It’s in the bag — even the air horn, duct tape, and corkscrew

The other day we had some massive trees cut down in our yard and the fellow taking them down wanted to be sure that he didn’t accidentally incinerate the center of Lincoln by dropping a six-story maple on the lamppost at the edge of our driveway and causing an electrical fire. That would have put a damper on everyone’s afternoon. So he first made sure that the wiring in the lamppost wasn’t live. Then, after the tree was gone and he was wiring the lamp back together, he asked me if I had some electrical tape. I said sure and was about to run into the basement of the house to get some.

Before I had started for the front door, however, my wife said to him, “Here. I have some.” Then she reached into her purse and tossed him a roll.

“You keep electrical tape in your purse?” I asked.

She shrugged. “Of course.”

I should note that my wife is not an electrician and her purse is hip and small and Italian. It’s from San Gimignano, Italy, a village that is known for its medieval towers, its hip little purses, and its two (Two!) museums of torture. Yup, bring the kids: It’s Disney designed by Torquemada.

In any case, I was curious what else women keep in their purses. So I asked. Here are a tiny few of their answers.

  • Lecia Balian: “Empty Ziploc baggies for collecting seeds or plant cuttings. A magnet. An ace bandage. A micro-recorder. Ear buds. Tic Tacs. Lip gloss. A vintage German folding knife. Two Pilot pens. Toothpicks. My wallet.”
  • Bobbie Moser: “An anti-static sheet that you use in clothes dryers. I rub it on my head to take the static out of my hair on winter days.”
  • Deedee Swenson: “Water purifying tablets.”
  • Rose Mary Muench, who happens to be my wonderful aunt and a second mother to me: “Swiss Army knife (your grandmother, Higoohi, always had a knife in the car to peel fruit for trips to the Armenian Alps), hearing aid batteries, black indelible marker, craft glue, pen, glasses, tape measure, toothpicks, Tic Tacs, cell phone, and the usual stuff.”
  • Sarah Potwin: “A bottle of maple syrup. As displaced Vermonters, we’re disgusted to find regular syrup at restaurants here in Florida.”
  • Judy McCarthy: “A small oral airway in case I need to do CPR.”
  • Ferg Pat: “An air horn that my mother’s husband found at a tag sale.”
  • Jan Morse: “A telescoping back scratcher.”
  • Seaason Violi Whitney: “My purse is pretty standard for a mom of five. Snacks, straws, napkins, crumbs, spare change. But I have a box in the car that has some ’emergency’ supplies: pantyhose (for a spare fan belt and as a filter or sieve) tampons (they make a great water filter), duct tape (duh), aluminum foil (works as a reflector or an insulator), plastic wrap. And I have the standards: water, flashlight, blankets, crackers, cans of food, and a can opener.”
  • Liz’beth Statska: “Blister balm stick for sad feet.”
  • Connie Ogle: “I used to keep a corkscrew, until the TSA got touchy about us carrying them on planes.”
  • Sharon Hopwood: “A copy of the U.S. Constitution.”
  • Julie Foster: “A harmonica. It makes me feel spontaneous and fun.”
  • Deborah Bird: “A leash, in case I find a loose dog.”
  • Lorinda Henry: “A small cotton towel to cut down on paper waste in bathrooms.”
  • Elizabeth Seidler: “Duct tape. It can be used to restrain someone on a plane. A baseball. A small heavy flashlight with a fairly long wrist cord. It can also be used as a weapon. A safety pin or two on my key chain. Those are my staples.”

The biggest surprise of all, however, may belong to Stephanie Furtsch. One evening when she was at a Chinese restaurant with her son and daughter-in-law, Andrew Furtsch and Joan Heaton, she saw her grandson, Matt, was struggling mightily with his chopsticks. No problem, according to Andrew: “My mom reaches into her purse and pulls out a set of plastic, one-piece, child-friendly chopsticks.”

Now that’s – to allow myself a very bad pun – clutch.

(This column appeared originally in the Burlington Free Press on April 21, 2013. The paperback of Chris’s novel, “The Sandcastle Girls,” is now on sale.)

Chris Bohjalian

Chris Bohjalian is the author of nineteen books, including his forthcoming novel, The Sleepwalker. His other novels include the New York Times bestsellers Midwives, The Sandcastle Girls, The Guest Room, and The Double Bind.