Two Suitcases

When I came to America over twenty years ago I arrived with two suitcases holding all of my belongings.  Packed with care, they held everything I thought I needed for the next year of my life in this new and exciting country.



Over the past twenty-something years my earthly belongings have doubled and quadrupled many times over.  I can no longer fit all my “treasures” into two suitcases.  My trove of ‘stuff’  could fill two trucks.

Now that my kids are at school I have decided to declutter my home.  This beautiful William Morris quotation is my guideline for this momentous task.


“Have nothing in your houses that you do not know

to be useful or believe to be beautiful.”

– William Morris


But as I gathered and sorted, trashed and saved, dug deeper into closets and those dangerous storage corners of my infamous basement, I found them.


My two suitcases!


My trusty companions traveled across the Atlantic on an Aer Lingus plane with me, starting me out on my American journey. They are  not-so-beautiful, and definitely not-so-useful anymore.

Although faded they retain their tapestry pattern.  I must have thought I was cool back then.  Who remembers this supposedly-trendy, vintage-look of eighties luggage?  Cases with teal green backgrounds were very popular, but I chose the fall look, boasting  golden hues.

My case was the roller kind.  Remember the ones with four tiny wheels secured to the bottom.  Each wheel had a devious mind of its own.  No two wheels spun in the same direction, so the case inevitably toppled over.  I always ended up dragging mine on its side across the airport floor, dirtying that tapestry facade.

The handle resembled a dog leash, adding to the overall lack of control.  May God bless whoever invented roller-boards and stow-away handles.

Now my second suitcase probably should not be called a suitcase at all.  A “wardrobe bag” is what I think they were named.  The idea was to hang your clothes inside, zip it up, fold it over, and strap it together.  Supposedly your suits arrived wrinkle free and ready to go.

That is, if the silly hook at the top didn’t catch in the revolving bag belt at the airport, causing a major luggage backup.  Cases jockeyed for position, hooks fenced each other, as the belt just kept going and going.  Eventually bags started toppling over onto the ground, the guilty wardrobe bag mangled at the bottom of the mess.

And so, my old tapestry bags are neither beautiful, nor useful.


Should I throw them away?


This is a difficult one for me.  I get nostalgic when I see them.

The Complete Ensemble – Never Forget Your Tapestry Make-Up Bag

They remind me of my past, my transition, my innocence.  They are symbols of my adventurous spirit, my pioneering ways of youth.   Nothing akin to an old covered wagon of the old west, but still they represent the biggest change I ever undertook in my life.

I had so little in the world back then – just the contents of these two suitcases.  Yet, I was happy, filled with anticipation and wonder.  They remind me I do not need “things” to be happy.  What makes me happy now is my family and they will never fit in two suitcases.

The original luggage tag from the Dublin travel agency where I booked my flight to America.

And so as I continue my pursuit of happiness, I will de-clutter with a vengeance.  Stuff is never important in life.

But perhaps, I will hold on to my two suitcases.

Who knows? In years to come my children may donate them to an immigration museum as a prime example of how people traveled in the 1980’s.  Someday they may be prominently displayed in all their faded glory, just like the bags from the early 1900’s in the Baggage Room at Ellis Island.

These two suitcases may no longer be beautiful or useful in a physical sense, but the memories they evoke, the life lessons they remind me of, are truly beautiful and useful.



Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

Irish American Mom



  1. Amazing that you still have them! Even more amazing that they look in great condition 20 years on.
    American Holidays forgot to put their URL on the tag :)

    • Liam – As I waded through the junk in my basement I got worried I might be a few closets away from an episode of ‘Hoarders’. My useless wardrobe bag is hardly faded at all. I think I used it a lot less than the poor worn-out suitcase. Amazing I still had the old luggage tag on it. American Holidays were very fancy with their fax number back then.
      All the best,

  2. I kept my UCG notes for 10 years. I went when I was 30 so it wasn’t the easiest trip.
    Stuff has a hoard-by date generally. In my house there is a dance where things end up in the bin by increments. Where they move another bit closer each year. You see there is the notion, at the back of the mind that the ‘thing’ might have a use, so how much of a fool would you be if you needed it having tosses it two months back.
    Wicked ugly luggage all the same and soooooooo girly. Laura Ashley ?. And remembering Aer Lingus isn’t doing anything fore my blood pressure. Talk about the civil service at it utter worst.

    • Vince – My mother found my college notes from Trinity in a box in her attic last summer. I gave her permission to dump them since after 25 years I don’t think I’ll be needing them.
      I don’t think the cases were Laura Ashley. Hopefully I didn’t wear a granny print Laura Ashley frock as I dragged my ugly cases around the airport. The small make-up bag really took the biscuit altogether.
      Have a great weekend.

  3. I love your suitcases Mairead. I remember as a child finding my small granny’s American trunk . It was big enough for me to sit inside! I don’t think I would be tracing my family tree now but for that trunk. I only wish she had kept her papers in it…

    • Martine – How amazing to have your small granny’s trunk – truly a family treasure. To find her papers would have been a genealogists dream come true. My father has an old black trunk at home he used to go to England in the 1950’s. It’s full of papers alright – old GAA programmes from every All-Ireland match he has ever been to.

  4. What a lovely bit of yourself to share, Mairead…I enjoyed reading this. It’s a struggle trying to let go of sentimental belongings sometimes…I agree with you though, I say keep them until you’re really ready to let them go. Who knows, (if) and when you do, they may help someone else on a life-changing journey. :)

    • Elizabeth – I think I’ll have to keep them. Perhaps I should fill them with other little mementos I want to keep for my children. Just a few bits and pieces, though. I think I will use the criteria that there must be a story behind each thing before I pack it away, otherwise I’ll never clear my collection of junk.
      All the best,

  5. Hi Mairead,
    Since I read your post about your suitcases, I knew they would remain. Your passion for writing would not be wasted on an old bag, Your passion for writing could only be used to to release the story of these life changing symbols.

  6. I used to have the exact same luggage! All three pieces! Great minds thought alike didn’t they?

    • How funny, Grammy – we were both ever-so-trendy back in the 80’s. My mother insisted I tie a ribbon around the handle too, in case I wouldn’t recognize my bags. I suppose she was right after all.

  7. Maureen O' Hanlon says:

    I did enjoy your story about your suitcases, no way would i throw them out they are too precious,im a bit of a hoarder myself, ill try my best to get rid of something but something always stop me and I bring it back again i cant get rid of memories they are too precious,

    • I know what you mean Maureen. Memories tied to objects makes it hard for me to throw things away. If I have no sentimental attachment I can throw something away with no qualms of conscience, but when it comes to handmade baby coats, or afghans or anything that seems tied up with memories of love, there is no hope I will ever part ways with it.
      All the best,

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