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Rich: Don’t call it a purse, and don’t mismatch it

POSTED: February 17, 2009 1:00 a.m.

Dixie Dew didn't notice, but I did. She was too busy sniffing grass and prancing her bigger-than-it-should-be tail while I was casually observing life during an afternoon walk.

First, I noticed the woman lean down pulling a weed or something from the landscaping in front of her tiny white-framed house.

She was dressed in a yellow floral housedress with a fabric belt tied at the waist and flat, sensible shoes that tie up the front. The kind of shoes that women of her age - the older ones - often wear. Dangling from the crook of her left arm was a black pocketbook with a gold clasp that fastened together at the top.

My initial thought was that something awry had caught her eye as she was leaving the house for an errand and she had stopped to correct it. I often do that myself.

A few steps later, I realized that she was gardening while toting her pocketbook from one place to another. She pulled out her hoe and began attacking the ground, her black purse swinging madly with every rise and fall of the hoe.

I had to laugh. Yep, that's typical of our precious older Southern women because only God Almighty shall come between them and their pocketbooks. I have an aunt who has never had her picture made without her pocketbook.

If she's sitting on the sofa at a family get together and someone says, "Y'all scooch (that's a made-up Southern word) up close together and lemme take your picture," she'll jump up and go running for her pocketbook so she can plunk it down on her lap.

And that's another thing: In the South, we call it a "pocketbook," thank you very much. Yes, we know there are more refined names for it - purse, bag or clutch - but to us, it's a pocketbook and that's what it going to be called until kingdom come.

"What did you call that?" someone outside of the South once asked me as I was looking for mine.

"Here it is!" Victoriously, I held it up. "I called it a pocketbook. That's what it is."

She laughed. "Oh how quaint. That must be a Southern thing."

Trust me, when a non-Southerner calls something we do "quaint," it ain't a compliment. I smiled tightly. "Well, if I called it a purse or a bag back home, folks would think I had gotten above my raising. And, getting above your raising is worse than not having the right pocketbook to match your shoes."

I said that to show her that we do have class in the South, plus I said it while looking straight at her white pocketbook and then letting my eyes drift with disapproval downward to her black shoes.

She got the point and quickly bristled away with her mismatched pocketbook and shoes.

One of the funniest sights I ever saw was when Mama had one of her swimmy-head episodes and an ambulance had to be called. I beat the ambulance to the emergency room and was waiting when they rolled Mama in. She was laying on the gurney with her big ol' pocketbook clutched tightly to her chest.

"Give me that," I said, snatching it away as the gurney rolled by.

She lifted her swimmy head and hollered as they pushed her through the double doors, "Don't you let nothin' happen to my pocketbook!"

When Dew and I concluded our walk and sauntered by the house of the woman who was gardening with her pocketbook, we found that she'd settled down on the porch to take a break.

I waved at her as she opened it, took out her compact and powdered her nose.

See, that's why you work your garden with your pocketbook on your arm. You might need your compact.

Ronda Rich is the Gainesville-based author of "What Southern Women Know (That Every Woman Should)." Sign up for her newsletter.


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