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Trying to sort through all that baggage

When my husband and I left on our honeymoon decades ago, we proudly carried the matched luggage that his sister had given us as a gift. The two suitcases were handsome indeed — a strong leather set in pale taupe with shiny locks.

That luggage went with us on every trip we took, from runaway weekends during the “She hit me first!” stage of parenting, to our first thrilling trip to another continent.

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Slowly, the wear and tear began to show: a nick here, a bump there, a tear in the elasticized interior pockets. But no matter — the stuff was made to last a lifetime. Or so we thought.

Then along came the years of three daughters and their travels, mostly to college dormitories where they dragged our beloved pieces up creaky old stairs with abandon.

“Be careful!” I had shrieked to Jill as she bounced the taupe suitcase that had seen me through years of wanderings. “I love that suitcase!”

Amy’s treatment was no better.

And by the time it was Nancy’s turn to stuff her belongings into trunks and suitcases, our beautiful luggage was showing the same signs of wear as its owners.

But it wasn’t until recently that we caved in and acknowledged that, yes, it was time to start all over again. And with the innocence of lambs being led to the slaughter, we set off to find another “matched set.”

Little did we know that, in the land of luggage, nothing had stayed the same. Suddenly, there was a language and a culture we entered as lost immigrants.

“May I help you?” asked a young man straight out of a Ralph Lauren ad at our first stop. Indeed, he could.

“We’d like to buy some suitcases,” we said naively. “Maybe two that match.”

Our salesman, sneering slightly now, and talking in the tone usually reserved for challenged learners, indicated that “suitcases” was no longer the term of art.

There were, he intoned, “nested sets,” “trolley duffels,” “garment bags” and “suiter trolleys.” There were even gizmos called “trolley totes.”

But suitcases evidently belonged back in the era of black and white TVs and movies without ratings.

So we were on our journey (such a fine metaphor, after all) to luggage wisdom, with our Ralph Lauren tour guide who clearly knew his “nested sets” from his “trolley totes.”

One hour and fifteen minutes later, my husband was testing zippers and locks on equipment that looked more suited to combat than to recreational travel, and I was playing with recessed handles that would allow me to steer my trolley tote through airports with panache and style.

We were considering materials with names we couldn’t recognize, and learning the exquisitely fine distinctions between “carry-on” and “stow.” That distinction, we understood, could make the critical difference between the all-too-familiar disparity of us landing in Denver, and our bags landing in Dallas.

Finally, we got to the small issue of price. As in “prohibitive,” “unconscionable,” and “unbelievable.”

Suddenly (or was it?), luggage was costing as much as our first trip to Amsterdam. A single piece in the line we decided most reminded us of our wedding gift set had two extra zeroes in it.

It was at that point that we did something awful. We bolted. Promised to give it some thought, and get back to him.

On the way home, we comforted ourselves with the thought that we had no immediate travel plans anyway.

We stopped to console ourselves with ice cream cones. Fortified by that sweet indulgence, we also came to a brilliant insight before we even arrived home:

Now that our kids were world travelers themselves, we could borrow their luggage. We could rely on their impressive comfort with modern culture to figure out precisely which pieces met which product definitions. And given their history, we didn’t have to worry too much about how much abuse that borrowed luggage might suffer.

Turnabout, after all, is fair play! ••

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