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Vintage purses make lasting treasures.
 (Cheryl-Anne Millsap / The Spokesman-Review)
Vintage purses make lasting treasures. (Cheryl-Anne Millsap / The Spokesman-Review)

With three daughters, it isn’t unusual for me to walk into my room to find a girl in my closet.

With the exception of my youngest child, who is closing in fast, we all wear the same size shoe, so there’s a lot of rummaging before some event.

And, when someone suddenly needs something a little “grown up” like a black leather belt, a sweater or a silk scarf, they know where to go.

Lately, purses have been the thing. Several times I’ve opened the door to find someone standing there, a purse in each hand, looking thoughtful.

I have a soft spot for purses, and I guess I’ve passed that along to my girls. And why not? A good handbag, like a good pair of shoes is so forgiving. My purses don’t care if I have too many desserts, or skip the Pilates, one of them will always fit.

Designers have always known this. So they put a lot of energy into such a little package. If a woman is going to hang something on her arm, or her shoulder, and carry – quite literally – her identity in it, why not let it reflect her personality?

For me, that spark often comes in a vintage purse.

When I was young, I’d hang a little Edwardian beaded draw-string bag on my arm or looped onto my jeans. Or I would put my keys and lip gloss in a crocheted bag from the 1930s, snap the Bakelite clasp and drive away.

For formal occasions I carried a 1940s satin clutch with a jeweled button on the top.

For awhile I looked for hand-tooled leather bags from Mexico and wore them with my jeans and clogs.

The other day, spending my lunch hour in Nordstrom, I was chatting with the woman behind the counter. “This is the year of the purse,” she said. “I see young girls spending most of their paycheck on something to carry on their arm.”

I nodded, and then sneaked a glance down to my own handbag; a possession I love so much I swear I would rescue it in a fire.

And it didn’t take a big bite out of my bank account at all.

I bought it years ago at the estate sale of one of the oldest and best-dressed women in the city where I lived.

I didn’t stand in line to get in, and I didn’t even fight the crowds on the first day of the sale. Instead, after a dealer friend called to ask why I hadn’t come by, and I admitted I didn’t even know about it, I dropped by in the last hour.

There, in a box in the woman’s dressing room, were a dozen or more handbags.

Most were from the 1950s and ‘60s, when she had been at her zenith in the social whirl. They were all well cared-for and immaculate.

I picked up a leather bag, with a mock-crocodile finish, and looked at it closely.

The long strap was adjustable and could be shortened to carry comfortable on your arm or in your hand.

The interior of the bag was lined in silk and it had a mirror and little loops for lipsticks. I didn’t recognize the name on the label, but I could tell it was well-made.

“I knew you’d find something,” my friend crowed as she took my check, and I smiled and shrugged.

For a long time the purse lived on the top shelf of my closet. Then, a few years ago, I brought it out. Now, every time I drop a reporter’s notebook in it, with my keys and the cell phone I can’t live without, I smile again.

Years ago, another woman carried the brown leather purse as she made her way into the social column in the local paper. Now it hangs on my arm as I walk into the building where I write another kind of column, about the little treasures we all share.

Who knows, perhaps later, when my girls are grown and on their own, they’ll carry it, too.

And then the story they write with the purse will be their own.