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Laura on Life

Just In Case
By Laura Snyder
May 4, 2009 - 1:25:58 PM

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My Mom was a German immigrant who came to the United States when she was ten years old. She and her family moved to Buffalo, NY which has a large Polish population. Then she married a man who lived in the city but would've proudly proclaimed himself a redneck at heart.

All of these influences created the woman she is today. She speaks fluent German, but also speaks English without an accent with the exception of a few words that she still can't wrap her tongue around.

Mom has the illogical, stubborn German side of her which also gives her a keen sense of the obvious. However, the impractical, but frugal Polish influence makes her collect strange things and celebrate Dingus Day by dousing her husband with the hose and chasing him around the yard with a willow switch.

The Polish influence has not taken over to the extent that she props up pink flamingos in her yard, but she does have an impressive display of garden gnomes which she calls Gartenzwerg because that's German. My favorite is the one taking a leak into her crocuses. Gartenzwerg are apparently not shy.

My Dad's redneck influence, combined with her difficulty with some words, makes her say things that make no sense. When she gets a charley horse she says she's got a "crap in her leg." "Britches" is a word my father used for pants. It was common when my kids were babies for my Mom to hand my baby back to me because he had "wet his bridges." She still calls her jeans "dungarees" as if she had even once mucked out a horse stall.

Still, much as I hate to admit it, there is at least one thing my Mom and I have in common. As we age, we have to carry more things around with us and our purses reflect that trend. It's a kind of bag lady mentality, I guess. However, our purses do not get bigger to accommodate the extra stuff. No, we just get better at packing them. The only difference between us and a bag lady appears to be the shopping cart.

Thirty years ago, I carried my wallet, my car key, lip gloss and a comb. But my life has expanded in so many ways since then and so has my purse. I now carry my car keys, but also my son's car keys, in case he loses his; house keys, work keys, safe keys, post office keys, and keys that open my 12-year old's piggy bank.

My Mom carries two sets of car keys, in case she loses one, two house keys, one for the North house and one for the South house. Also on her keychain is a brass German flag insignia, a metal plate with her name on it, just in case she ever forgets her name, a flashlight, and a tiny can of mace. German, Polish, redneck, it's all there.

I have four pens in my purse, in case three of them fail me, I guess. There are receipts that date back to the Cold War, my checkbook, four hundred store discount cards, a coupon for a kid's meal at Panera Bread that my daughter won at school that we'll probably never use, random barrettes, Lego pieces, Game Boy cartridges, a make-up case because you never know when I'll need to put my make-up on in the grocery store or in-transit, my purple cell phone and a pink digital camera, both of which take pictures. I wonder sometimes when I'll ever have a need to take two pictures at the same time, but, hey, just in case.

Although I've never actually been through my Mom's purse, I've seen her go through it to try to find something. The pens are at the bottom. She's probably up to ten or eleven by now, but they are not worth digging out when she can just ask me for one. There is the ever-present coupon for 20% off at Bed, Bath and Beyond. Watching her trying to pull her receipt-stuffed wallet out of her purse is like watching her assist a walrus giving birth. "I see the corner! Watch for the change purse! You have to maneuver slowly to account for the clasp! That's it, you've got it! Now BREATHE! And PULL! It's out! Congratulations, you have a baby Gucci knock-off!"

She also has a full-scale make-up compartment for the same reason I do, I assume, a full-size umbrella (impressive!), an air freshener, a can of Lysol, a flat-tire emergency repair kit, and her kitchen sink, which no purse would be complete without.

It's no wonder that little old German/Polish/redneck women have hunched backs.

Laura Snyder is a nationally syndicated columnist, author & speaker. You can reach Laura at Or visit her website for more info.

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