Please Be Sure to Secure the Overhead Compartment

Madame Tutli Putli

I think I’ve figured out why my new digs feel so crowded. Besides the obvious reasons associated with adding a fifth person to a household of four, of course. I think perhaps I may have too much baggage.

While some people show up with a smart little bag on wheels I have two steamer trunks, ten hat boxes, and three large suitcases. I don’t think I realized how much stuff I had until I tried to fit it into someone else’s space.  Stacking each piece up, one after the other, realizing that nobody else had arrived with so much, is getting to be a little embarrassing. It just doesn’t fit. I always thought it meant I was prepared for everything, but as it turns out, a handy all-purpose something or other that is more neat and compact would have been a better choice.

Now I’m standing at the station, surrounded by cedar-smelling, leather-trimmed boxes. I’m sifting through piles of soft unmentionables, awkward, cumbersome mementos, stacks of crumpled old letters, strange-smelling warm things, and some old, tattered, unflattering bits that haven’t fit me for years. I don’t know what to keep and what to leave behind.

A lovely woman is at my side. She means well, but has no more a clue than I about what is valuable. She knows which pieces bring out the colour of my eyes, and which garments are cut to fit me best, but she also understands the value of sentimentality in moments such as these.

A man gazes from his seat, out the window. His expression is drawn, and tired. I can’t tell what he’s thinking, but I think it’s safe to say he’d like to get going, and he’s wondering if the train is going to wait much longer. He buries his nose in the paper and tries to distract himself from my frantic rummaging.

When I was eight, I was almost left behind on a VIA train platform in Quebec. My family had been to visit my aunt, and when we boarded our ride home, my Nana and I got separated and ended up in a separate car. Rather than patiently wait for the conductor to open the connecting doors and let us pass through to meet my mom and dad, my Nana insisted I get off the train and run around to get on their car. I’m still not sure why she did this, though part of me believes she might have been trying to get rid of me.

As soon as I hopped off the train, the doors slid shut, the bells started dinging, and the train began to slowly pull away. White, cold panic spread through my little body, and I began to run, and cry. My mom freaked out, and someone must have hit the emergency alarm, because the train screamed to a halt, and the doors popped open again. My father ran out and scooped me up into his big strong arms, carrying me on board to my tearful mother. I don’t remember much else, except that the conductor let my Nana through, my mother was furious, and my Nana called me a “baby” for crying. My mom didn’t have much to say to her for the rest of the ride.

I don’t want the train to leave without me. I’m purging and re-packing just as fast as I can, but there is a vast collection of stuff here – years of hoarding, in fact. Maybe the trip will be easier if I stay behind and look forward to post cards.




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  1. Sarah
    November 26, 2009 / 8:04 pm

    To borrow from the wise Lilo:

    ‘Ohana means family. Family means no one is left behind – or forgotten.’

    We are Ohana.

    Perhaps your Nana went through her life without an understanding or acceptance of this concept but she gave your mom and dad an opportunity to show it to you.


  2. Mom
    November 27, 2009 / 5:36 pm

    Oh my goodness. Reading what you wrote about Nana leaving you on the tracks just made me shiver and tear up again. I can still see you standing there on your own and your Dad and I unable to reach you. That had to be one of the scariest moments of my life. Thank God they stopped that train or I think I probably would have broken a window and jumped out to get to you. Poor Nana went white when she realized what she had done. Things happen in our childhood sometimes that we carry with us all our lives, but they also hopefully make us wiser.