The Picture in the Pink Purse

Sarah Howard

© Copyright 2018 by Sarah Howard

Photo by Dina Nasyrova at Pexels.
Photo by Dina Nasyrova at Pexels.

This narrative is one of many opportunities I've had to hear peoples' stories – simple, quick interactions with ordinary people whose lives have deeply touched mine.

A conversation I remember as one of the most memorable of my retail career involved myself, an elderly lady, and the mutually beloved color pink, during the month when the frozen greyness of winter finally gives way to the fresh bloom of the new season. The woman, who looked about 75 years old, arrived at my register, clad in pinks of different shades, busy but stylish, and asked to purchase a shirt. Used to making small talk with my customers, I commented on her pink purse and wallet, explaining that I loved pink and had just purchased pink mixing bowls and spatulas.

“I have pink mixing bowls and spatulas,” she replied with a smile, “and pink plates and a pink mixer.”

Laughing over our great love of the color, we began to wrap up the transaction, but it was when I lightheartedly said that I was glad to meet a fellow pink-lover that her eyes took on a different look. It was neither sad nor hysterical but something particular that subtly changes one's demeanor by the immense weight of a sudden memory. Just as I was about to hand her the purchase she spoke.

I had a son – he was killed by a drunk driver...” Immediately my face changed as I recognized the pain this woman had known. “He loved pink. Oh yes,” she hurried on with a slight smile, “the guys teased him, but he didn't care. He just liked the color.”

We smiled together. “I think that's just fine,” I told her, unsure of how deep her wound was and how long ago her son had passed. But she told me more, without tears or any cracks in her voice. It seemed to please her to tell someone about him, although a full smile never accompanied her words.

“He was so good-looking,” she said animatedly. “Strawberry blonde hair, blue eyes, tall, broad shoulders. He wanted to be a model, but we didn't live close enough to an area where he could. He had this pink dress shirt, and a blazer to go with it, and I didn't think much of it, but he loved it. He...he wore it in his casket. And there was pink lining.”

As I smiled sadly with her, she seemed to almost relive that moment she must have had years ago when she was asked to look at her son for the last time. For a split second I saw a younger version of herself, a grief-stricken mother looking into a wooden box at the still face of one she had borne, one she had rocked to sleep, one who had rocked her world with liveliness, one who had so lately brought so much humor and character into the regularity of everyday. I wanted to help her. I wanted to ask her more about him, to give her back her son, if only for a few minutes. My heart ached for her loss which she clearly still felt keenly, even 45 years later. A mother never forgets.

Before I could say anything, she pulled me from my thoughts and hers by making some sort of closing remarks and gathering her pink purse. I handed over the purchase she had made, but she only turned slightly from the desk before she paused.

“Could I-” she began, “I want to show you his picture.”

“Oh, please do!” I exclaimed as she stepped back to the counter, bringing her purse up to rummaging level and searching for a certain small book. A strange sense of honor and sacredness came over me, despite the casual mall setting. This was not something usual, I thought, that I was being permitted to look on one of the greatest of this woman's treasures. It was like I was allowed into the secret trove of her most precious memories.

“Here it is.” She held it fondly for a moment, smiling down at the image it bore.

“How old was he?” I asked.

“22,” replied the woman, gently passing the card to me.

I took the picture and found myself looking into the very handsome face of a young man, truly a heart-throb. He stood in a lawn, most likely of his home, wearing a snazzy suit - black bottoms with a white coat – a trendy tie, and pale pink dress shoes of which he was proud. The jacket he had flipped behind him by putting his hands on his hips and there he was, standing broadly with his face to the sky in the commanding playfulness of youth.

“What a handsome guy,” I praised genuinely, recognizing each of the features she had so lovingly described. My words pleased her and she told me various, beautiful aspects of his life as I studied the picture a moment longer. Yes, he could have been a model.

John liked to dress up,” she told me, referencing the classy clothes which were apparently not out of the ordinary. “I mean, we always dressed up for church, but he just liked to, so he did. He liked pink, like his mother. He was macho, but he liked it.”

She mentioned his girlfriend and a certain dance that he had taken her to.

“Those are the pink shoes,” she laughed, pointing to the feet in the picture.

“Was his girlfriend's dress pink?” I asked.

She paused and thought for a minute before saying that she didn't remember. But that, I thought, was secondary to the forever-engraved image of her boy. I handed her back the picture and told her again what a handsome guy he was, wordlessly adding what a fun and mischievous character he must have had, as she wordlessly thanked me for noticing.

I wanted to ask her if she believed in heaven, as I did, but I didn't ask. And somehow I didn't need to. It was obviously and understandably a pang, remembering the son gone before, but I think she held onto that faint strand of hope of seeing him again one day - hope thin but sure, like a thread in the water.

Later that night as I looked on the calendar to the upcoming Easter Sunday, I remembered another mother who lost her Son, who grieved, and who was able to hold him once more at last. At this, my heart went out in hope and prayer for the mother I had spoken with earlier that day, the woman with the dear photo of her long-ago son carried always in the pink bag at her side.

Sarah Howard holds degrees in Musical Theater Performance and English. When she’s not singing or performing on the stage, she enjoys spending time with her family and cats, and reading good literature with a hot cup of coffee. 

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