Monday, January 30, 2006

The Journeys We Take

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Me: "I think I understand why that carrier is called SAMSON; it would have to be mighty strong to hold all those pieces of luggage."

Porter: "That's right, ma'am. That SAMSON does its job real well, just as I do mine. Now which suitcase did you say is yours?"

Me: "Um...that blue trunk on the right near the top, and that red suitcase at the top in the middle. Do you think it'll be a problem to get them for me?"

Porter: "Not at all, ma'am. You ever heard of the domino effect? I'll just reach for this red one on the bottom right, will pull it out, and just like Jericho's walls came a-tumblin' down, so will those suitcases. It'll then be a snap to get yours!"

I chose this image 'cause I thought it was fun; I created this scenario 'cause I thought it was fun. But when I thought of writing this post, I was a bit more serious, a bit more pensive...

How many times have you driven past houses or apartment buildings and seen the garbage cans and bags sitting curbside, sometimes along with household odds and ends, furniture, appliances, and SUITCASES?

Have you ever noticed those suitcases? Really noticed them?

Have you stopped to think about the journeys those bags have taken, the stories they could tell?

Many of them are in perfectly good shape -- not torn, not broken, just old and outdated. A beautiful heavy plastic Samsonite trio of suitcases might be tossed aside in favour of a cloth, oversized carryon with wheels. A wooden steamer trunk might have made the trek across a couple of continents and the ocean, later to go into storage, then to come out of storage and become someone's end table, then to get tossed aside, now an outdated eyesore.

I love vintage luggage. I love going into my parents' basement and seeing the beautiful pieces that my family traveled with in the 1960's and 1970's, and the big brown leather suitcases that my father traveled with in the 1940's and 1950's.

His suitcases have a history. Those pieces have journeyed -- not necessarily traveled, but journeyed. And there is a difference.

No, his suitcases don't have those old-fashioned stickers adorning them; he wasn't in Naples, or Paris, or Geneva, or Salt Lake City, or the Grand Canyon. But their interiors hold secrets, secrets whispered quietly when nobody can hear.

I went a few years ago to a content sale down my street; the homeowner who was a widow was downsizing and moving from her house into a condominium. There was nothing she was offering that I needed. But there was something that I wanted. It was a wooden trunk--it was not in good and serviceable condition, I didn't know what I would do with it, but I felt that I ought to have it because I felt that it represented her journey no doubt across the ocean from Eastern Europe to Canada. I couldn't understand why she'd want to part with it, whether it was in good condition or not.

My husband hemmed and hawed with me about the purchase and then we jointly decided against it. "Where would we put it? What would we do with it? It really does look broken and junky. And how do we know it was the homeowner's trunk and not just something she picked up once she settled here?" Why did I seem so adamant about taking on what I imagined to be part of her personal history? It was exactly that -- HER history, not mine.

There is a book that I know of, Hana's Suitcase, which was written a few years ago by a Torontonian. The book is based on the story of the suitcase of a girl who was taken to, and died in, Auschwitz. Her suitcase represents a young girl who died too young, but whose story has been told in many different languages all around the world.

Yes, Hanna and her suitcase took a journey. Her suitcase survived. Hanna didn't.