Mrs. Shopping Bag

Memory is tricky, sometimes bringing something back to you when you least expect it. This happened to me earlier on the very same evening that I’m now writing this. The weather was beautiful, and it was well before dark as I took the usual early-evening walk from my condo home to the mail room where everything is delivered to our residents’ personal locked boxes.

This is a longish walk, part of my regular exercise routine six days each week, for which I always use my cane, taking it slowly and carefully. All I carry with me are the keys to unlock both the mail room door and my own box, plus a garage door opener and a house key so I’m confident that if one of these two should fail, I could still get back inside my home by using the other.

Everything I take and bring back fits into what is always with me — a cloth bag, lightweight itself, yet strong enough to carry home what is often a rather large and heavy pile of mail. I don’t usually use this time for thinking thoughts as heavy as the mail might be itself, and only very occasionally am I accosted — assaulted, in fact — by the return of an old, old memory. Today, it was my own cloth bag that suddenly took me back…

My first husband was a magician. That was not his career profession, but he was also a magic pro who would give shows from time to time, using the equipment he’d amassed over many years. My favorite “trick” was also the scariest: the Fire Bowl. I was always afraid that it might one day fail to perform as correctly as expected. Thankfully, however, that day never came.

When our son turned 9, his dad judged the boy’s hands to be big enough to handle all the literal tricks of this very specialized trade. Sol learned quickly, and was soon accompanying his father to magical events — conferences as well as performances — and doing some performing himself for other children’s birthday parties.

I belonged at that time to a very different interest group of my own, where one of its members was a woman who was also a magician. So one day, as father and son were leaving for a magician’s conference, I told Sol to be on the lookout for this woman I knew well but whom he had never met. I described her carefully, stressing that her most recognizable feature was a shopping bag she carried with her everywhere. I might as well not even have bothered to mention her name, because I heard later that when he had located her to introduce himself, he called her not by the name I’d given him, but as “Mrs. Shopping Bag.”

I remembered all that today as I walked to the mail room with my own shopping bag. Lots of kids in my neighborhood are always playing outside when I’m on my walk; we wave to each other, and that’s about it. But today, my sleeping brain woke up, and I began wondering if these children may now think of me as Mrs. Shopping Bag!

This story is part of my family’s history, even although I hadn’t remembered it for years, until the same day on which I wrote it for you. Memory is indeed tricky, sometimes giving ample time for remembering certain things, sometimes deserting in that one moment when it’s needed most, returning only when it’s too late to help. Today, I’m just wondering: Mrs. Shopping Bag, wherever you may be now: Are you also remembering?

Harriet Gross can be reached at

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