Thursday, October 2, 2014


My mother is a bag lady.

No, not the street person kind. The kind that has never seen a bag – paper,  plastic, or cloth – that she can't find a use for. Last Winter, my father got hit by a taxi and broke his leg in two places. Mother and I braved a snow storm to go see him at the rehab facility twice a day. On the way out, she made sure I snagged a couple of the  handy dandy umbrella sacs management had thoughtfully provided by the front door. You just never know when you might need to bag an umbrella or three.

Mother's bags are sorted and organized into strategically placed collections. At the bottom of the basement stairs, in the storage closet, is a pile of neatly folded paper shopping bags, with handles. Just right for gifts or to hold a couple of books. At the top of those same stairs, a dozen large paper grocery bags poke out from a hanging metal holder.  A big plastic bag filled with small plastic bags hangs from a knob on the cabinet below the kitchen sink, and a passel of classic brown paper lunch bags are tucked away behind the spice cabinet. In the bedroom closets, all the linens are stored in transparent zippered plastic cases, their content itemized on handwritten labels that only my mother can read. (Despite this high level of organization, she still forgets what she put where). The fancy printed plastified Whole Paycheck bags hang on a door knob in the coat closet, waiting to be forgotten the next time she goes to the grocery store, which is at least once a day.

Packing for a trip takes my mother forever because everything in the suitcase must be slipped into individual plastic bags prevent wrinkles. (Warning: don't try this on your face). Shoes are stuffed with tissue paper and individually wrapped in produce bags from the Safeway. I remember when my American grandparents visited, an infrequent childhood event. My mother happened to walk by as Momma Paula was unpacking her unbagged shoes. I heard about this for weeks. Quelle horreure! Scruffy soles black with the detritus of city streets, face down on the underwear and nighties! In my mother's world view, it doesn't get more appalling than that. Needless to say, when I visit my parents, I make a beeline for my bedroom and unpack as fast as I can, lest my mother come upon the evidence of my nonchalant packing style.

After a month in the rehabilitation facility, it was time for my father to go see his orthopedist for a progress report. The home arranged for an ambulance. This being January, mother gathered up some warm clothes and a coat for him to wear. We were about to leave the house when she suddenly  bolted for the stairs. "Where are you going? " I shouted.  "We can't keep the ambulance waiting." "I forgot to get a bag for your father's coat!" she yelled. When I offered to get it for her, I was rebuffed: How could I possibly know what the right bag was, and where it might be? Up the stairs she scampered, on two fake hips and one artificial knee.

After much fumbling and swearing (in French), she finally found the cloth burberry bag she had been looking for, folded my father's coat with a dry cleaner's precision, and stuffed it into the chic plaid tote. We were on our way to see a depressed, just-retired 82 year old whose tibia and fibula were broken just below the knee.  Neither mother nor I had much control over the situation. But damn it, we had a coat bag.

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