My mother passed away four years ago today from complications of Alzheimer’s. In reality, we lost her long before that as she faded from us, recognizing friends and family members less and less and be becoming less and less active. She was essentially bedridden for about four years, which was a blessing of sorts since many Alzheimer’s patients run, and that is truly difficult to deal with.
She was a kind, thoughtful, intelligent lady who with my father raised my brother and me to try to be the same decent, compassionate person she was. I hope and believe we have been. She was my chief advocate, my primary encourager, and my good friend. I miss her terribly.
I do not have many physical signs that my mother was ever here. I kept a few things from her personal effects—her last wallet with her driver’s license, her tiny golden watch, her valedictory address from high school written in a clear hand, an award from the DeWitt Wallace Foundation during World War II, and a few pictures (she hated having her picture taken). I do have a lot of memories. She loved music and singing and so do I. She loved and cultivated plants and particularly flowers, which I cannot, but whenever I see a beautiful abundance of flowers I think of her.
I was reminded in another way how my mother and I related as I was going through my father’s household goods in preparation for his move to an assisted living facility and preparing his house to be rented. I was aware that there was a set of luggage in the attic, still in its original boxes, but I didn’t think much about them. I suppose that everyone who goes through their parents’ possessions in such a fashion thinks that there might be a treasure hidden among the ordinary detritus of everyday life. I found a lot of the ordinary, including some items which nonetheless struck chords of memory: the everyday china we used for years, dimly remembered hand-sewn quilts, even a strangely evocative metal casserole dish holder. But the luggage was different. I couldn’t remember having seen it, although my father said they used it a couple of times on car trips. The boxes were in poor condition, damaged by their stay in the high temperatures and humidity of the attic, and I assumed the luggage would be similarly affected.
I was wrong. As I pulled each piece of sea foam green Lady Baltimore luggage from its box, I realized that it somehow had survived in pristine condition. The luggage was popular during the ‘50’s and ‘60’s and is not longer made, but spoke of travel in a more elegant age. People routinely dressed up to take the train or to climb aboard propeller-driven aircraft. The set included a large Pullman case, a smaller “weekender,” and a ladies’ “train case” for cosmetics and other personal effects. This was classic hard-sided luggage without a shred of nylon or a trace of a roller wheel to be seen.
Curious about the value, I checked on line and found that the set, which originally retailed for $29.99, was going for fifteen times that on internet auction sites. I told my father, who was in favor of selling it. Fortunately, Becky saw it and said that, stacked up in a guest room, it would make a nice display accessory. I was glad that we would keep it.
I was also curious about the contents, if any. The keys were nowhere to be found, but locks of suitcases of this vintage are ridiculously easy to pick and I opened each one, not expecting to find much. For a literature major, it was a little like the prologue to The Scarlet Letter, in which the author putatively discovers in an ancient trunk a manuscript relating the story of Hester and Arthur and Roger and Pearl, along with the faded, gold embroidered letter “A” itself.
I found a few ordinary effects in the cases, including some maps and pamphlets from an area in Florida where my brother once had a condo and which my parents visited several times. I also found something that would reduce me to tears.
I have always, from the time I learned how to write, wanted to be a writer. I was on the newspaper staff of our little mimeographed elementary school publication, all copies of which have vanished. I also wrote for my intermediate school, high school, college and community papers. My mother, as with everything else, encouraged me greatly, keeping clippings and showing them to friends whenever something was published. All these mementoes had been lost, or so I thought.
There in the weekender case was an article from my high school paper about the It’s Academic team from my school, circa 1964. I was an alternate on the team, but the people on the show were my good friends, and I remember the taping with Mac McGarry well. (We lost.) On the back of the article was a rather lame editorial I had written about Santa Claus making a visit to our editorial offices at the school. It was a sophomoric effort, even for the junior I was at the time, but it was a palpable connection to the woman who loved and nurtured and encouraged me beyond all measure. When I found these articles last week, I had a strange sense that she had somehow left them there for me to discover, four years after her passing, and that she knew that I would once again be encouraged by the interest and support that they represented.
At the end of The Philosopher’s Stone in the Harry Potter series, Dumbledore says to Harry, “If there is one thing Voldemort cannot understand, it is love. He didn’t realize that love as powerful as your mother’s for you leaves its own mark. Not a scar, no visible sign . . . to have been loved so deeply, even though the person who loved us is gone, will give us some protection for ever.” (Italics mine.)
And, I might add, encouragement forever.
So, indeed there are treasures to be found amid the ordinary objects of life. What I found in this vintage piece of luggage is to me more valuable than any pearl of great price. Rest in peace, Mom. And thank you.