Cabin trunks which are sometimes called "true" steamer trunks, were today's equivalent of carry-on luggage. They were low-profiled and small enough to fit under the berths of trains or in the cabin of a steamer, hence their name. Most were built with flat-tops and had inner tray compartments to store the owner's valuables deemed too precious to keep stowed away in the main luggage train or berth.
My grandmother and her sisters used to tell me the best stories of their lives growing up in the Northwest. Their father was an executive with a shipping company, and each sister had a chance to take these incredible journeys on the ships he was in charge of. The old photographs show these grand images of laughing groups of men and women, all in formal attire.
Spending time with my grandmother and her sisters meant that, besides hearing exciting stories, I might also have a chance to open their old steamer trunks. One never knew what you would find inside their trunks, or what new story you might hear. These experiences certainly fed my dreamy imagination as a child.
My grandmother had her leather grip packed with photos and her belongings, until the day she passed away. When she visited us, it was so exciting to sit on her bed and watch her unlace the straps and then smell the inside lining as she opened her grip. This name she used for her suitcase, itself was straight out of a Humphrey Bogart movie for me. It spoke to my sense of romance and adventure, and the hours of old black and white movies I used to watch.
A little dust never stopped me from pulling out a feather fan snapping it open and asking, sometimes demanding, to hear its history. I was sure to learn about a party on their way to 1920’s Japan, or an excursion to the Philippines. Hearing how my great grandfather managed his finances and his daughters’ families through the Depression makes me very proud.
Inside one of those trunks were letters, dictated to my great grandfather’s male secretary who accompanied him on his travels, written on hotel stationary describing his immediate work but also detailing his expectations from his girls and their financial need for the year. They each had to submit a list of their expenses and he’d go through them, even while he was traveling on business trips.
These stories gave me a love of family history and for travel. In my dreams, without the 3-1-1 TSA restrictions and full body x-ray scans, travel would include a worn leather grip and a handmade Louis Vuitton trunk. I did say dreams right?