When my husband died of chronic myeloid leukaemia in 1994, I sold our house to make sure his two sons received their inheritance. I never questioned it, I would always get work in television. But Laura, a friend of ours who was more Peter’s age - he was 24 years older than I was - suggested I at least buy something nice for myself; go to Hawaii for a couple of weeks, she said. That was too much being alone, even if it would be on a welcome warm and sunny beach. So, I didn’t quite know what to do.
We married in l990, after finding out on Valentines Day that year, that he months to live. But for four years - through extraordinary research and doctors at M.D. Anderson in Houston - we hung on for dear life; had as many weekend parties at our ocean view home as we could accommodate guests on the Gibsons Landing ferry, drank martinis when the pain came and travelled wherever and whenever we could. We lived life with gusto - smoking joints on the edge of the bed at 3 a.m. so he could sleep.- Cannabis was illegal at the time - the idea of legalizing marijuana for cancer pain was still a dream plodding it’s way on the road to reality. Our young doctor - my age - just laughed and told us to score some on the corner if we wanted it.
But, now that that was all over and I was moving to Regina for a producing job in television, what to do about ‘something nice’ for myself before packing up the house for the move.
Holt Renfrew was the Saks Fifth Avenue of Vancouver in the day and I was not immune to the charms of extravagance back then. Sauntering in I realized I had cash enough to buy a real purse - I never used them. Stuﬃng wallets into jackets was more my style.
And there it was. A black patent leather Kelly bag. A single silver clasp gleamed right into my eyes as I spotted it on the shelf. I swear I could see my reflection ten feet away in that super polished cow hide.
Simple. Elegant. And, mine….?
Of course, I didn’t use it every day. Only on special occasions. When I went to the lawyer to sign papers for authorizing mortgage payments from an investment, when I went on our wedding anniversary to the Garden Lounge at the Four Seasons with a long stem red rose I would give to the woman in an adoring couple at the bar. Sometimes when I went somewhere nice for dinner alone.
There were fewer and fewer of those special days as practical living and working a gruelling job began to encroach on my world as widow. Came the day, I really couldn’t aﬀord to keep an $800 Gucci purse, especially when I really didn’t have a Gucci life.
I had an idea.
Wrapping up the purse in its own little chamois cloth stamped with the House of Gucci, I went back to Holt Renfrew several years later. I had tried to sell it privately, but after 9/11 the world economy was in a diﬀerent disparate place for people. Department and big box stores weren’t feeling the pinch yet. I thought…well…why not?
Dressing professionally; trench coat, high heels, hair swept up in a bouﬀant I sedately went back to the same counter (things didn’t change much over 15 years in those days) and gently inquired whether or not there would be any interest from Holt Renfrew to have this exquisite Kelly bag returned. It’s almost never been used,” I said demure as an old dowager. Indeed, when I disrobed Gucci from the protective chamois. it still looked like a shiny, black star.
The woman dressed in black, with black eye glasses and short black hair was well in her fifties when I was still in my forties, so there was an element of acquiescence. I didn’t overplay my hand by going too far, but I didn’t have to, because the purse was the opening and closing act of pure gall.
I may have confessed the story about buying it after my husband died, but that now I couldn’t really aﬀord it. The thing about telling a ‘story’ whether it is for humour or pathos, is that it has to be true in order for it to win an audience. There’s no escaping the numinous quality of a widow, sincere in her tidy appearance.
The woman stared into me, as I quietly stood. I needed the money, and hoped she wouldn’t smell my quiet desperation.
She excused herself to go into a back room and when she came out, she had six 100- dollar bills in her hand. She barely looked at me as her expectant gaze at the Holy Grail of Leather lathered all else into oblivion.
I couldn’t believe it.
Thanking her I walked away with the six 100 dollar bills tucked into my wallet. and thought of the murder of Maurizio Gucci in l995 a few years earlier. There is an eerie unexplainable force of human nature when an artist dies; a celebrity thrill of owning a piece of that celebrity. It is as absurd as it is pervasive.
I immediately walked to the bank and made my deposit.
Oh, I did, however, keep the Gucci box, so go figure out that mislaid hypocrisy.