vintage luggage

An Old Suitcase Named Ann

There’s this store over in Northeast Portland that I’ve been eyeing for a while called ReClaim It. Last Saturday, I finally went in.

When I stepped inside, I was overwhelmed by the sights and smells. I almost immediately backed out. I had expected to find secondhand treasures—like wobbly chairs, funky dressers, eyesore mirrors—that sort of thing. But a soulless corner of wood and metal scraps lay before me instead.

Where were the lovely relics from a bygone era? Those pieces clinging to the lives of their previous owners, encapsulating their memories in the battered wood?

They were a little to my left. I was so distracted by the beams and poles that I almost missed out.

Confession…my personal hell is Home Depot. Those expansive, drafty aisles of nonsensical parts and fixtures make me crazy. I prefer the finished, working stuff instead. Now you know why I ain’t your handywoman.

Anyway, there they were. The reason for the unapologetic musty odor—a whole section this thrifty gal wanted to roll around in, like a dog who just happened upon fresh pooh in the backyard. Though not a big store, I could have easily spent hours in there.

Nothing was organized and nothing made sense—in fact, you had to lift and move items to get to another. It kind of felt like you shouldn’t be rearranging things, like someone would scream at you to stop touching the basket of postcards or the stained lampshade. But no one said a word.

Hurrah! The store was mine to pillage!

Right off, something caught my eye. It was buried underneath a couple of chipped vases, which I moved very carefully as I’m a notorious klutz. Then I ran my hands across the fabric covering the hard surface.

old suitcase

My grandmother had one just like it.

I paused when I looked at the bronze fastenings on the front, then just as I remembered from the last time I opened something remotely like this when I was a little girl, I shoved the button on the right over to one side. It clicked, the latches flew up, and I smiled.

Now I don’t know if you’ve ever opened a vintage suitcase that’s been carrying decades of mystery inside its aging exterior, but as you can imagine, the smell can be less than desirable.

Yet, when I lifted the top and rested it against a bookshelf, a pleasant—shall we say—retro odor greeted my nostrils. More importantly, I felt her energy wash over me. It wasn’t a froufrou suitcase with its grey-blue denim-like material, but I knew instantly it had belonged to another woman.

cat in a suitcase

The interior was in surprisingly good shape, its blue satin only torn around the corners. The pockets in the lid were disappointingly empty.

For those who have been following this blog for some time, sadly I did not find any artifacts tucked away. I thought I would, and I was already mentally preparing myself to write another Nola Fran Evie book.

But no, only this beat-up suitcase was the treasure.

I closed the lid, and naturally, one of the latches was too stubborn to find its way back where it belonged. For grins, I looked at the price tag, figuring the suitcase would be a million dollars.

It was $25.

Shocked, I glanced around the room, suddenly protective over my find, ready to fight for it if necessary. But the leisurely Saturday shoppers were preoccupied.

So I opened the suitcase again, inspected it again. I closed it and got frustrated with the lock. Then, the latches behaved themselves and the suitcase shut properly. I crouched down and traced the fraying border, then stopped when I made it to the front and saw the name.

name on suitcase

Ann. That was my grandmother’s name.

I drew my hand away, standing quickly. I backed away from the suitcase. I continued to watch the other shoppers closely, but still they took no interest in the suitcase.

I’m not sure why I did it, but I walked off. I wanted to explore the rest of the store, to see if there was something else I liked better. I mean, what the hell did I need a smelly old suitcase for anyway?

I don’t know, but suitcases were all I could think about. The store had several, and I looked at all of them. Remember how I said the first one wasn’t stinky? These others knocked me over.

All the time I was shopping around, I kept my attention on the first suitcase. If anyone made a move, I was ready.

No, silly. There was no secondhand store showdown. I simply returned to the suitcase, opened it yet again, wrestled until I got it to close properly, then I ran my fingers across the name. Finally, I huffed and puffed as I carried it over to the register, secretly wondering if women back then were on to something…the suitcase workout.

