My Mum’s handbag…….sounds like a good name for a band, doesn’t it? Almost up there with my brother’s suggestion of ‘Dogs in Cars’. One of the biggest fashion trends seen these days is due to the endless photos of fat-lipped stick insect starlets going shopping whilst holding a 44 gallon takeaway coffee cup in one hand and a tote bag big enough to sleep in looped over their painfully thin wrists.
Mum is the original Queen of the Handbag. No no no, she was never a crack-smoking, starving skank wearing a sequined swimsuit but her handbag was - and is - a vital part of her, a piece of equipment that she never leaves the house without.
As a teenager, I used to love teasing her about it. “Hey Mum, the table in this café’s a bit wobbly. Do you think you can reach into your bag and find a saw to even up the legs, heh heh heh.” Clearly not appreciating my sophisticated teenage humour, she’d frown in thought and invariably answer, “Hmm, let me see….. (rummage rummage). I’ll tell you what I do have – the program from the local Music Players Society’s ‘Bye Bye Birdie’ that your father and I went to last Friday night. I’ll fold that up a few times and put it underneath – that will stop the wobbling.” And it did.
When she and Dad came over to Melbourne to visit Love Chunks and myself several years ago, I was still suffering from morning – no, make that All Day - sickness. She came with me to Northland to check out a few maternity clothes and baby equipment, and all of a sudden the coffee in the food hall started to smell like bat dung and the room started spinning. “Come here and sit down,” she said kindly. “Grab hold of this and take a few deep breaths,” she continued, handing me an air sickness bag she’d pulled out from her new mock-croc hold-all.
In the late eighties, I was mortified to discover that my sloppy chopstick skills had resulted in a few bright orange chili sauce splatters down my front. How was I going to look even remotely professional at my job interview in thirty minutes’ time? It was Mum’s Handbag to the Rescue again. It miraculously conjured up a rather nice silk scarf that draped over the offending stains, hiding them completely. She also rather tactfully offered me some breath mints, “They might not have had garlic with their lunch like you have.”
Countless times my marvelous mother would be able to produce a much-needed object from the leather lifesaving device in the nick of time. Such gear included sugar cubes, scissors (not nail scissors either), serviettes, a folded waterproof poncho, coffee sachets, teabags, toothbrush and toothpaste, stingose spray, three different brands of mints, needle, thread and buttons, safety pins, SPF30+ sunblock lotion, biscuits, hand wipes, bandages, painkillers, chocolates, a hand-held paper fan and instant soup sachets. This was of course in addition to the usual things found in a handbag – make up, purse, keys, comb, monthly stuff and a pen!
This preparedness for anything – and immediate assistance for others – was achieved via a handbag that would be one quarter the size of those carried around by today’s fashion victims. Each bag she used must have been modeled on Dr Who’s time traveling tardis and therefore have been considerably larger on the inside.
This lovely lady with the ability to bend the laws of physics (at least when they relate to Oroton products) turns sixty-eight next month and has a social calendar that Paris Hilton would envy. She's the beloved grandma of three children (so far), a regular church goer, CWA member and helps out regularly at the Lifeline second hand store in the lovely seaside town of Victor Harbor. My father - owner of three sheds (one of them a triple car size), recently built in a fully-lined room for Mum to sew, sort through toys and work in and it's been nicknamed 'The Playroom.'
After finishing the job, Dad left in the landcruiser for two weeks' away camping, hiking and bird-watching with his old buddies in the Flinders Ranges. Mum's not one for staying at home and feeling lonely; she's making the most of her time solo. Our phone call went like this:
Kath: Hi Mum, how are you? How did the launch of your playroom go?
Mum: Good thanks Bubbles. Sixteen of the girls came over. We cut the toilet paper ribbon and then had tea and scones inside. They're all extremely jealous you know. Your Dad is so clever building this room out in the shed for me. It's lined, got heaps of powerpoints, new carpet, the old kitchen cupboards along the west wall, new curtains and he's painted it all for me.
K: Did Alexander Downer (their member for Mayo) come to the launch?
Mum: Surprisingly not, because he normally goes to the opening of a jam jar. Wendy swears she saw Elvis though and the satellite link-up to Pierce Brosnan went down, unfortunately. Probably a good thing, in hindsight, because you know how excited we can all get; especially when we're all sugared up and had too many cups of tea. We do like a good laugh you know.
