My grandma was a stable figure in my life for a long time. She could be counted on for a hug, she never hollered at us kids — even if we deserved it and we so did — and she always, always had a few things in her purse: Trident cinnamon-flavored gum, a couple “fun-size” Snickers bars, a few Brach’s peppermints, an emery board, and fresh Kleenex. Always.
I never had much use for the emery board. The Trident was only interesting if my sisters hogged the Snickers bars/peppermints before I got to them. The Kleenex was handy. But more important than needing these particular items was knowing they would invariably be there. My grandmother’s consistently stocked handbag gave me a sense of security, a belief that there was order to the universe even if there wasn’t. I’m still not sure there is order, but in some universe, in some dimension, I can reach over in church and whisper to Gramma if I can have a peppermint and Gramma will stick her hand down into her purse and there will be one to give me.
Some friends and I were at a fried chicken restaurant not so very long ago. The restaurant was packed. The only seats to be found out on the breezy patio (the best place to eat fried chicken) were those wedged in between people who had gotten there before you did. We looked around to find a place to put our butts and our baskets and then I spied room next to some folks already seated. If we squeezed, the four of us could join the three of them at the wide picnic-style table. We asked, and they said of course and made room for us right away.
It helped that one of their party was a baby. Beautiful Blake, with her shining eyes and her caramel-cream baby cheeks couldn’t have weighed more than 20 pounds. Her young parents, Curtis and Kristina, were friendly and interesting and we all chatted over the course of our respective meals of hot chicken, collard greens, black-eyed pea salad, french fries, and so on.
When we were finishing up, my friend Leah and I were both frowning at our hands, which were covered in grease, and our fingernails, which needed serious attention. We looked at the line to the bathroom and were about to despair and wipe our hands on our bluejeans when Kristina pulled an entire pack of Dove-brand wet wipes out of her generous satchel.
“I’m a mom,” she laughed. “I’ve got what you need right here.”
We whooped with gratitude as Kristina passed the pack around. She made us all so happy! Our hands were wiped clean and cool after our dinner. But there was a deeper feeling of joy in this for me: Baby Blake is one heck of a lucky baby. That kid has a mom with wipes at the ready, you know? And she’s willing to share them with strangers who she made room for in a busy room, in a big city.