The woman at the register saw my triumphant face and smiled back. “This is beautiful,” she said.

“It is.”

“Oh, and look! It has her name on it. Ann.”

I nodded. “It certainly does.”

cat with vintage suitcase

I learned more about Reclaim It, and I was captivated by the story. It’s a non-profit, with a dedicated crew that rescues materials and “junk” from the Metro Transfer Station, so artists and DIYers like yours truly can bring them back to life.

In the end I paid $25 for an old suitcase from the dump, and I was over the moon.

You might be wondering…what are we going to do with Ann? She may become a nightstand, or perhaps become an end table.

But don’t worry, Ann will forever be loved in our little home. She and I were listening to Billie Holiday while I was writing this…I thought she’d like that.

37 thoughts on “An Old Suitcase Named Ann

  1. Carrie Rubin says:

    Sounds like you could get a story out of it yet! In fact, you already did with this lovely post. I bet the wheels in your brain are already turning, wondering where to take it next. 🙂

  2. cravesadventure says:

    My spouse’s cousin works suitcases into displays for her homemade jewelry – it keeps the jewelry in place when she is moving from one market to the next or from one pop up to the next. Good Find! Happy Weekend – Happy Exploring – Enjoy 🙂

  3. Clanmother says:

    I agree with Carrie! There is a story that wants to be told! As I read your post for some reason my thoughts went to the first sentence of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca: “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” Looking forward to what comes next.

  4. diannegray says:

    What a beautiful story about Ann’s pre-loved suitcase. I love those reclaim shops and could spend all day, every day in one. I wanted to work in one once and hubby talked me out of it. He said I would buy everything! 😀

    • Britt Skrabanek says:

      It’s so neat, I know! I was reading a lot about feng shui recently, and one of the books mentioned that you have to be careful when you bring vintage furniture into your home, because it carries the previous owner’s energy.

      Even though I considered buying several vintage suitcases while I was there for DIY furniture ideas, the others did not have the same energy as Ann…plus, as I mentioned, they were stinky as hell.

  5. Roy McCarthy says:

    Yep, the word ‘raincheck’ sprung to my mind immediately 🙂 I guess $25 is about right for a cat box. Memories of the 60s at Birmingham’s New Street Station with crowds waiting with their bulging suitcases waiting to rush onto the big steam train to the seaside.

  6. Sheila says:

    I love this story and I think Ann will be telling you more. It’s true that the energy of a person can come through in an old house, so it seems believable that it can come through in a loved object like this. It’s so nice that your grandmother had one like it too.

    • Britt Skrabanek says:

      I’m a big believer in energy, doll. I’m somewhat skeptical by nature, so this throws people off when I get into a discussion. But, I do think there is something to be said about history staying with us, even through inanimate objects.

  7. Kate Johnston says:

    After my grandmother passed away, my sister and I cleaned out her apartment. She’d gotten rid of most everything that once belonged to her, things I remember being a part of her. Except her suitcase, a similar one to Ann, but in white, and it has the same latches. I took the suitcase. It is so retro and I can’t do anything with it, as the sides aren’t flat, but rounded. Still, every time I look at it, I think of her.

    I love that you found Ann. I think you two belong together. And anything monogrammed means it was well-loved, so Ann really deserves a home.

    • Britt Skrabanek says:

      That’s so interesting that she hung onto her suitcase. But it makes sense in a way. Back then it was more common for people to have one suitcase their entire lives. Think of all the places they went with that one suitcase.

      You are so right about monogramming! Too cool.

  8. Minuscule Moments says:

    Absolutely adorable story Britt. Im a sucker for old suitcases like this, so beautiful. I would have been in my element also in that shop… so exciting to filter through the stuff and find a gem like that.

      • Minuscule Moments says:

        That would be cool! Im lucky my hubby also knows what I like. One day he was walking past someones yard that had junk out the front and he picked off the top of the pile this really cool light shade. My sister said to him that I would not like it, she was wrong I loved it.We love to recycle and re-do old furniture too. Suitcases have such character and stories to tell.

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