From a very young age, my sister Angela and I were regaled with stories from our mom about her travels. And when I say travels, I mean one European tour working with the Billy Graham Crusades through all of Europe and two trips to Hawaii in the mid to late 60s. My mother never traveled much as an adult, but she enjoyed every moment of it when she did. She spoke of trips to New York and the mountains with her parents when she was young and then of trips to Arizona as an adult to visit and stay with an old boss (some car mogul) with my dad after she was married. She also enjoyed trips to California for the Rose Bowl Parade and to New York for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade with the high school band when my sister and I were teens.
We were always challenged when it came to finances. Money was used for mortgage payments, gas, insurance, food and utilities. Money was always in short supply when it came to clothes and any extra spending or even travel. But my mom always went out of her way to make sure that we applied for grants for summer camp and that we participated in every fundraiser possible to make sure that travel was possible when it came to band trips for my sister and missions trips for myself.
When my mom packed, even if it was for an overnight or two up north, she had it down to a science. She knew exactly what would be needed, what to anticipate and what to pack for the just in case moments that were always evident when it came to kids. Falling in mud and needing an extra set of clothes, or an extra sweatshirt and jeans even when the weather forecaster said it would be 80F degrees. She had this amazing ability to plan, pack and then repack before heading home.
I always admired her small zippered bags that she still had from when she was a teenager and young adult. But what I enjoyed most, was her beautiful luggage. She had two suitcases and a carry-on bag that she had purchased when she worked at a hospital in downtown St. Paul and was planning on traveling. She told my sister and I that she had to save up to afford the three piece set from the department store, but knew that she was making a wise purchase. She also felt that the unique pattern encouraged future travel.
Our mom took very good care of her three piece set. Before the days of wheeled suitcases, she said she loved carrying her matching set through an airport, or unloading it from the trunk of a car. She felt like a real adult when she carried them for the first few years. Reflecting, she knew that this luggage could quite possibly last her the rest of her life.
Unfortunately, a flood of water seeping in the basement of her old rambler home ruined the luggage set and they had to be thrown in the trash. She was sorry to see them go. (My sister may still have the carry- bag. I will have to check with her.) When our mom traveled for the last time 17 years ago with friends from church on a cruise, she treated herself for only the second time in life to a new set of luggage. This time in her favorite color purple. Two wheeled suitcases with push down handles and a carry on bag. She adored her travel gear and showed them to me numerous times. She also continued to regale me with stories of travel memories.
When my mom passed away, her purple luggage set came to live at my house. No, it wasn't the original set that she loved with the travel signs and passport information printed all over them, but the purple set was what she used on her last trip. Now, my daughter packs one suitcase with her clothes and the other with her art supplies and books. She uses the carry-on as a bathroom/ toiletry bag. And each time, the purple luggage makes an appearance, I remember my dearly missed mother and the stories she told.
Today, I came across a beautiful suitcase at a thrift store. Tears flooded my eyes before it even registered what I was looking at. The beautiful pattern of the town names, plane tickets and passport stamps was sitting on a lower shelf, almost out of view. I wiped a few stray tears and leaned down very slowly for a closer look. Not quite the same, but so very similar. I considered purchasing the suitcase, but then realized it possessed a bit of a smell like cigarette smoke and knew it couldn't live at my home. I paused, positioned it on the floor at my feet, smiled and pulled out my cell phone to take a picture.
This beautiful piece made me smile today. Not only did it make me smile, it lightened my mood and made me miss my mom just a little bit less today. This time of year is challenging for me because of how much I miss my mom. She loved Thanksgiving and Christmas, decorating and cooking, hosting and feasting so very much. Even the sight of this unique piece made today a special day to remember. I shared with Lily a few stories of my mom's travels. I told her about the pictures she turned into slides from her travels and how she shared them with the seniors at the nursing home in Forest Lake. I also told Lily about the suitcase that she carried the slides in as she entertained the residents. My mom would greet each of the residents as she unpacked her treasures, and would say, "Tonight, we are traveling to Hawaii! Pack your bags and grab your sun hats and enjoy!"