2nd Place – July 2019

Mama’s Purse

by Robert C. Taylor

I’ve been doing myself some mighty serious thinking lately, about memories, mostly, how some days you remember because they were bad, some because they were good. And then there are those days, neither good nor bad, that you remember just the same. Such is a memory of a particular Saturday. Glenda and I were living in that apartment complex over on West Elm, back in what some folks would call the good old days. I never really thought of it that way because, well, like I said, I was living with Glenda.
On that particular Saturday we were there in the apartment, doing nothing of any significance, really; me, sprawled out on the sofa listening to some old records; Glenda, laid back in her recliner reading detective magazines, and Little Hershey, sitting cross-legged on the floor playing with her dolls, when the phone rang. I let Glenda answer it, seeing as how it was usually for her anyway. When I’d answer it she’d start into asking me who’s calling, and I’d be trying to tell her who it was while trying to talk to the person who it was, and then she’d say, “what do they want with you?” It could be quite frustrating to say the least, but then, that was Glenda.
“It’s your mama,” Glenda said, handing me the receiver. Mama went through her usual routine of berating me for never calling or visiting, saying stuff like, “I could have been lying dead on my kitchen floor for days and no one would have known, because none of my kids ever call or come by to check on me.” Then she asked if I’d drive her to the Safeway to cash her monthly check. I told her I’d be right over, and of course, Glenda decided she better come along, as there were a few items she needed to pick up. We couldn’t leave Hershey alone in the apartment. She had this thing about playing with matches, and we didn’t need her burning down the place like she did the barn when we lived in that big house just outside of Waco. So, the three of us climbed into the car and took off to pick up Mama.
Now, if you’d ever been to the grocery store with my mama you’d understand the frustration. Pushing that cart up one aisle and down another, doubling back to the same aisles time after time, Mama picking up items then placing them back on the shelf, saying nobody on a fixed income should have to pay such exorbitant prices. She’d pick up a can of salmon, hold it for a moment or two, then place it back on the shelf and grab a can of jack mackerel, which she swore would be just as tasty the way she prepared it. And of course, little Hershey, bugging the crap out of you, wanting this and that, mostly stuff she didn’t need, like candy that would rot her teeth. Then Glenda taking Hershey’s side. “Kids are supposed to have candy. That’s why they make it in the first place.” I never understood why Glenda acted that way, contradicting me in front of the kid, but hey, as I said before, that was Glenda.
On that particular Saturday, however, it wasn’t what went on in the grocery store, but what transpired afterwards that stands out most in my memory. We loaded up the bags of groceries and were headed down Midway Road, Glenda and myself in the front and Mama and Hershey in the back, Hershey on her knees peering through the rear window, not exactly a safe thing to be doing. Even back then, before the law required you to wear seat belts, I deemed such activity to be unsafe. “Turn around and sit down beside your grandma,” I told her.
“I’m watching the car with the pretty blinking lights on top,” she replied. I peered through my rearview mirror, something I rarely did while driving, and sure enough, the pretty lights were atop a police cruiser, and he was pulling us over!
I pulled to the curb, my hands shaking slightly while the cop slowly made his way up to my window. I informed Glenda that she might very well have to drive the car home, because I was fairly certain I had a couple of outstanding warrants for…well, no need going into the specifics of that right now, but chances were good I’d be enjoying a few days of free room and board compliments of the County. I expected Mama to start in about me being irresponsible and not fit to raise a family, but for some reason she remained uncharacteristically quiet, sitting back there with her hands folded in her lap as the cop went through his usual routine.
“The reason I stopped you is because you were going forty-five in a thirty-mile zone. Is there a reason you’re in such a hurry?”
Just as I handed him my license, Mama started in. “Oh my God!” she screamed. Everybody, including the cop, turned their attention to Mama, who had a look of panic on her face that I haven’t forgotten to this day.
“What’s wrong, Mama?” I asked.
“I left my purse on top of the cold drink machine back there at the Safeway! I had just cashed my monthly check! Every dime I have to my name is in that purse!”
“It’ll be okay,” Glenda said, in an effort to reassure her, “we’ll go back and get your purse.”
Mama, however, would not be consoled. “It won’t be there!” she screamed. “Somebody will take it, if they haven’t already, and I won’t have a dime for the entire month! I’ll have to move in with you guys!”
Well, that statement struck a sour note with me, and considering the look I saw on Glenda’s face it obviously didn’t set too well with her either. So there we were, Mama, crying and fretting, big tears running down her face, and Hershey back there giggling and saying, “goodie, goodie, Grandma’s gonna live with us,” and me wanting to say something like the hell she is.
Then the cop started trying to console Mama. Handing me my license back, he inquired as to which Safeway she left her purse. I told him and he said, “follow me. We’ll go back up there and get the lady’s purse.”
So, away we went, made us a u-turn behind that cop and followed him back up Midway, his lights flashing, exceeding the speed limit, running right through the stop lights. A wild scene to say the least, Hershey bouncing up and down in the seat, clapping her hands and giggling like crazy. And Mama, who had seemed to calm down quite a bit, once again sitting quietly with her hands folded in her lap.
Reaching the Safeway, we pulled right up behind the cop, who had stopped directly in front of the door. I opened my door to get out, but Mama told me to keep my seat. “I’ll go in and see if it’s still there,” she said.
The cop waved at us and drove away, and we sat there in the car, Glenda and myself, our eyes trained on the Safeway entrance, both of us hoping and praying we would see Mama walk out the door with her purse in her hand. After a couple of minutes had passed, I detected a strange sound emanating from the back seat, a sort of liquidous chomping, like a little girl chewing a big wad of gum, something Hershey knew she wasn’t allowed to do in the car. It always wound up stuck to the seat covers, and in one particular instance, the headliner.
“Where did you get that gum?” I asked, observing her through the rear-view mirror.
“Out of Grandma’s purse.”
Her answer confused me. “When did you take it from your grandma’s purse?”
“Just now,” she explained. “It’s right here under the seat.”
Well, I didn’t get taken to jail for the warrants, didn’t even get a ticket, and Mama didn’t have to move in with us because she didn’t lose her money after all, which was a letdown for Little Hershey. I never understood where Mama came up with that leaving her purse at the Safeway story on the spur of the moment, or how she made those big wet tears cascade down her cheeks for that cop to see, but, well, that was Mama.

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