random physical reaction.
Tonight, while bathing the kids – I won’t say who, but it wasn’t me – used adult shampoo to wash the kids hair. After doing much of the only-mommy-can-help type consoling, I was sitting on the couch and had this overwhelming memory of an Italian, red-leather coin-purse.
I was 5, and all I remember was Uncle John knocking on the door – after dark – on the night before Thanksgiving. Mom sat on the couch and cried. A lot.
The next few months were a blur of packed bags and nights at my grandmother – Mommom’s – house. I loved her fireplace and red-orange shag rug in the basement; the kitchen with the desk built into the wall where I would lay across her lap and she would scratch my back for what seemed like hours; the bubblegum pink bathroom with the tub that had it’s own curtain to make a perfect mermaid den. This house even had a phone with more than 5 lighted buttons! I quickly learned that I could call downstairs and someone would answer. (I also learned almost as quickly that that was exactly what I was not supposed to do. This was the business phone.)
What it took me longer to realize, was that my grandfather had died. He had decided to take some time off from the locksmith business that he and my grandmother had built over 30 years and was going to captain his boat down the Intercoastal Waterway from Baltimore to Fort Lauderdale. Only he didn’t make it, stranding Mommom and two of their closest friends to escort his body and a 42-foot boat in Beaufort, South Carolina.
His sudden and untimely departure from Mommom’s life left her needing. I don’t know what, exactly, she needed, but I was 5 and I filled it. I can not begin to imagine the trauma – at that time she was 50…I’m now 40.
But it wasn’t until several months later – spring of 1978 – that the coin purse came into my life. That spring we decided — ok, Mommom and Mom decided — to travel to Italy to visit a family friend, and take me. Only me. I remember my brother and a variety cousins being pissed — well, as pissed off as 4 year olds can be — and , me being disappointed that they were going to see Star Wars again. I had to go get a stupid passport and go on a stinking trip to Italy.
We traveled to Venice. To a tall 5 year old it was all 20 foot ceilings, gold-covered furniture, hallways that actually went over water, and cheese on everything. We took water taxis, trains, and gondolas. In Rome we had a Priest escort us through the city. (Little did I know that it was to save Mommom from being pickpocketed by gipsy children.)
But there was that coin purse.
By 2012 standards, it would barely hold 5 bucks in quarters. But it was the one thing I saw in a small leather shop down a stone-lined street, that I wanted. It was red. It was butter soft. And it folded down from a slightly round pocket to a triangle on top. The best part was gold Lira zipper pull.
And Mommom bought it for me.
I don’t know what it was about that purse — I think Mom also bought one in blue (or possible white). I traveled several times with my grandmother – and her second husband who was a wonderful grandfather – for the next 30 years. We cruised. We beached. We even went back to Venice for the wedding of the family friend’s daughter in 2004. I was devastated when she died in 2005.
And I have no idea what happened to that coin-purse.
I’ll never know what triggered that memory tonight. But it was a joy to relive those times, and to track down some photos. I can only hope that sometime in the future, Matilda is blogging about the time she sat on Mommy’s lap to make her burning eyes feel better.