Inside ‘Mother’s Handbag,’ a flood of memories

Area woman’s short story published in new ‘Chicken Soup’ book
Cynthia A. Lovely as a child with her mother, Nell Sowinski.
Cynthia A. Lovely as a child with her mother, Nell Sowinski.

The things we carry, no matter how small, have meaning.

Some things more than others, so Cynthia A. Lovely has found.

“Mother’s Handbag,” a short story that Pattersonville resident Lovely wrote, was recently published in “Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Amazing Mom.”

Although the piece comprises just a few pages of the 300-plus page book, its brevity makes the bittersweet story all the more poignant.

“Her purse still carries a part of her identity, bits and pieces of her unique personality,” Lovely writes.

Her mother, Nell Sowinski, worked at General Electric before becoming a stay-at-home mom, raising Lovely and her sister. Sowinski died more than two decades ago, but Lovely hasn’t been able to throw away the handbag she left behind.

It contained everything from tissues — ready to comfort whoever needed them — to a rain bonnet in case of showers. There were also a few booklets, including several Christian tracts, just in case she could help convert someone.

“She was a very strong woman … not loud, but she always embraced people,” Lovely said.

Lovely recalled the crowds who attended her mother’s funeral to say their goodbyes and honor a woman who touched them with her strength, humor and quirkiness.

“ … She wasn’t overly concerned with the opinions of others. This fact was more obvious in the winter when she constantly wore mismatched mittens. I still wonder if she really couldn’t find the proper match or if it was a deliberate ploy to challenge the norm,” Lovely writes in the story.The pills, prescriptions and doctor’s appointment cards, mixed with her Wrigley’s gum, offer a glimpse at Sowinski’s last few years.

“She fought bone cancer for the last 13 years of her life,” Lovely said.

Through it all, she remained one of the strongest patients, her doctors were always telling her, because of her spirit. Once again, that spirit can be found in her handbag, with “A Rainbow of Hope,” a book she’d tucked beside those pills and prescriptions.

Lovely wrote the short story after stumbling upon the bag years after her mother had died. Opening it again was like taking a step back into her life, to a time when her mother was alive and well.

“I couldn’t clean it out,” Lovely said.

Instead, she wrote about the experience, the bittersweet sensation of recalling a loved one lost. Lovely works as a freelance writer and was no stranger to publishing personal and poignant stories — she’s published many magazine articles and several other stories in the “Chicken Soup for the Soul” series. But this one was different. 

“[I’m] sharing a part of her with the world,” Lovely said.

The handbag is a reminder of Nell’s spirit, and one Lovely says she has no plans to get rid of.

“Clean it out? Throw out that stale old gum? I think not. I carefully place it back in storage with a gentle pat, knowing that I’ll return again for more memories and life lessons from mother’s handbag.”

For more about “My Amazing Mom,” visit



Categories: Life and Arts

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