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"A handbag is not a proper mother."

That’s exactly what Lady Bracknell sang in "Ernest in Love," based on Oscar Wilde’s "The Importance of Being Earnest."

And who would disagree with Lady Bracknell? Who would clean up after the howling baby dumps his pablum over the dog’s head? The dog, humiliated, cries piteously which brings the cat into the fray. The cat surveys the situation and coughs up a giant hair ball. Mom springs into action, not the handbag.

Although a purse can’t replace Mom, it is still very important to a woman. I take my purse whenever I leave the house — even if it’s just a trip to the mailbox. What if I lock myself out of the house? I have keys in my purse. What if I’m hungry? I have a Snickers bar. What if I notice that the house is on fire? I have a fire extinguisher. ... Nah, just messing with you. But I do have a cellphone and I can dial 911.

Once someone gifted me with an ugly cigarette case. It was brown with gold letters. One day, I took my case out of my purse to get a cigarette. (Please, no emails or tweets. I quit smoking years ago.)

My friend shrieked. “You’ve got a Vuitton!” she said, grabbing the case out of my hand.

“What’s a Vuitton?” I asked. “Is it a rash? Is my face swollen up like a puffer fish? I have allergies.”

She caressed the case, looking like she was in a trance.

I made a retching sound. “Why would anyone want that tacky thing?” I asked.

“It’s a Louis Vuitton cigarette case! Vuitton is only the most prized name in leather accessories, especially their purses. Even your little case probably cost a bundle.”

I looked up Vuitton on my iPad Mini, which was in my purse. I couldn’t find a cigarette case on their website, so I checked smart phone holders as they were about the same size. They ranged from $295 to $5,500! The case for the iPad Mini was more expensive than the iPad Mini.

Purses are even used in police investigations. When a woman goes missing, the cops always go through her house. If they find her purse, they will say, “Looks like she was abducted, because a woman NEVER leaves home without her purse.” If I had a dime for every time I heard those words uttered on a crime drama, I would be a wealthy woman, with something to put in my purse.

Women have definite ideas about their dream purse. Some like itty-bitty purses that can only hold one credit card OR a tissue OR an Altoid. Others, like me, love huge well-organized purses. However, I’m not a fan of a huge purse that has only one main compartment. Once an item is tossed into that huge, dark hole, it is gone forever. I consider those purses as traveling garbage cans.

My most recent purse is red, huge, has 19 compartments and a long strap. First, I had to decide what was going into each compartment, then I had to draw a map to help me navigate my way around the purse. The most important compartment was No. 16, which contains important stuff like money and credit cards. There are separate compartments for cosmetics, medicine, shoes, a water bottle, all manners of electronic devices, and all the other stuff women cram into their purses.

I also have a couple of items that don’t fit into any category. In fact, I’m not sure why they’re in my purse in the first place: A fishing lure (I thought it was an earring); a copy of "Silas Marner" (I’ve been trying to plow through this boring book since the seventh grade); a guitar string (I don’t have a guitar. Was I planning to garrote someone? Who?).

Next, I had to determine how I was going to carry it. It seems like most people favor the cross-body-carrying method. I must be doing something wrong, because it always ends up hanging down my front. I look like I’m wearing a feed bag.

I then attempt the over-the-shoulder technique. The strap slips down my arm, finally coming to rest in my clenched fist. From there, it drags on the ground behind me, much like Linus’s blankie.

I usually end up tucking the purse under my arm like a football player cradles a football. The strap trails along behind me like I’m walking an invisible dog. People behind me shout, “Hey, lady, you’re pulling an empty leash.”

“No, I’m not, but thanks,” I reply. As if on cue, the chihuahua peeks out of the purse and lets out a cheerful bark.

At home, I sit in my beloved Barcalounger and consider how the purse will evolve in the future. I believe the largest purse could conceivably be converted into a tent or a yurt. The handbag is still not a proper mother, but I dare say that a woman with the proper purse could rule the world. Two-year-olds are harder.

Linda Hamner is a published author and former soap opera writer who won a Daytime Emmy Award in 1991 as part of the "Santa Barbara" writing team. She has lived in Philomath since 2006.


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