A step beyond handbags, luggage is as necessary as socks in most people’s lives. From briefcases to gym bags, we all have plenty of stuff and the need to have something to put it in. For the longest time, that something for me was anything but new. In fact, at one time my collection of vintage suitcases was so vast that my roommate piled them almost to the ceiling of the upstairs landing in the duplex we shared. Since he was an ethereal sort who thought angels said hello to him on the street, I believed him when he said that the leather tower signified that we were both going places. Nothing speaks to a romantic spirit like an old suitcase. I’ve since parted with most of that luggage, with the exception of one Amelia Earhart valise, which I treat like Spode china, packing only lingerie and dainty sundries in its depths, which are lined with heavy satin the color of chocolate. But, after a number of harrowing journeys resulting in cramped hands and an aching back, I found myself looking enviously at modern sets of luggage conveniently rolled around like obedient nylon pets.  So, with adulthood and all its sensibilities, I traded in much of my collection for a more sensible set of wheeled suitcases that can stack one inside the other like a bunch of rectangular Russian nestle dolls. Still, I must admit that a good example of vintage luggage can turn my head; the attraction for trunks, valises, suitcases and satchels holds strong. With leather hinges and buckles, secret pockets and luxurious linings, nothing speaks to a romantic spirit like an old suitcase. Whether emblazoned with stickers from another owner’s travels, or found in pristine like-new condition, there’s something about old luggage. Take, for example, the pristine Louis Vuitton steamer trunks I spied at Midland Arts and Antiques Market. Sure, for the price of the luggage, you could spend a swell week or two in Paris or Budapest, but why stuff your skivvies into a free duffel from Spiegel when you can travel with such style?  Then there’s my friend Polly, who has in her possession no less than half a dozen round American Tourister suitcases dating from the 1960s. Here’s a girl who can fit everything she needs for a four-day weekend into just one tiny bag, completing a look that rivals Renee Zellweger for Better Than Doris Day’s Style any day.  Unless it’s purchased in mint condition, vintage luggage has most likely belonged to someone else. And luggage that once belonged to someone else sometimes offers a glimpse into a perfect stranger’s existence, like the suitcase that my friend and I retrieved from the dumpster of our college apartment. After sneaking the strange luggage up to our townhouse, we pried open the lock and discovered, among discarded hotel soaps and empty shampoo bottles, a pale pink Santa sex toy. After laughing and shrieking and gagging at the horror of it all, we washed our hands in strong disinfectant and put the suitcase, contents and all, back into the dumpster.  Another friend found an old suitcase buried in the crawlspace of the bungalow he’d recently purchased. Inside, he found an old wool suit that had provided sustenance for several generations of moths before its great liberation. Despite the shabby condition, he felt compelled to try it on, and found, to his astonishment, that it was a perfect fit. From that moment on, he felt a cosmic, creepy attachment to his new home, as if, somehow, he might have already lived there, many years before.  Not all used luggage is procured through a sense of nostalgia or curiosity. In the 1970s, my brother Garry developed a habit of picking up homeless men, taking them home and letting them sleep on a makeshift bed he’d fashioned from a car seat in the basement of his home. After a few good meals, a change of clothes and a warm bath, most of these men were content to go on their way after a night or two, so they mostly passed through our tiny Northern Indiana town undetected even by our family. But Tommy, an old man my brother found wandering along Highway 23, stayed long enough to tell us some stories and teach us a few songs.  By the time he left, he’d gained not only quite a following of children, but also a cast-off suitcase filled with my brother’s old clothes. “No tears,” he said, waving as he walked down Van Buren Street. “It’s always farewell and never good-bye.” We children cried anyway as we watched him go, understanding that this old man was going places, and we would never see him again.  Years later my brother received a phone call from the Florida state police, informing him that an old homeless man was found dead, my brother’s name and telephone number, still tucked inside the suitcase: the only identification they could find.

0
0
0
0
0

Recommended for you