DATE: 6/05/2004 11:50:00 PM
I didn't see it when I walked in, or when I put my keys down on the kitchen table, or when I flipped through the newspaper. It was just sitting on the table. I don't know if I thought it belonged to my mother, or my sister, or really if I thought anything at all.
It was a simple beige purse with a zipper on top and a thin strap. It was in the exact center of the kitchen table when I walked in the house after a "short week" at work that felt years long.
I was slouched in front of the television watching the Red Sox pre-game when my mother walked in and asked, "Do you know whose this is?"
She opened it and looked through it. Finally she pulled out a small laminated card from an inside pocket. It had my grandmother's name on it.
"You don't know where this came from?" my mother asked.
"Hm." Her brows furrowed. She went out back, where my father was mowing the lawn.
Moments later, she returned. "Daddy says--" my mother always refers to him as 'Daddy' even though neither my sister or I have called him that since we were very little, if ever--"Daddy says it was hanging off the back door when he got home."
Suddenly a memory took over my body. It was of the way my grandmother would appear at the back door, in her pink windbreaker, blue flowered shirt with a rhinestoned brooch at the collar, blue jeans, Keds sneakers, a purse under her arm, her car keys clutched in her long manicured fingers, saying "Yoo hoo!"
She would come in and give the dog a "cookie". It got so that we could no longer refer to the dog treats as "cookies" because the dog would jump around and slobber and be a general pain in the ass, so trained had she become by my grandmother walking in the back door and, first thing, asking her if she wanted a "cookie."
Then my grandmother would bend down to whichever of us was closest to the door--usually my sister and I were vying for the spot--and kiss us on the cheek. Whenever she'd kiss us or hug us she'd make a low humming noise, halfway between a sigh of happiness and a laugh, a little "hum-hum-hum-hum-hum" in my ear.
"Whoever returned this was a very honest person," my mother said, digging through the purse. "There's a Social Security Card, a Sears Card, and...wow. Money. There's a hundred dollars here."
She flipped through the small stack of twenties. They were the old twenties, the kind that have been replaced by the strange asymmetrical design on the new money.
She continued to dig. "Maybe we donated it with the rest of the stuff from her house to the Boy Scouts..."
"Right," I said, "But why would they not leave a note with it, or something?"
"I don't know...wow. There's another ATM envelope in here. More money."
She held it up. The envelope was from Shawmut Bank. Shawmut Bank has since been replaced by BayBank, BankBoston, Fleet Bank and now Bank of America.
My mother and I just looked at each other.
"Hm." She said finally and returned to put the purse in the kitchen.
"What are the kids wearing nowadays?" my grandmother would ask me at least once a visit, if we weren't out shopping already. Over the years she showered me and my sister with gifts, from frilly outfits when we were toddlers to toys and fad must-haves--most memorably "Space Goo"--when we were pre-teens.
"Now if ya muthah doesn't like it, we're takin' it right back," she'd always caution us after buying something. It was very important to her that she not supercede our parents' authority. She would dutifully hand over the receipts from her purchases to my mother when we got back from our trips, and she'd often slip cash into my mother's hand along with it.
"Clothes for the kids," she'd say. Even if she'd just let us clean out the Sears' kids department.
Money is often looked upon as crass. If you slip a ten or a twenty into a card for someone's birthday, all it says is that you didn't feel like picking out a gift. People are often condemned for valuing money or making choices based on money. Money is a taboo subject--no one is supposed to know how much you make. I'm not saying that any of that is without reason, but the way my grandmother was with money was different.
She gave my mother money to show her what a good job she thought my mother was doing raising "her cherubs." To show she was invested--literally--in my mother as a mother. She handed us kids money because it was the only way to physically hand us her love. She was showing she'd give us anything and everything she could, but since pulling down the stars was fairly impractical, a twenty would have to do as an I.O.U. She was so free with her money because it was valueless compared to us.
"It's only money." It was a catchphrase of my grandmother's that my mother still often repeats, usually when she feels guilty over a big purchase.
"Easy come, easy go." That's another one.
It was also very important to my grandmother that things be fair. Two grandchildren meant things were split precisely down the middle, not 60-40, not 51-49, but 50-50. It was the only way to do things. She'd count out marshmallows individually, making sure my sister and I had the precise same number. If she bought my sister a stuffed animal, she seemed to consider herself bound by the laws of the universe to buy me something of equal value. When choosing activities, if there was a disagreement between me and my sister--which there often was, since she and I are completely and utterly un-alike in every way--she'd reach into her purse and find a penny.
She would then, literally, flip the coin to decide who would get what they wanted. She would never make such a choice herself; everything had to be fair.
On my way out to dinner with Steve Friday night, my mother stopped me by the back door. She handed me the envelope with the name of the now-defunct bank on it from the mysterious purse found hanging from our back doorknob almost ten years after my grandmother died.
"Here you go," she said.
"There are two sets of money, right?" I asked her.
"They're both the same, aren't they?"
"Both a hundred dollars, five twenties each."
"And we still don't know how that purse got there."
Do I believe in ghosts? Sometimes I think, maybe.