Home Luggage Was my old suitcase ready for one more trip?

Was my old suitcase ready for one more trip?

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Illustration by Janice Wu

It was old, battered and stained from years of travel, every flaw a badge of honor. It has survived several periods of fashion: from hard shell to soft shell, basic brown, khaki and black to a rainbow of colors and textures. Its wheels were far from round, and it traveled thousands of miles: through airports, bus and train stations and made a detour in Mexico by mistake after getting lost on a cruise ship.

In the days leading up to her suitcases, we shared one, so picking and packing became one of the first exercises in marital diplomacy.

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This suitcase was almost a living example of our life story; these are trips long forgotten, except for the old black and white photographs with crumpled edges, and then the 4 “x 6” color prints produced by each trip.

The memories are coming back now. I remembered an uncomfortably rushed 14 day coach trip to Europe, which reminded me of the 1969 film If it’s Tuesday, it must be BelgiumOnly our guide was a last minute backup with no knowledge of the trip beyond reading a drab brochure. She and the driver hated each other and the tension was evident.

I slept in the Netherlands, but that’s another story. The suitcase was subjected to vigorous day-to-day handling and was rarely completely unpacked. Belgium, Germany, Austria, Italy and France came and went, and through it all the suitcase was a constant. It started with neat clothes and toiletries and ended with a jumble of dirty underwear, shirts, tights and socks.

In the days when air security was not strict, customs officials rarely bothered us, but only once was the suitcase ordered to be opened. He was spared the indignity of a strip search. The customs officer glanced at it, then looked at us, smiled slightly and told us to move on.

Over the years it has been taken out, cleaned and packaged for exotic trips to New Zealand and Australia to visit our kids and then to the UK and Spain. Although our favorite bag had languished in the basement or attic most of its life, it was exciting to pack and it shared our anticipation of each new trip.

The suitcase, like its owners, grew from middle age to senior citizen – its bright red strap hanging in a middle age gap as the zipper needed help and the key to the little padlock was lost since a long time. We came to think of them as “old devotees”. At airports around the world it was a welcome sight as it successfully zoomed around the baggage carousel among all the other flashier baggage arrivals.

Over the years, the suitcase was a seat, table, headrest and footrest. It had spilled coffee on it and smudges of greasy slices of pizza and dripping ice cream that spoke of long layovers in Hawaii, Sydney, or the horrors of missed connections in Chicago or Atlanta. He survived countless tough hands as he was shoved back and forth by rental vehicles, loud helicopters, jumbo jets, barges and farm wagons.

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Old Faithful slowed down with us and traveled back and forth to Florida during the years we ran a B&B in Ontario, which suited his retirement years and avoided Canada’s cold winters.

The bag was briefly loaned to our growing family until they could afford their own luggage and he always seemed happy to be home. This suitcase saw life come to life to the fullest and was eventually buried after it simply collapsed upon returning from being lost between Los Angeles and our condo in Florida. He was in a sorry state anyway, tied up with a rope to keep his insides from spilling out.

When we last unboxed it we remembered all the happy years we had together, but it was time to move on. Old Faithful was considered non-recyclable and his funeral was an outrageous trip to the local landfill. We shed a tear or two as we tossed it mercilessly into a large dumpster to join other relics of excess consumption. Upon leaving, we felt strangely deprived without her.

We mourned Old Faithful but recognized that life goes on. We felt a thrill of guilt as we walked through the luggage section of our local WalMart recognizing that things had changed over the years. High-tech magic had arrived in the luggage section. There were suitcases with several hard-to-steer wheels, USB ports, and what appeared to be built-in drone controls. We were dazzled by a rainbow of colors and textures, with see-through pocket windows, multiple zippers, and small pockets to hold everything from your cell phone to miniature coffee flasks.

It is said that all fashion ends in excess and luggage display was no exception, so we chose a relatively staid soft-coated model with zebra stripes and the minimum of fussy gimmicks.

Although we reveled in this new smell of baggage, we accepted that things would never be the same again. We had aged as our suitcase had aged and now the great pandemic has frozen our new purchase in time. He will have to wait to be greeted by the baggage handlers and baggage carousels at the airport. Over time, it will undoubtedly be passed on to a younger generation eager to generate new memories.

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John Fisher lives in Collingwood, Ontario.

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