Saturday, January 23, 2010

Campaign Chests and Steamer Trunks

Channeling my grandmothers, for unique reasons, casts brilliant insights as to why no matter where I am visiting, the length of the journey, the season or how many items I remove before zipping ... my bags are both stunning and heavy. And, I want to lighten up. A conundrum, indeed.

Rosie, an adventurer and connoisseur of all things fine - English and American antiques, couturier and classic ladies clothing, Oushaks from Turkey and the finest Italian leather hand picked during her travels abroad - targeted to the carriage trade and instilled within me a love for collecting, a discerning eye and wanderlust.

Grandma Alice, on the other hand, was a most graceful time traveler refined and elegant, purchasing only the finest garments of cashmere and silk, stunning sleek automobiles, luggage from Paris befitting her genteel lifestyle in LaLa Land. Her cucumber and watercress sandwiches and artfully arranged crudites adorned with citrus and avocado slices from the trees in her Hancock Park garden. She inspires my dinner parties still.

So it comes to me naturally. A 1950s child twirling at birthday parties and holiday festivities in patent leather Capezio mary janes with pearl buttons closing the strap delicately across the top of my instep in layers of petticoats puffing hand-smocked dresses embroidery skillfully applied by the ladies of Madeira. Best & Company finery. Caroline and John-John had nothing on Billy and Bobbie's precious brood promenading to celebrations and parties wearing boiled wool chesterfield coats in pastel hues trimmed in velvet. Frame by frame memorialized by the Super 8 my father always seemed to have at the ready. Kodak moments from my prior life.

In the early sixties before sex and drugs and rock & roll shook us by the core and stripped our closets bare leaving only Swedish clogs and Landlubber jeans hanging on the satin hangars of our childhood, we were outfitted twice a year at Town & Country, Grandmother Rosie's classic shop for the 'horse crowd' in Lexington, Kentucky. My beautiful mother in Bonnie Cashin and Dior, her daughters in Lanz, Ladybug and Villagers. Headbands holding back silky long hair matching knee socks with heather wool sweaters and skirts. Etienne Aigner straw creels and Lily of Pulitzer shifts poured out of French armoires and pine etageres and into our Florida-bound suitcases every spring.

Yes. The die was cast. No way I am going to dodge both a penchant for both matching a classically styled French handbags with my crocodile shoes AND packing way too many outfits in my luggage.

Oh how I envied Karen Lack who accompanied her husband and me (his banker) to the U.S. Virgin Islands for a weekend jaunt to conduct due diligence and market assessment for the UHF television station he was considering. Arriving at JFK with only a carry-on, Karen somehow managed to fit an entire coterie of wardrobe changes into a bag that could be placed under the seat or in the overhead compartment with room to spare. In it were sophisticated outfits for a casual lunch in the resort's al fresco dining patio, sunning on the beach, meetings with broadcast executives and even tennis attire and a racquet. Mine, all 45 pounds of it, was stowed deep in the underbelly of the 747. And this was decades before attached wheels became de rigeur. Plus, did I mention both a purse and a carry-on?

I was, and still am, hopeless. Nary a porter in sight, I schlep over-packed bags all over the world. Never wearing more than a few pairs of black pants and some lovely tops. The rest? Ballast. The lesson? Apparently unlearned. Need to rethink packing strategy. This is a must for third world travel. A must.

Cheers, darling grandmothers. Until tomorrow.


  1. You're hitting it squarely on the head. Somewhere between reminiscence and loneliness with an optimistic yearning eye on the future, you're painting a lovely and vivid living portrait. There's a voice here that i want to hear more from, a wonderful conversation started anew with each posting, some connected and some standing apart, touching in their own immediate way. How was the island trip? How was the 85th birthday? Do you still have two gloves? See what you've started? Love, Jon

  2. Stay with me, sweet Jon! You are one of my muses. Love to you and Elin ... from this Steel Magnolia xo