I remember shortly after Christmas when I was a kid and Aunt Thelma came to visit. She was actually my Mom’s aunt, so my great-aunt. Like her sister, my grandmother, she was a stern woman. A medium-large lady, I remember her wearing mostly dresses with big, wide skirts. She had a grown son, Uncle Dick, who I didn’t know much about, but she also had two foster daughters who were a few years older than me. She was very strict with them and I still feel guilty about the time I tattled on one of the teenage girls when she lifted her dress while us kids were all hanging around outside. She was just fooling around but I saw the opportunity to cause some trouble and it did. Kids can be such jerks.
Anyway, back to that visit from Aunt Thelma. She’d brought Christmas gifts for everyone. I opened mine and found a wallet. What a nice gift for a young boy, right? Well, I immediately could tell it was a used wallet because it had the curve of somebody’s butt to it. Though I could be a brat, I knew enough to be respectful and thank Aunt Thelma for it. It wasn’t until she’d gone home that my Mom, sisters and I discussed the gifts that were all obviously from Aunt Thelma’s yard sale activities. I already had my own wallet so my “new” one quietly disappeared, never to be seen again.
Wallets are important to a young boy though. Almost like a rite of passage — to carry one meant you weren’t just a boy any longer. You were starting to become your own man. Even if the only things in the wallet were my newly received social security card and my Archie Comics membership card.
I did a little research on the history of wallets and it’s kind of interesting. Folding wallets as we know them didn’t really come along until the advent of paper money in the 1600s, according to Wikipedia. The first paper currency was produced in America in 1690 by the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
The word “wallet” was much older than that, however. According to “The History of Wallets: Names, Origins, Cultures and Modern Wallets” at all-ett.com, the word is traced back to the Greek word “Ibisis,” which was used to describe the sack carried by the god, Hermes. Wiki also adds that the Old North French word “walet” from the 14th century may be where our current term comes from. “Walet” meant bag or knapsack. These sacks were used to carry coins, food and important documents. Interestingly, unlike today, carrying one’s wallet in your pocket was considered lower class and even rude. The wallet should be displayed, usually attached to the waist belt. The more intricate the design, the higher social status you probably came from.
My current wallet is a slim black trifold that holds credit cards, ID and a few health- and business-related items. I keep it in my front left pocket, and I don’t actually keep any paper money in it. I carry very little cash with me nowadays since it’s simpler to just use a card. How do you use your wallet?
Women’s wallets tend to be bigger and shoved in a purse. Men have traditionally held their wallet in one of their back pants pockets, though I think more and more people have realized that it’s not really good for your back to be sitting on it for hours on end and have transferred to a front pocket.
I don’t remember ever getting another Christmas gift from Aunt Thelma. Maybe it was just an anomaly that she happened to be visiting shortly after Christmas and wanted to bring gifts. It was well intended, if a little strange. Speaking of strange, I remember another visit to her house in Springfield, Vt. It was probably in the late 1960s and I was around 6 or 7 years old. All of her living room furniture had plastic slipcovers over it. Even her lamps! You crinkled when you sat down, and I must have been wearing shorts because I remember sticking to it when I got up to go outdoors. Strange days indeed.