“Don’t leave home without it.” This advice applies first, last and always to . . . a mother’s purse.

When I was growing up, Mom’s purse seemed to hold every object known to mankind. One day, she was driving my brothers and me to the country home of two sisters who sold eggs for a living. Although we were sure they’d gone to nursery school with Moses, these ladies had New Testament names: Mary and Martha. Martha, the youngest and a dead ringer for the queen of England (as long as you squinted your eyes) gave two of us Moore boys piano lessons once a week.

One afternoon, we were barreling down the dirt road for our weekly lessons when our old pick-up caught fire. In those days, all of us boys rode in the truck bed. When we saw smoke billowing out from underneath the hood and pouring over the roof, we knew we’d hit the jackpot. Few things make little boys more excited than the combination of a good fire and the possibility of skipping piano lessons.

As we peered through the cab window, we could see the tongues of orange and red flickering out from under the hood. My mom, with incredible calmness, steered the pick-up to the side of the road. Purse draped over her forearm, she got out, strode to the front of the truck, bent over and opened the hood. A puff of smoke rolled forth that, to our little eyes, looked like the cloud that accompanies an atomic blast.

When the smoke cleared, we could see the carburetor was on fire. Calm as ever, Mom opened her purse and rummaged around inside to produce a wet washrag. She raised her weapon high and began to flick it at the flames with the accuracy of Zorro’s sword. The more they roared, the more she whipped. The fire must have realized the superiority of its opponent because before long, it fell into submission.

My brothers and I stood in awe, our mouths hanging open. For once, we were speechless. In a few seconds, Mom had taken that beast from fiery to fizzle. With a wet washrag in hand, that woman could tame the devil himself. She turned and, with no change of expression, ordered us back into the pick-up bed while she closed the hood. She climbed back inside, revved up the engine and drove on to piano lessons as though nothing unusual had happened.

Living in rural America as we did, Mom’s purse was the closest to an Ace Hardware store any of us had ever seen. From the depths of that pocketbook, she could pull out a dainty hanky to wipe away the tears of a grieving friend or a Phillips head screwdriver to fix the hinges on a door. But the one thing you could always count on Mom having in her purse was a New Testament. God’s Word was important to both my parents. Later in life, my Dad became very involved with the Gideons. He poured time, effort and funds into making sure others could have Bibles of their own.

Long before that, though, Mom had a passion for putting the Word of God into children. Every week, she drove that same pick-up all over the countryside where we lived. She loved nothing better than to load it up with children, take them to the church and teach them about the love of Christ. Week after week, she placed cutouts of biblical characters on a flannel board as she explained the truths of the Bible. Salvation came and lives were changed because of Mom’s faithful witness.

Mom passed away at an early age on aisle 2 of the IGA grocery store. The paramedics tried to resuscitate her, but to no avail. A sudden heart attack had taken her life. Only hours before she died, Mom was teaching yet one more group of children, putting up some ragged-looking cutouts on a flannel board and telling them about Jesus.

When the paramedics opened her purse to look for an ID, I can’t imagine what they thought. I don’t know if they found a wet washcloth among the myriad of essentials there, but I know they didn’t have to look far to see her New Testament.

My mom’s purse reminds of what Jesus wants from us. As we go through life, we ought to keep the hankies and the hardware close at hand. But when it comes right down to it, all we really need is the Word of God and a wet washrag. Both come in sizes that make them easy to carry. And, as Mom’s life proved, both can come in handy for putting out fires.

Walker Moore is president of AweStar Ministries in Tulsa, P.O. Box 470265, Tulsa 74147, e-mail walker@awestar.org, phone 800/AWESTAR (293-7827)