Marja-Leena Rathje
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the antique suitcase





What journeys has this old suitcase seen? What memories are held within?

It began in a suitcase factory in Finland... when? in the 1940's? Who in the family bought it?

My own memory is unclear, I think it was given to me by one of my mother's brothers in 1967. That year I'd spent a summer in Finland researching Finnish art history for my thesis. I had bought a lot of heavy second-hand art and history books in Helsinki as well as having many Finnish gifts that were given to me and or I'd bought so I really needed another suitcase. I seem to recall it was found in my grandparents' attic on the farm, maybe it had been my mother's. If so, why did it not come with us when we emigrated to Canada?

For many years the suitcase must have been stored in my parents' home in Winnipeg for when they moved to Vancouver after retirement to live the winters with us, it came with their other belongings. After my parents had passed away and I was going through their things, I found it in the bottom of a closet, stuffed with extra linens like crisp white sheets with hand-crocheted trims in the old Finnish tradition.

Since then, it was stored empty in our somewhat musty crawl space along with other old suitcases that had seen better days. When our eldest daughter Anita went to Japan for half a year as an exchange student sometime in the early 90's, I think, she borrowed this suitcase. Maybe she had it with her when she was later living and studying in Victoria. Then it spent many more years in storage again in said crawl space.

Last month, our 'English' daughter Elisa was once again needing an old to-be-discarded suitcase to take some of their belongings from here to their current home in London. Though this old faithful was looking sad, worn, and water-stained, she fell in love with it and its history. I quickly took some photos for posterity's sake in case we'd never see it again. It's now in England, used for storage again. Where will it travel to next?

Marja-Leena | 16/10/2010 | 21 comments
themes: Being an Artist, History



Of course your English daughter will be coming to Finland, visiting again some relatives, deciding maybe to study a bit in her ancestral country, learn Finnish fluently etc.

It's not long from England to here! I assume she has at least second cousins here, right?

What's best in life is that it can take any course. A suitcase is a very good metaphor for it.

after all of those adventures it received a serious bash on a corner at the hands of air canada, that quite crumpled it. more character. i believe it has plans to move to the quiet countryside. i'll be sure to update you when it finds a new home.

Ripsa, it's been my hope that Elisa and family will get to Finland for a visit, especially if her partner gets a workshop or conference gig there! She was only 7 years old when we went on our first family trip. There are sooo many cousins and second cousins that I don't know them all!

Elisa, I'm quite saddened about that bash! Can it be repaired? Good luck with the plans, and hopefully a trip to Finland is also in the future, even if that old suitcase isn't taken along.

Marja-Leena; charming story and lovely suitcase! Have a nice week!

Leena, kiitos....though I'm not sure I would call the suitcase lovely. It does have history.

It's definitely a beautiful old piece and what a shame about the carelessness of Air Canada. I hope it can be repaired.

I used to own three huge old trunks that travelled everywhere with me. Instead of being stored, they'd often serve as furniture.

Susan, I bought a new trunk when I got married to move some of my special things to our first marital home in northeast BC. I used it as furniture too, and still have it in the hallway. It's not antique but old now. It hasn't travelled as much as you, Susan!

A very nice amalgam of leather, wood, and metal!

I love reading about this. I sometimes think I'm deficient in relating to old objects with sentimental value and all too willing to take up with the new. Perhaps it's a result of moving so much and having a rather careless attitude toward things. I have one object from my childhood, a small pitcher, and some photos, not very well catalogued. My children have most of their books and toys and so on, and my sister has my mother's few possessions: some books and furniture. My mother, like me, tended to want to clear things out all the time.
My husband is a packrat, though, and far more sentimental in general than I am.
I do have a closet with old photos and postcards and some of the girls' artwork and a doll or two.
Well, this post of yours is making me think!

Rouchswalwe, yes, the materials make this suitcase unique for me, besides the Finnish connection.

Hattie, I didn't think I was that sentimental about old things either but as I'm getting older certain family things, especially Finnish, are meaningful for me, if they have certain aesthetic appeal. My parents didn't leave a lot but it's here where they passed away. Oh, we are pack rats, my husband the worst! It's been too easy to become that way because we have so much storage space and haven't moved in 26 years. One retirement project for us is to sort and reduce, the other is to get all our photos and slides organized!

I'm always fascinated with the way objects absorb our histories. What speaks louder than a suitcase that has carried the past into an unknown future?

HI Patry! Oh, you have said it so very well, thank you!

Alas, it seems ever my task to drizzle on what have been previously been sunny proceedings. The suitcase is an admirable artefact, pleasing to look at. But I fear it belongs to an era when railways employed porters to do the carrying. Old and decrepit as I am I now view suitcases in avoirdupois terms (ie, what percentage of the all-up load does the case represent?). Once I used to envy those who had swish fibre-glass cases, nicely shaped, prettily coloured, elaborate handles and locks. Until I lifted one. And there's another problem. When a thief in the baggage-handling section of the airport is picking his target he tends to ignore my plastic holdall (Weight 400 gm, cost £5) and go for the heavier £60 job with the pathetic combination lock (Hey, he'll just carry away the whole thing). I think your justifiably well-beloved case could embark on a new life as a planter for primulas.

BB, of course, I was expecting this from you! All you say is true and I have some stories I could tell you. Did I say this one travelled with us again? With all the weight restrictions on airplanes today, Elisa ended up taking it only half full in the end, so it was probably its last journey by air. It's the young ones who see it as a trunk, which is useful for storage and looks nice in their student rooms or English terrace homes.

i think the bash is beyond repair, but it can still be used for storage well enough, though it will need to permanently retire from flying. a quiet spot in the corner holding something important would be just its thing.

Absolutely enjoyed the narrative. Thought along the same lines - what more stories must it hold, whose hands it was that crafted the finishing touches.

It looks swell. That's how suitcases are supposed to look. Such character.

I hope the bash is not too bad. It needs to outlive humanity!

Anil, glad you enjoyed this!

I loved your story of the old suitcase! I can't believe that you were able to hang on to it for so many years as I can't remember how many suitcases I have thrown out! However, I think your suitcase was a good one to begin with, otherwise it would not have lasted as long as it did. I wish it a happy new life in England! It is getting closer to home....

Taina, I think this suitcase hasn't travelled that much in its long life, with its lengthy rests in between. Yes, it certainly is close to home now.

How wonderful and the metal bits still so shiny! But it needs to be retired as a piece of furniture now, modern times are not gentle enough for it!

Lucy, yes I agree, and I think it's about to find its new home in the English countryside!