As the pandemic lockdown set in two years ago, I looked for home organization projects to tackle — anything to avoid vacuuming and baking sourdough bread. I rearranged the kitchen cupboards, straightened all the bookshelves, cleaned the basement storage and polished the silverware. I left the dreaded closet cleaning to the end.
I channelled my inner Marie Kondo and began the loathsome task. That’s when I found my little red bag — in the back of the closet. It’s small, lipstick red, buttery-soft, quilted lambskin with a gold-plated chain strap. Imagine a small classic Chanel bag — the one with the iconic CC logo the company has been making since the 1950s and is one of the most sought-after and expensive bags in the world. Yup, if you are a handbag aficionado as I am, you know what I am talking about. Well, my little red bag, purchased thirty-five years ago, is exactly the same — minus the famous CC logo and appreciation in value.
Why do I love the red bag so much, and why have I kept it so long? Clearly, my minimalist aspirations — to give away or recycle anything I do not use or wear — remain repressed. The truth is I keep it because of the memories.
I bought it in Florence in a leather shop off the Ponte Vecchio. I can still picture the shop — old world with tall mahogany shelves up to the ceiling filled with exquisite handbags of every colour and size. Display cases with beautiful leather gloves lined the central aisle. Everything was so expensive, and I recall visiting the store at least twice, drooling over the offerings and wondering if I should resist. I finally gave in to the urge and acquired a small red bag, stretching what I could afford.
It was our first trip together, and it wasn’t going particularly well. There was tension. I like to sleep in and absolutely needed coffee before I could function. No coffee meant a headache that felt like an increasingly tightening vise grip around my skull. He would be up at the crack of dawn with a cheerful demeanour, consulting the Michelin green guide (that’s what you did in those days —nothing online) and figuring out how many churches and museums we could visit that day. I liked to spend the late afternoon people-watching in a café and enjoying a drink. He needed to see another museum before it closed. I wasn’t hopeful about this relationship.
I keep the little red bag to remind me of the trip. Jonathan turned out to be a wonderful guy, and we have been married for over three decades. He was also a quick learner, and now on trips and vacations, he still gets up early and goes out to pack in another visit to a church or museum and comes back to wake me with a coffee.
Somehow and luckily, we found our flow as a couple. We figured out we agreed on all the important things — at least what we consider important — money, children, family, politics and the opera. On the latter, we agree we never have to attend. The rest we divide and conquer. That strategy in our home means I look after all significant home investments and decisions. Jonathan has many interests and strengths but discussing whether we need a new roof over dinner is not one of them.
Early in our marriage, I purchased a large piece of furniture for our dining room. All the neighbours on the block took bets on how long it would take Jonathan to notice it. Three weeks!
“When did we get that?” he asked one day as he passed by and kept on walking.
I am also far more dexterous than Jonathan with little repairs and all things mechanical. Unfortunately, this extends to looking after a small pool at our cottage. A slight resentment has surfaced since I don’t like swimming and reserve my aquatic activities for long soaks in a warm bathtub. When something in the pool needed repair, I wanted to rectify the division of labour, at least as far as the pool was concerned.
“You call the pool company. I never even use the pool,” I said, adding an expletive to describe the pool.
When Jonathan called and identified himself, the man’s first question was, “Has your wife died?”
Our division of labour has led to many laughs and stories. Laughing together is another important activity we have always agreed on. Holding the little red bag brings back a flood of memories and the realization that two very different people narrowly missed out on a lifetime of happiness.
How crazy is that, I think to myself and return the bag to the deep corner of my closet for safekeeping.
With all the noise and bad news these days, I am grateful for the reminders of what is constant and good in my life — family and friends. Happy to land in your inbox for another Sunday. Thanks for reading. ❤️
Please check out the latest instalment of LETTERS FROM SECOND PENINSULA.
A lovely story, Alice. I remember it from class. Beautifully told.
Keep the bag.... and the husband.