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Jack Smith

A Pocketful of Miracles From Long Ago

February 24, 1988|Jack Smith

In these times when the computer seems to be diminishing our privacy, nothing remains more private than the contents of a man's pockets or a woman's purse.

Because this privacy is so rare, and because like every other privacy it is threatened, I am withholding the name of the woman who wrote me the following letter:

"My husband and I are senior citizens. Our 51 years together have been so busy and preoccupied that we have trouble accounting for the years and past occurrences.

"Some night ago I turned on the light in my husband's bathroom after he had retired and I stood spellbound looking at the contents of his pockets on the bathroom pullman. There lay a hearing aid, eyeglasses, a dental bridge, a pocket knife, nail clippers, small coins, a wallet and a pill box."

She said she wished she were an artist, so she could paint a picture of those articles and call it "Still Life." A better title, it seems to me, would be simply "Life."

Surely the contents of any male's pockets betray his age, his interests, his foibles, his frailties and sometimes his secrets. How different the contents of this elderly man's pockets and those, say, of a 12-year-old boy. I can't remember what my pockets contained when I was 12, but the collection would probably have included a knife, a few bottle caps, some weighted with wax or lead; 12 cents at the most; a jawbreaker, a slingshot, and maybe a dilapidated library card.

I would not have carried a key. Either our house was never locked, or the key was kept under the welcome mat--the first place a burglar would look. I don't remember that any house in any of the neighborhoods I lived in was ever burglarized. The closest we came to contact with the underworld was when bums knocked at the kitchen door and offered to work for a meal. My mother gave out many meals, but I don't remember that any of the hobos ever did any serious work. They were harmless. They left signs on the back fence informing their buddies that my mother was a soft touch.

I didn't have a billfold. I had no driver's license and none of the other identification cards or credit cards that even children carry today. If I ever was so lucky as to have a $1 bill, I simply jammed it into my pocket along with the other junk. I'm sure I carried nothing as practical and sanitary as a handkerchief.

I have no idea what little girls carried in their purses. I suspect that their contents would have been very similar to those of my pockets, except possibly for the knife and the slingshot. Little girls in my day were not supposed to be destructive or aggressive. They might have carried lipstick and rouge, though at the age of 12, I believe cosmetics were contraband.

I carried even fewer articles in my teens. The things a teen-age boy needed to get him through the day when I was in high school were few indeed. I can't remember that I carried anything in my pockets at all but a few cents for lunch and carfare; I usually saved the latter by walking. I may have been civilized enough by then to carry a handkerchief. I suppose I carried a pencil to get me through the day in school The ballpoint pen was unknown.

What girls carried in their purses I have no idea. I can say that I never tried to look into one, nor did any girl I know ever show me. Their purses were as unassailable as the vaults at Ft. Knox. I remember that we sometimes snatched a girl's purse and ran off with it to tease, but no boy that I know ever had the effrontery actually to look inside.

I still live by that code. I could not possibly inventory the contents of my wife's purse, except to say that it is bottomless. There is no tool, comfort or document that she can't, given time, fish up from its depths. I wouldn't be surprised if she keeps our marriage certificate and the deed to our house in there.

I'm happy to say that I still don't carry a hearing aid or a dental bridge.

As for my pills, I carry them loose in my coin pocket.

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