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Trunks, Suitcases, Backpacks and Duffel Bags

The trunk Phyl reconditioned, giving us the idea for this topic.

Phyl: Here's the photo of my fabulous trunk, as promised. It's one of the trunks the family used in travel to India by ship, I'm fairly sure. It was a messy rusty brown when I started refinishing it--was surprised to find all that tin underneath. I thought maybe three days--it took 3 weeks! And during those hot July days. I had it out under the tree in the back yard.


A remnant of Kodai Days

My trunk.

A large army-green trunk with my name and Kodaikanal printed on it in big white letters.
Everything I'd need at school went into this trunk.
All the dresses Mom made, sewing into the early hours of the morning.
All my nighties, underwear, socks, jackets, Sunday shoes.
My worn-out mitt that somehow I'd gotten somewhere, I'm not sure where.
My jacks (several missing) and two small balls.
My doll Connie, with an extra dress and the sweater Phyl had made for her...
...Along with instructions to finish sewing the sleeve on, which never happened...
My Bible, given to me when I was baptized in the King's River at Reedley.
Everything that was mine and only mine, not belonging to any of my siblings.

Now it stands in our basement, too precious to throw away,
Holding clothes our sons wore and toys they played with when they were young,
Also too special to discard.

MY trunk.

Gentry and John with their bookbags; this is how it all starts....!


My special trunk was really a cheap, metal footlocker, the reason being that anywhere or anytime a large family such as ours moves, everyone has to limit what he or she can take along to the new location. So it was a family imperative that anything you wanted or needed personally had to fit into the space of a footlocker.

The essential items went in first. There were some disagreements with Mama about wool underwear being essential or a Grace Livingston Hill novel being more essential than a sweater. Who is to say what is important to take and what can be discarded? One might treasure a doll while another a set of paints. One might find solace in a particular blanket while another would rather have a jacket. Decisions. Decisions. Decisions. How I agonized over parting with things and after all, they were just that: things. Yet these things had come to represent a part of memory and therefore a part of self.

Mother encouraged us to think ahead for the next four to five years. "You will grow up and change," she would warn us. "Pick those things that will be needed when you are a bit taller and more mature." And I would sit daydreaming of the me that was to be. How should I know what changes lay ahead. How tall would I be? Would I still like the color blue? Would these shoes still be in style? It seemed to me to be an impossible psychological demand to have such foresight at age eleven.

It was interesting to observe what was selected by my other siblings and sometimes we cut bargains: you take a red sweater and I will take a tan skirt and we can share them. This was more problematic for me since I was far taller and heavier than my sisters from early on (I always blamed this problem on Grandma J).

The trunk was filled to the brim with not an inch of wasted space. We hunted for that little bit of room that would hold still one more treasure. Finally, the time came when the decisions were final and the footlocker was set for the move. It was hard to let go of the footlocker in one's mind as one continued to wonder if there was something missing.

Each time we moved we left a part of us behind and our trunk became our definition of the past, present, and future. I should write an Ode to the Footlocker, the trunk that defined most of our family.

Carol helping Mary with her duffel bag at camp


I still have my green trunk. It is sitting in the attic and contains baby clothes, pictures, and other items that bring to mind memories of my past and of my children. On the top are still the words Dad painted:

Gwendolyn Hiebert
Kodai Kanal
South India

I still get a thrill out of just looking at those words. I think that was the only place my name, and mine alone, appeared on anything. It also was comforting to know that my Dad knew my name, which I sometimes wasn't sure he did because he would occasionally (when he wanted to have a serious talk with me--usually about my behavior) ask how old I was or what grade I was in.

That trunk contained all my earthly goods during those years in India. Sometimes I left a few things behind at the mission station but to my disappointment, when I returned a year later there was no trace of them. Our clothing, my doll and doll clothes (handmade by me), and whatever else I don't remember went into that trunk. I have asked myself if my grandchildren could fit all of their clothes and toys into such a trunk and the answer of course is, "Absolutely not!!" Not even their toys alone would fit. Did we have to include our blankets in that trunk? I don't remember.

I do remember that when we went to India the last time the trunk was full of beautiful clothing, all new, that the ladies in the Mt. Lake church had sewn for us. I was so anxious to take them out and wear them -- the wool plaid skirt and blouse was one--but, to my horror, Miss Erickson grabbed half of them and put them in the attic telling me that I didn't need all those clothes!

