Sunday, February 5, 2012

It Started with a Purse and my Grammy

Charlotte Seavey Rivers (1912-2011). 
Shown here in 1929 at age 17. 
About a month after I started this blog, my grandmother, Charlotte Seavey Rivers, passed away. She was 99. My commitment to this blog increased exponentially at that point, but turning it into the resource I need it to be will be daunting. The provenance of much of my collection, and in fact, my reason for having a collection at all, is tied to Grammy Rivers. Her passing sparked a need to reorganize my house, my closet, my collections, and my thoughts about family, old clothes, family, hoarding, and family. All are tied up in one big tangled yarn ball at the intersection of my career, my beloved hobbies, and my relationships with people I love. If you can picture that tangle of yarn, comprised of three colors-- my collections, family heirlooms, and my job-- then picture this blog as snippets that I have freed as I have time to sit and pick through the jumble.

For this entry, I’m concentrating on finding the beginning of one strand: my collections. Here’s how it all started with a purse, a pocket obsession, and a purchase.

Shopping with Grammy

In the late 1980s, before there was such a thing as eBay, antique dealers used to set up booths at the mall from time to time. When I was in 5th or 6th grade in Fulton, New York, Grammy Rivers was visiting us from Maine when our family decided to hit the local mall. There was an antique show going on, and Grammy and I split off to look at the booths while the rest of the family did their shopping. I had a coin collection, and usually at least one booth featured coins, so I brought my cash.

While my memory of the day is fuzzy, here’s what I remember vividly: One booth had two purses hanging from a shelf, one smaller than the other. Both were tapestry purses, both had interesting decorations on the frame, one was $15.00, the other was $20.00, and I WANTED ONE. I actually circled the mall twice, stopping each time to handle these beauties. Finally, I asked the dealer if he could come down on the price and he complied: $11.00 for the little purse and $15 for the big one.

Here it is: the purse that caught my tween eye.
I loved the fantasy castle scene, the enamel
work on the frame, and what I found inside... 

I had always had a thing for wallets and purses with a lot of pockets. Whether a hand-me-down of an old purse from my mom or a yard sale find, I measured the value of the accessory by the pocket count. Which is weird, because at that age I had pretty much no need whatsoever for a wallet or a purse. I only made money through a small allowance and the rule that I could keep any change I found around the house (except for quarters). When I did have something important enough to store deep in the recess of a hidden pocket, I usually forgot it was there. Still, I was a kid and ‘need’ wasn’t really factoring into my decisions. I was probably thinking something like: “Neat. Want. Pretty.” Given my mantra “more pockets are better” I was naturally drawn to the larger tapestry purse because it had the coolest feature; a mini-purse within the purse! But sadly, I had only $12.00. It was frustrating, but at least I could afford the little one.

A mini purse INSIDE the purse. Brilliant!
Grammy Rivers had witnessed my interest and torment as I weighed my options; I had dragged her back to the booth twice, after all. And then she did something I totally didn’t expect; she offered me $3.00 so that I could get the BIG purse. I was in awe. The idea that my Grammy was even a participant in the market economy hadn’t ever really occurred to me. She grew and canned a lot of her own food, she was mostly blind and couldn’t drive, and as a retired mother of ten and grandmother of 25-ish (I seriously don’t know) she wasn’t someone who threw money around. In my mentalverse, cash from Grammy: A) came from a birthday card via mail, and B) never exceeded $5.00. This was like getting an unexpected raise for a job I didn’t do from a person I didn’t ever think of as ever even having touched a dollar bill. I was so joyful. Grammy had helped me obtain a completely impractical but fascinating antique AND she had expanded my view of her from just “my Grammy” to “member of society at large.”

The $2.00 yard sale find that brought my purse
count up to two: an official "collection."
Not long thereafter, I found an adorable little embroidered purse with an Asian scene on it for $2.00 at a yard sale and bought it. The clouds parted, the sunbeams broke through, and lo, a collection was born! I added to my ‘purse drawer’ with all of the enthusiasm my child-sized budget allowed, while my other collections- coins, pretty rocks, seashells, and matchbox cars -were relegated to storage in my closet.

Most importantly, however, Grammy and I bonded over this new interest that she had helped me pursue. She saw how much I loved these old purses, and old things in general, and boy did she ever have access to old things! We were set on a course that led to Nanny’s closet, but that is a story best left for another post…

1 comment:

  1. Sara, it's Amy, and so far I am thoroughly enjoying your blog. I love your writing style-it really pulls me in-as well as the "Char" memories. Keep up the great job, my dear cousin!
    p.s. Supposedly, Isadora Duncan was an ancestor of ours, therefore the Google-Name!