'Goodwill Luggage' — a suitcase whose owner died on 9/11 continues to travel with its new owner

September 11, 2011|By Shirley Dempsey-Kahn

I am at southside mall just before the big day in December of 2001, my rust-spotted RAV-4 parked in front of Goodwill, when my favorite holiday music starts up over the loudspeaker. "Greensleeves" always brings to mind the first time I heard it. Bagpipes and drums had awakened me in my hotel on my very first trip to London. When I looked out the window, below me marched a small parade of men wearing kilts, and I later learned the tune they played was a somber "Greensleeves."

Today it reminds me that, besides new Christmas tree lights, I could use luggage for my upcoming sixth trip to London, this time with the College of Notre Dame of Maryland. A Travelpro wheelie is my choice, and the likelihood of finding it in Goodwill is extremely remote, but the music lures me into the store. A plethora of tiny white bulbs awaits me, so that in less than five minutes I am heading for the jumbled pile of suitcases kept in the back of the store.

As I approach travel gear of all sizes and shapes, the latest Harpers Bazaar protruding from the magazine pocket of a roll-aboard catches my eye. I bend down to inspect the suitcase, and to my amazement there is the Eiffel Tower logo, assuring my disbelieving eyes that this is indeed a Travelpro, and it is outwardly pristine. The handle pulls out easily, the zippers work. There is a strap for hooking on my carry-on bag. Inside one of the smaller pockets my fingers touch objects left behind.

I hesitate no longer.

As I stand in line at the checkout counter, I notice the leather name tag is much longer than an ordinary one, and the name on it suggests to me someone who sells cosmetics. I can't find a price tag, but no one asks prices at Goodwill. When the clerk says, "Ten dollars," I gulp. I was expected a low price, but the $4 latest Harpers is fully visible. When she says, "Oh, but it's Wednesday," I cringe. She's charging me senior day price and the price is now $8. "Plus tax," she adds.

On the short drive to my home at the Harbor, my radio playing "Rudolph," I decide once inside I'll have a celebratory glass of Chablis, to toast my unknown donor for my bonanza, not only a monstrous bargain but a savings in precious time I would not have to spend shopping for luggage.

When the wine is poured, I muse upon the somewhat grubby interior of the bag. The former owner is either an over-scheduler or just messy, I decide as I remove traces of cardinal-red lipstick. My groping fingers grasp a stylized silver crucifix! It is 4 inches in length on a lovely silver chain. The design of the crucifix denotes more than her faith. She is modish, arty.

Next there is a tiny lock for the suitcase, still in its fresh cardboard container. A vision of PBS's Hercule Poirot stroking his curling-upward-at-ends mustache is before me. "Ah, tres unique, la clef not used." My benefactor is a risk-taker, I conclude. Next, I ferret out a single, 2-inch enamel-on-copper earring on which a creamy angel's gold-tinged wings soar across an azure sky. The earring is well-crafted. Elegant. The last item unearthed is a St. Christopher's medal.

So she forgoes using luggage keys, chooses artful pieces, and possesses a touch of whimsy, besides being so generous to the recipient of the bag she no longer needs. I conjure up a tall, youngish traveler, not thoroughly well-groomed, her mind more on getting out of the office as quickly as possible on a Friday, dashing off to Pennsylvania Station where she boards a train to Manhattan, reads Harpers, quaffing a Starbucks cappuccino, all the time thinking about the boyfriend she will meet under the clock in the lobby of the Waldorf.

My mind takes a further leap to thoughts of a tall man in a tux, long departed from this world, whom I could meet there. As I sponge the last of the folded clothes section, my fingers come across a crinkly cellophane wrapper, together with shards of petrified nuts, in a corner. I have been so engrossed in my search for clues to Miss May's personality — the name I discover on the magazine label — I haven't touched the Chablis.

This woman lives not far from the Light Street library, where I am a member of the Friends of the Library. I may get to meet her there. I may learn why she decided to leave a disparate group of items for someone to use. Perhaps to the new owner she sends the St. Christopher's medal as a symbolic good luck wish. My thoughtful mother never gave away a handbag without first inserting a quarter.

I decide to write to her, telling her how much I like the bag (omitting the need to clean it up) and offer to return the items, emphasizing the crucifix, which she must have overlooked. I include my email address.

During Christmas dinner, I tell my family my Goodwill luggage story. Then, as my son drives me to the airport, he asks whether I have heard from the person who left all those things in the suitcase. I couldn't hide my disappointment. "No doubt she was too busy to get in touch during the holidays. Maybe when I return?"

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