When I was ten-years-old the biggest Christmas present I’d ever seen appeared under the Christmas tree. I couldn’t believe it was for me and I fantasized about what sort of miraculous gizmo it was. Turns out it was a globe. My mom wanted me to learn geography, apparently, and introduced her young, toy-obsessed child to the world of practical gift giving. For years that dumb globe took up too much space on my desk. It would be remembered as the second-best worst Christmas present I ever received.
The best worst Christmas gift ever arrived during my first year at University. It was an even bigger box than the globe. Whether I was eighteen or nineteen it didn’t matter — I was still a child at heart. Whatever was in that box was going to be special.
It was luggage. Specifically, it was a three-piece set of green, cloth luggage comprised of a large suitcase, a medium-sized suitcase, and a satchel tote.
I’ve known a lot of disappointment in my life, most of it small, with the occasional heartbreaker. The luggage was a small but powerful disappointment; a betrayal, even. The gift was functional and lame, but I could cope with that sort of disappointment — Hello! The globe? No, that wasn’t the issue. The issue was the distinct, “Get out of my house,” overtone.
Looking back almost 30 years later I can see their practical gesture wasn’t intended to be offensive. I’m sure they just assumed a young adult needs something to lug his junk around. No one has ever accused my parents of creative gift giving.
Truth be told, they weren’t wrong. As annoyed as I was at the time, I would fill those two suitcases many times during my college years (though I never figured out what to do with the satchel tote).
After college I was generously given three months to get a job and save enough money to find myself a new residence. I had received no warning ahead of time that my eviction loomed immediately following graduation; this was shocking and felt cruel. In hindsight I can see they planned this all along, and obviously knew the suitcases would eliminate one excuse I could use to delay the approaching ouster.
Sure enough I packed those suitcases yet again and moved into my first apartment with some jerk I knew from elementary school. That same jerk and I would move a year later to a house in Bellevue, WA, and the suitcases again proved useful.
By this time the luggage was collecting small rips and stains and losing some structural integrity — much like myself — which actually made it easier to cram into the back of my Acura Integra when I moved to Los Angeles with my cat. I was twenty-six years old.
Upon arriving in Los Angeles, those ratty old suitcases, now packed with odd things like a jade elephant statue and a 20 lb. heirloom dictionary, were at the end of their journey. That is, except for the satchel tote which had surprisingly persevered and remained in excellent condition.
After taking a job as a traveling salesman, I did something heretofore unthinkable: I went to a luggage store at the mall and spent $199 on a black suitcase. This was a very adult thing to do by my standards. It was a decent suitcase, soft-sided and extra large, and served me well as I flew around the country the next few years.
Never would I imagine how significant a suitcase could become in my life. A symbol of my life, even. All of those years traveling around the country, packing and unpacking, embarking and disembarking, moving from place to place, doing laundry and paying bills when I’m home for a minute, gaining experience, meeting people and seeing the sights; all these things would be the mechanism by which I grew into adulthood.
As a relatively immature person (compared to my peers) I needed something different to galvanize my development. For many it is a career, or marriage, or having children. For me it was a couple of suitcases (and a satchel tote that somehow hung around while serving no real purpose).
Which brings me to the present. I currently own a couple of suitcases like everyone else in America. They are sturdy and shiny and for the most part they sit in storage as there isn’t room for them in the motorhome. I guess you could say the motorhome is just a big suitcase with wheels — and beds, and a bathroom, and a kitchen — dumb as it sounds, it’s an oversized suitcase, at least in part.
Those places my mother wanted me to find on that cumbersome, disappointing Christmas globe have lived in my dreams all these years. While the globe is long gone Googlemaps has become my #1 visited website. We may be rolling our big motorized suitcase around the USA at this minute, but Monica and I plan to fly off to foreign lands as soon as the kids move out. When that day finally arrives we will get on Costco.com and order ourselves a new set of luggage.
I have to believe all of this hangs together. Globes and suitcases are significant themes in my life to this very day. In the same vein, my mother bought me a haggard, old typewriter in 9th grade and forced me to practice typing. I now type every day — even this minute as I write this.
It is funny how life works out. A terrible gift one day can end up defining us, or at least a portion of us. I am thankful my parents got super practical that fateful Christmas in 1993, or whatever year it was. Truth is, the immediate lameness of the gift still stings. There could have been anything in that box, and no matter what it was it would have been more fun than the cheap, green, cloth luggage.
Would my life have been better, though? I don’t see how it could have been. I used those two green suitcases for the better part of seven years. They saw thousands of miles and hauled all sorts of items. And then there’s that useless satchel tote…
The one that tagged along all those years. That had no purpose because it couldn’t hold squat. I could have thrown it away a hundred times, but I never did. In fact, I still have it, and it’s still in good condition. And the best part is…
It now holds my temple clothing — what I wear as I prepare to enter the eternities and embark on the great adventure awaiting the end of this earthly one. That little, green bag was just waiting and waiting, biding its time until it would serve the greatest purpose of all. Temple clothes. I cannot imagine a better reason to hold onto it all these years. I love that so much.
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