Denise Snodell — Sometimes your baggage really is your baggage

06/11/2013 5:55 PM

06/11/2013 5:57 PM

I am close to people who bring baggage to my life. I don’t mean dysfunctional outbursts or wacky behavior that can be sourced back to childhood events. I mean suitcases. Duffels. Things with handles and wheels.

I travel light. As do my husband and sons. We are the ninjas of overhead compartments. Even if we board a plane on the C group — we’re established C-groupers — there’s always room for Snodell belongings. We can always wedge our sleek stuff between others’ bursting Louis Vuitton sausages.

On the other hand, my mother’s side of family has a long history of luggage issues. And I mean long. My uncle, who is a devoted family tree researcher, has forever boasted about one branch, the Dutch settlers. That’s right. Apparently, I have one strand of genes that can be traced back to 1600s America. (This is a stark contrast to my French father, who came to the U.S. in the 1950s, most likely with a stealthy, half-empty “valise.”)

According to my uncle, my Dutch great-great-great-etceteras journeyed to the East Coast on a ship called the Salt Mountain. I know how the ship was named. At first, somebody likely christened the boat plain old “Salt” until my ancestors showed up at the dock. I’m sure they plunked down piles of trunks, sacks of tulip bulbs and other Dutch whatnots. All of it had to be balanced on big stacks right atop the old poop deck. Hence, the “Mountain” part.

Supposedly, as my uncle has mentioned, there are cities and counties on the East Coast that bear our ancestors’ surname. Again, I think I know why. It probably took many square miles of space to unpack the wooden shoes, the windmill parts, the crazy hats. I imagine these swaths of land were named to identify temporary staging areas littered with family flotsam. Settlers had to let folks like Hester Prynne know to steer their horses elsewhere, away from the clutter.

“Go-eth not there, Hester, or thou shalt stumble over sinfully high piles of unpacked stuff-eth.”

On a side note, there’s no real estate fortune that has been passed down. It was probably packed in a steamer trunk and lost in Newark.

Fast forward to almost four centuries later. That “traveling heavy” gene remains dominant in some of us. Whenever there’s a kerfuffle about my mom over-packing for a trip — there’s always one — my dad brings up the time he took our young family back to France. It turns out my grandmother and aunts helped my mom pack for the big overseas visit.

My father often recalls, “I opened the suitcases, and there were blankets everywhere! Blankets!” The way he tells the story, he was expecting to find kitchen appliances in the luggage as well.

I thought I could solve the back-breaking suitcase problem with my folks, at least for their visits here. I permanently store their extra clothes/shoes/robes/toiletries in the guest room. This way, there are fewer things to haul. Plus, I beg them to ship a suitcase ahead of time. They do. But when my parents arrive, there’s still overload. Suitcases on wheels, travel totes, and, most frustrating, supplementary travel totes for original travel tote overflow.

Other relatives have baggage challenges. They have been known to bend the airport carousels. My beautiful niece visited not long ago. Her suitcase was as large as a bank manager’s desk and twice as heavy. Salt Mountain.

Oddly enough, I find all of this comforting. My parents were here last month. As I drove them to the train station for their two-day trip back (they don’t fly), my mom couldn’t find her cell phone. She thought it was in one of two multi-compartmented bags. The ride was tense, George-Costanza-parent tense, until the phone was found. This, thankfully, distracted me from the real issue: They were leaving.

We all deal with geographic distance in our own way. I’m learning to be patient, and somehow, I always carry on.

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