K: Yes indeedy, you and your buddies remind me of those giggling ladies in the Tena incontinence pads commercials. What are you planning on your doing in your playroom?
Mum: You mean apart from luring in Hugh Jackman?....(pause)....where do I start? I've got four boxes of toys to sort through for the Lifeline store; there's hats to make for the next musical; I'll be able to practice my singing without disturbing your father and I've moved in the old kitchen benches for my sewing machine and I'll be typing up the minutes---
K: What minutes?
Mum: For Fellowship. We were up until 1am last night.
K: Doing what? Getting drunk? Key swapping?
Mum: No you cheeky thing - we were planning our next fundraiser for the manse's new floor coverings. I'm going to be a model for the Black Pepper boutique.
Mum: Oooh yes, can you believe it? The frock salon in the Woolies' complex also asked me to model their new range of summer fashions the week after. Janice said that she saw me in the parades last year and liked my graceful style.
K: Wow Mum, that's great! Hang on a minute - graceful style? This, from the woman who cracked her ribs at the church camp when she fell from the tarzan vine across the creek and bounced off a log?
Mum (laughing): I think that Elle's too old and Megan Gale's too busy. Oh heck, that reminds me. I'm going to have to phone Maureen and tell her that I've double-booked myself and won't be able to make it to the CWA choir practice tomorrow afternoon.
K: Why not?
Mum: Because I'm going to be singing the solo at church on Sunday, and Alan said he wanted to go through it with me on his organ.
K: Organ, hey. Who's this Alan chap when he's at home? Does Dad know?
Mum (tut tutting): Now now. You know Alan, he was the musical director of our last musical - 'No No Nanette'. I'm still taking those tap lessons you know.
K: Ah yes, the one where you were the youngest member of the chorus?
Mum (musing): It's so hard to find young people willing to join us in the musicals........
K: Well Mum it is a retirement town. While I've got you on the phone, can you come over next Wednesday? Sapphire's school is having Grandparents day and she's posted you an invitation this morning and would really like you to come.
Mum (sounds of paper shuffling): Next Wednesday, next Wednesday..... I'm on the cordless out here in the playroom, so let me walk inside and check the calendar. Hmm, let me see..... I'm on for a shift at the Lifeline shop in the afternoon, but Dulcie owes me a session, so I'll ask her to do it instead. I've got to be careful though. Dear old thing doesn't know her Ratatouille from the Batman's Dark Knight characters so I'll make sure that the bags of toys are sorted through the night before.
K: Thanks Mum, you'll really make Sapphire's day.
Mum: I've set aside a bag of toys for her. I've finally found the Lilo character to go with the Stitch she got last time, and Mr Bubbles is in there too. I've still got my eye out for Nani and Bleakley. We get in lots of Barbie dolls, but no clothes. They're all nude and I'm not sure I have the time to be fiddling about with sewing up tiny little outfits, so they're just sitting here, staring at me. It feels a bit too kinky to be selling them like that at Lifeline.
K: I don't blame you. How's your eye going? What did the optometrist say?
Mum: He's really pleased. It's amazing that it was only operated on two weeks ago and it's not blurry anymore. I can drive and no longer look like a drug addict with one huge black, watery pupil. It was attracting more than a few funny looks at fellowship you know.
K: Yeah, I can imagine. I'm sure the whole town knows of your reputation for the hard stuff. You know, you're the only person who waters their iced coffee down before you drink it!
Mum: I tell you what - how about I stay for the night and we hit the shops the next day? From the target and K-Mart brochures in my letterbox it finally looks as though there's some sppring clothes that will be OK for a non-stick insect over the age of 40 to wear. I'll have to be back in time for the monthly Fogey Feed at the Grosvenor. They do a huge buffet; and your Dad will be home in time for it. You know how much he loves his 'All You Can Eat' places.
K: Yeah I do. He was the only bloke who cried when Sizzler went bankrupt. Remember when he said he wanted to die with his mouth open under the chocolate mousse tap?
Mum: Mmm hmm. And while I'm over at your place, I'll just have a little go at the weeds in your back garden.
K (very weakly): Oh no, you don't have to.....
Mum: I know. I want to.