The Story in the Little Brown Suitcase
The talk I overheard lying in bed at my grandparents’ home when relatives were there, seemed to involve items found in my grandmother’s little brown suitcase.
About the size of a thick briefcase, it looked old even in those days. It was a ruddy, warm, brown leather with reddish tones, like freshly turned earth in the Arizona desert. It had lighter colored scratches and was worn along the edges. It was machine sewn but had been hand cut. The leather was folded over rather primitively at the corners.
The interior of the suitcase was lined with satin the color of burnished brass. The darker brown velvet trim made it resemble the inside of a casket, but I did not know that then.
It had two metal suitcase latches and a keyhole on each side so it could be locked to hold its secrets secure.
Actually, the contents of the little brown suitcase were not a secret. But the little brown suitcase itself always seemed to me to be touched with mystery.
One day I remember my grandmother wiping her hands on the apron which covered her flowered house dress. A freshly baked peach pie was cooling on the yellow countertop, wafting its delicious aroma throughout the house. We had picked the peaches earlier that day from the tree in the yard.
She placed the little brown suitcase on the red and white checkered oilcloth which covered the kitchen table. She sat down alone at the table looking wistfully through some of the papers in the suitcase.
“Whatcha doing, Gramma?” my childish voice queried.
I wish I had listened just a little bit more closely when she answered. Then I would have even sharper memories to augment the story the little brown suitcase has to tell.
But a little girl of eight or nine years old has a head full of dreams and activities in the here and now. Stories just a few years back seem like Greek Mythology. World War II was barely over at that time, and yet it seemed to me, as a child, to be ancient history.
So I listened to Gramma’s answers to my casual questions with a light heart and fleeting interest. The worn old newspaper clippings, telegrams and letters seemed to be as dead as crumpled autumn leaves coaxed down by a frosty morning chill.
Gramma said the items in the suitcase were about our lost fortune. It had something to do with the Titanic and with a very important person who went down with the ship.
Running through my mind are highlights of what she said and what I heard as a child. The story spanned 200 years and involved rich merchants, an unscrupulous adventurer, a fateful fight on a New York pier, an old sea chest, a will lost for 112 years, a beautiful heiress, the Titanic, stolen documents, arson and, possibly, even murder.
Now, over fifty years later, the little brown suitcase calls out to me. It sits before me on the moss-green tile of my table, throbbing with the multitude of information it contains, like a small child sitting on a church pew swinging his legs waiting for the service to be over. I feel the anxiousness of its purpose.