Tuesday, August 12, 2008


Back-to-school time is right around the corner. I can tell because all the stores are selling everything from Number Two Pencils to “Go Bears!” sweatshirts.

When I was a kid, I dreaded the actual going-back-to-school part, but I loved all the accessories that came with it—new clothes, cool pencil cases, fresh Crayola crayons, and a brand new Annie Oakley lunch box with a matching thermos that didn’t smell funny.

Now that I’m a teacher instead of a student, returning to school in a couple of weeks, I need a few new things. Unfortunately, with the economy about to receive an F for Failing, I can’t afford a new wardrobe, let alone a new pencil. The old ones with have to do. But there’s one accessory I have to have before I return to the classroom: A new purse.

The fashion statement a purse makes today is just as important as my Annie Oakley lunchbox made back in the day. Unfortunately, purses cost a lot more than lunch pails. I can’t afford a real Kate Spade or Marc Jacobs—not in this economy. Yet I see women all over the Valley with designer bags hanging from their shoulders. Even bag ladies have designer bags. And now I know why.

They’re fake.

I asked one of my students how she managed to afford her expensive purse. “I bought it on a street corner in the city,” she whispered. “It’s a knock-off.” Suddenly I wanted a knock-off purse. My old bag was ready to be recycled. The strap had snapped when I loaded it with too much chocolate. The buckle fell off when I tried to kill a spider with it. And the inside was sticky from the lollipop I should never have given my grandson. Yep, Mama needed a brand new bag.

So what is it about having a handbag covered with Cs that would cause an honest woman to risk going to jail? That’s for a psychology teacher to determine. Meanwhile, I headed for the city in search of one of those eye-catching carts.

“Pull over!” I commanded my husband, then leapt from the car to peruse all the pretty purses. The “salesman” carried all the bogus brand names—names I’d come to love as well as those of my own children. After checking for undercover police, I picked out a pink and purple patchwork purse that wouldn’t go with anything in my closet, and paid the recent parolee wearing a wig and sunglasses all the cash I had. I walked away feeling like one of the girls from “Sex and the City.”

The “designer bag” self destructed before I even got home.

At that point I gave up crime and scoured the discount stores for marked-down bags. I found an adorable Dooney and Bourke at half price and snatched the little bumblebee-embossed bag off the rack, thrilled to have an authentic purse, even if I had to pay more than I could afford. At least I wouldn’t have to go to jail. I still keep an eye out for those fake bag carts, but the thrill of the hunt has worn off, now that every female on the planet has a designer bag—real or fake. I’m after something a little different in the way of an accessory, that’s even more hip and trendy. Like a High School Musical lunch box.

Some would call my 84-year-old mother feisty, strong-willed, and opinionated. I would never call her those things – she’d wash my mouth out with soap. Instead, I’d call her creative, assertive, and my role model.

That’s why I didn’t quite understand her latest plan. She’d decided to move out of her home of nearly 20 years and relocate to a completely new city. And instead of downsizing, she wanted to upsize.

My husband and I are at a point in our lives where we are beginning to ask ourselves if we’re going to downsize to a small condo, buy a big ranch in Wyoming, or stay here for our golden years. Although ranch prices have certainly come down, thanks to the economy, we probably wouldn’t be able to sell our house in the current market. So we’re sort of stuck here, like it or not. Truthfully, we like it. Tom calls our house his “pine box” and doesn’t plan on ever leaving. So that settles that.

But my mother decided she wanted to start over somewhere new. “I’m bored with this town. I need a change.” I could understand that. Maybe the house and yard and pool had become too much for her. Maybe she wanted to simplify her life.

“So, are you looking for a new luxury condo?” I asked. “A quiet little trailer down by the river? A vibrant retirement community that offers recreational activities, social events, and stimulating classes?”

“Nope. I want to buy a big new house near a big old city and live there with my dog.” Uh-oh. Was it time to find my mother a “home?” I called my brother and we discussed her plan. We agreed that our mother was still sharp as a tongue, full of fire (and brimstone), and dare I say, “feisty” as ever. If that’s what she wanted—in spite of the fact that we thought she might also be crazy—this was her right.

A few weeks later she announced, “I sold my house.” Now all she had to do was find her dream home. That took some doing, but after living with my brother for two months, she finally found the one she wanted—a two-story, five-bedroom, three-bath house with a three-car garage. What in heaven’s name was she going to do with all that house?

Moving day arrived last weekend. Tom and I headed up to her new place, followed by our kids and their families, everyone eager to see Mom’s new “mansion”—and find out for ourselves if the woman had gone mad. She greeted us at the front porch with a beaming smile, then proudly showed us every inch of her new Tara. The house had all the latest amenities—granite counters, Jacuzzi tub, walk-in closets the size of my bedroom, on and on and on. I realized I was jealous of her new place and wondered if perhaps the house next door was also available at a third of the price of our current house. If we moved there, we’d never have to work again.

But why would my 84-year-old mother want to rattle around in such an oversized living space? She swept an arm around the room, indicating the spaciousness. “So my children and grandchildren can all come and stay. I’m only an hour away from you and your kids. And now I’ve got plenty of room for everyone.”

Call her feisty. Call her crazy. Call her anything you like. I call her Mom. And I want to be just like her when I grow up.