Franckly speaking: Cliché acquires new meaning after purse saga

By From page A6 | April 02, 2012

Have you ever considered the cliché about walking a mile in someone elses shoes? I hadn’t, until recently when I walked a mile with someone else’s purse.

It started when my husband and I got on BART.

We were on our way to a daytime event in San Francisco, and we boarded at the Montgomery Street station. We sat down and the door had nearly closed when a thirty-something woman in a brown coat ran right up to it and started banging.
The door didnt open, but she didnt stop. Even when the train began to move, she ran alongside pounding on the window.

That woman is crazy, I said. Another train will come soon.

I dont know if thats it, said my husband, rising and heading towards the back of the car. Maybe she lost something.

Four rows down, he reached under a seat and emerged with a huge brown purse. It was rectangular, with zippered pockets on all sides and a dozen big metal grommets. The straps were short, so you couldnt wear it over your shoulder, and the center section was big enough to fit a small dog. It weighed at least seven pounds.

She forgot her purse, Bob said.

I looked at him with admiration usually reserved for newlyweds.

Where I had seen a person trying to board, he had seen a person who just got off and forgot something valuable. How he knew that from her wild behavior I’ll never know, although he says it had something to do with her eyes.

We were now on a moving train with an extra purse.

I thought about a recent incident that did not fill me with newlywed admiration: Bob misplaced his wallet (again) and we realized how poorly prepared he was for such a loss. He didnt even have a copy of his credit card numbers.

Fortunately, his wallet turned up, but I was now thinking about this lady’s credit situation, and it was grim.

I had inspected the purse looking for contact information. Her heavy wallet, bursting at the seams, had no cash but several major credit cards and a dozen minor ones. She also carried gloves, pills, receipts, a Blackberry, her drivers license, BART tickets and dozens of business cards from other people.

Tucked behind her drivers license, I found an emergency contact number. We called but reached no one.

Then we found her business card. The phone number on it rang the phone in her purse, but the e-mail address looked good and Bob phoned his assistant, who agreed to contact Diana and say that we’d return the purse after our event.

I carried her purse during our event, lunch and our ride back on BART.

Which returns me to that cliché about shoes. If you walk in someone elses shoes, you’ll be uncomfortable because they dont fit. Perhaps the shoes are more dilapidated than yours and you feel sympathetic. That’s the point of the cliché: You understand how someone is different from you if you adopt a piece of their life.

Purses are just as personal as shoes and more revealing. My own purse is a lean affair, a black cloth fanny pack that has my keys, wallet, phone and a couple of personal items. It weighs less than a pound. I couldnt imagine going through life weighed down by Diana’s warhorse, nor can I imagine keeping so many vital possessions in one location.

Diana’s office was only one block from my husbands, so we dropped in. A downtown San Francisco bank is a big place, but the security man knew about Diana’s purse and called her.

When she came off the elevator, I didnt recognize her.

I expected the owner of this huge purse to be loud and bold, as she had been when she banged on the train. I expected her to be full of joy. Instead, Diana was subdued and quiet, and although she said thank you, I didnt see joy.

I’ve heard of scams where people return lost property with something missing, like a credit card. Perhaps she feared we had taken something. I felt slightly disappointed, but then forgot about it.

Four days later, however, Diana visited my husbands office carrying a shiny shopping bag. It contained a big box of Godiva chocolate and a Rodney Strong Cabernet Sauvignon. She thanked my husband and, to his amazement, gave him a hug. Later, my husband found a note on flowered stationery:

“Everybody who has heard the story of my purse (including the building security guys) has told me how lucky I am, and along with that comes an expressed or implied admiration and awe for the two of you. In these times of cynicism, it’s people like you who make us jaded folk believe there are still very good people in the world and that miracles still take place.”

My reaction? I dont think Bob and I are unusual, nor that she is jaded. In fact, her heavy purse was a virtual monument to optimism because it contained so many valuables. Perhaps Diana makes her choices unconsciously, but she’s very different from me. I keep my purse light, empty it of credit cards before going someplace unfamiliar, and watch over it even at friends’ parties.

Who’s the cynic, expecting thieves around every corner, and who is the optimist? That’s what I asked myself after carrying someone else’s purse.

Marion Franck is a part-time resident of El Dorado County, with her primary residence in Davis.

Marion Franck

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