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It was old, battered and stained from years of travel, each blemish a badge of honour. It survived several fashion periods: from hard-sided to soft shell, from basic brown, khaki and black to a rainbow of colours and textures. Its wheels were far from round and it has travelled thousands of kilometres: through airports, bus and train stations and once took a mistaken side trip to Mexico after being lost on a cruise ship.
In the days before his and her suitcases we shared one, so selecting and packing became an early exercise in marital diplomacy.
That suitcase was almost a living example of our life history; it’s been on journeys long forgotten except for the old black and white photographs with crinkly edges, and then the colour 4″ x 6″ prints each trip produced.
The memories come flooding back now. I recalled an uncomfortably rushed 14-day coach tour of Europe, which reminded me of the 1969 movie If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium, only our tour guide was a last-minute stand-in with no knowledge of the trip beyond reading from a brochure in lacklustre tones. She and the driver detested each other and tension was obvious.
I slept through the Netherlands, but that’s another story. The suitcase was subjected to vigorous handling from day to day and was seldom fully unpacked. Belgium, Germany, Austria, Italy and France came and went, and through it all, the suitcase was one constant. It started off with neat items of clothing and some toiletry supplies and ended with a jumble of dirty underwear, shirts, pantyhose and socks.
In the days before stringent airline security, customs officers would rarely bother us but just once, the suitcase was ordered open. It was spared the indignity of a strip search. The customs official took one look at it, then at us, smiled slightly, and told us to move on.
Through the years it was brought out, cleaned up and packed for exotic trips to New Zealand and Australia to visit our children, then to the U.K. and Spain. Although our favourite bag languished in the basement or the attic most of its life, it was exciting to pack and it shared in our anticipation of each new journey.
The suitcase, like its owners, went from middle age to senior citizen – its bright red strap holding in a middle-aged spread as the zip fastener needed help and the key to the little padlock was long lost. We came to think of it as “Old Faithful.” At airports everywhere, it was a welcome sight as it came zooming successfully around the luggage carousel amongst all the other more flashy luggage upstarts.
Over the years, the suitcase was a seat, a table, a headrest and a footrest. It had coffee spilled on it, and stains from greasy slices of pizza and blobs of ice cream which spoke to lengthy layovers in Hawaii, Sydney or the horrors of missed connections at Chicago or Atlanta. It survived countless rough hands as it was jostled back and forth from rented vehicles, noisy helicopters, jumbo jets, houseboats and farm wagons.
Old Faithful slowed down with us and trundled back and forth to Florida during the years we ran a B&B in Ontario, which suited its retirement years and avoided those cold Canadian winters.
The bag was briefly lent to our growing family until they could afford their own luggage and it always seemed glad to be home. That suitcase saw life lived to its fullest and was finally laid to rest after it simply fell apart on its return from being lost between Los Angeles and our condo in Florida. It was in a sad state, anyway, tied up with rope to keep its innards from spilling out.
When we unpacked it for the last time, we recalled all the happy years we’d had together but it was time to move on. Old Faithful was deemed unrecyclable, and its funeral was an undignified trip to the local dump. We shed a tear or two as we tossed it callously into a large garbage skip to join other relics of consumer excess. Upon leaving, we felt strangely bereft without it.
We grieved Old Faithful but recognized life goes on. We felt a guilty thrill walking through the luggage section of our local WalMart recognizing things had changed over the years. High-tech wizardry had arrived in the luggage section. There were suitcases with multiple wheels that were hard to steer, USB ports and what seemed to be built-in drone controls. We were dazzled by a rainbow of colours and textures, with see-through pocket windows, multiple zippers and little pockets to hold everything from your mobile phone to miniature coffee flasks.
It’s said all fashion ends in excess and the luggage display was no exception, so we winnowed our choice down to a relatively staid soft-covered model with Zebra striping and the minimum of fussy gadgets.
Although we luxuriated in that new luggage smell we accepted things would never be quite the same. We had grown old as our suitcase had grown old and now the great pandemic has frozen our new purchase in time. It will have to wait to be welcomed by airport baggage handlers and luggage carousels. With time, it will no doubt be passed on to a younger generation eager to generate new memories.
John Fisher lives in Collingwood, Ont.
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