Out of the Blue

Lumpy, Frumpy, Beloved

It’s the little duffle that could

By Deborah Salomon

Carpet bags were actually made of carpet. Remember Mary Poppins’ arrival toting a magic one? Steamer trunks were once a necessity on long voyages, per Titanic. Suitcases accommodate everything but suits, which travel in hanging bags.

Collectively, call it luggage. Fancy-schmancy, call one smallish piece a valise.

For the past 15 years I have flown to Canada to see my grandsons five or six times a year. More when they were younger, less now that they are grown men. I don’t stay long — two or three nights. But I bring a lot, including food (cheese, frozen shrimp, deli roast beef, homemade cookies), gifts (car magazines, T-shirts), seasonal candy, dog toys and funny stuff they might like — as well as my own bulky cold weather clothes.

Checking baggage isn’t an option since missed connections and re-routing happen regularly, not to mention the cost. So I bought a roller carry-on, first with hard sides, then semi-soft. They slid easily into the overhead compartment but held a finite amount. Surely none of the passengers scooting from gate to gate pulling aluminum siding on ball bearings had hungry grandchildren.

So I added a small duffle to hold the overflow plus my purse, since only two carry-ons were allowed. Except the duffle didn’t attach to the roller bag and kept falling off, a real pain. 

I looked again, this time for something uber-expandible that could still be stuffed into the overhead compartment. Appearance didn’t matter. I’d pull one adorned with Betty Boop if it worked.

About five years ago I spotted the perfect bag at Stein Mart. Tacky, verging on ugly, its loose canvas body was as suitable for stuffing as a Butterball. The white canvas printed with black stars made it immediately recognizable in a row of sleek, monochromatic, ball-bearing, aluminum-sided roller bags —  an ugly duckling in a pond of svelte swans. Nobody ever grabbed my bag by mistake.

So what if people snickered. At least it had a zipper pocket on the outside to separate my lunch and my socks.

Because anybody who pays $12 for a tuna sandwich en route is just plain nuts.

Unlike airport tuna, my valise was cheap, maybe $20. I soon discovered why. The wheels rattled. The handle required a yank. Once stuffed, the valise wobbled, even toppled. Despite malfunctions I still loved its capacity, which amazed security personnel.

“I’ll remove the food,” according to regulations, I told the officer. He watched, wide-eyed. Out came the cookies, the candy, the cheese, the frozen shrimp, Reese’s Peanut Butter Halloween pumpkins, taco rice and salsa, leaving my sweaters, shoes, nightgown, hair dryer.

Remember the old circus gag where a dozen clowns emerge from a VW Beetle?

“What else ya got in there?” the officer grinned suspiciously.

I grinned back and offered him a chocolate chip cookie.

Once inside the aircraft, however, my bag-o-tricks faced another challenge. This valise was heavier than it looked. Much heavier. Could I lift it into the compartment? When no Lancelot appeared, darned if it didn’t squeeze underneath the seat in front.

On the return trip, grandkids’ goodies were replaced by three dozen of the world’s best bagels. This, the inspectors understood.

All these years and only one accident. My daughter loves Stouffer frozen spinach soufflé, not available in Canada. I always bring a single-serving box secured in a resealable plastic bag. On a recent trip it thawed, then seeped through the box and bag, tinting my jeans “Exorcist” vomit green.

Alas, this ugly saddlebag/rucksack/duffle/carry-on hybrid is showing her age. Canvas corners are threadbare. The zipper sticks. The main compartment is lined with cat hair, since Lucky stows away in it between trips. Perhaps he detected a faint tuna odor. My grandsons may have outgrown silly socks and peanut butter pumpkins. But, unless a wheel falls off or the zipper derails, this trusty travel companion will chug along behind me, clickety-clack, on every flight until the last.  PS

Deborah Salomon is a writer for PineStraw and The Pilot. She may be reached at debsalomon@nc.rr.com.

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