When we went home for the holidays from Kodai, we wrestled with those trunks, getting them on the trains and off again. Then we spent the holidays sewing new clothes for the next year. I still have dreams where it is time to leave for Kodai and I find that I have not, in fact, sewn very many clothes (although I thought I had worked hard making scads of them) and I get to school and don't have enough skirts or matching blouses. All that sewing is another story in itself.

One item in my trunk is my old backpack. It is navy blue. When I needed a backpack for hiking, Mom and Dad were contacted to see if they would purchase one of those that the school had had made for such a purpose. Again, I was surprised that they cared enough to ok this transaction as I would never had even asked for so much as a postage stamp. That backpack was my life-line through all those many treks through the mountains. That pack was so many times filled with sandwiches, fruit, cookies and, of course, no potato chips. What happened to the trusty canteen that went with it? The hiking, again, is another story.

What memories that trunk and backpack bring back! The trunk brings back some pleasant memories but also the painful reiminder of the times we had to leave our home to go so far away to school, an experience so difficult for me that I swore never to allow my children to have those feelings. The backpack brings only wonderful memories because it is a symbol of the times we left school--which I absolutely hated with my whole being--and went hiking and camping in the forests. (Isn't it ironic that I have spent my entire career in schools?)

One other memory I have is of a small brown briefcase size carrying case in which I kept my doll clothes. I spent my free time at Kodai sewing doll clothes - by hand, of course, because I had no sewing machine. I remember the purple pajamas, dresses, and an evening gown, underclothes, etc. I made my own patterns and scrounged material for these projects. I remember having to beg Grandma Jungas for about a week before she would relent and give me a few figured flour sacks that I could make into doll clothes. I even had a ball of green rick-rack about 5 inches in diameter that I persuaded her to give me. Anyway, I toted that brown case back and forth to Kodai but when we came to America it got left behind with so many other things. I still have the doll and she is dressed in a flour-sack dress I made way back then.


My favorite piece of "luggage" is actually a faithful old backpack.

It might not look like much when you see it hanging from the wall in my work room, but this backpack and I have had some memorable adventures among the mountain ranges of the world.

I acquired it back in the late 80's, and it has served me faithfully on many climbing trips in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado as well as high-altitude climbs in both South America and Africa.

This pack (and the owner stooped beneath its weight) has weathered situations from the soggy rainforests surrounding Mt. Kilimanjaro:

to the snowy slopes of 20,000 ft. volcanoes:

Unfortunately this pack had an unintended break during much of the 90's as I struggled to overcome a long bout of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

Still, I left it hanging on the wall during that time as both a reminder of past adventures in the wilderness, and as an incentive to recover and enjoy future hikes with it.

It was finally in the summer of 2001 that this trusty old pack was able to get off the wall and onto my back again for a several-day hiking trip through the Rocky Mountain backcountry that I love so much.

Although this hike turned out to be a cold, soggy, muddy affair of trying to stay warm (mostly successful) and dry (not very successful) in the Colorado backcountry, both the pack and I were happy to be back among the mountains where we belong:

Over the years this faithful pack has begun to wear out in places, with faded fabric, a few loose straps, and a couple holes poked through by rocks or equipment. It has the general disheveled look of something that has spent too much time out in the sun, rain, wind and snow.

In other words, over the years it has come to resemble its owner.

But I do like to think that this old pack and I have a few more adventures ahead of us together...


Paul remembers the days of packing everything up at the end of school years at Kodai. He said he would begin packing days in advance, putting things in neatly and making sure that he had gotten everything in. Don Muyskens, on the other hand, would wait until it was almost time for the bus, then take one drawer at a time, turn it over and empty it into his trunk. When he had finished dumping his things in the trunk, he'd call for his friends to come help him. They'd all sit on the lid of the trunk to weight it down while he would try to force the latches closed. Finally he'd manage, and off to the bus he'd go. Paul was impressed.


Being as I was only a little person when we travelled to and from India, I didn't have a trunk of my own that I remember. I do remember huge "missionary barrels" with clothing and back issues of Reader's Digest. They seemed massive and no-nonsense to me, as did the metal trunks we carted around. I mostly remember them from their eventual resting place in the basement of the Hillsboro home. It was one of my favorite things to do--slip down into the basement cool dampness and open up one of the huge trunks and rummage through it. I don't remember what was in them, but I remember a feeling of mysteriousness and nostalgia looking through items. I loved the tray-like part on the top that lifted off to reveal treasures beneath.

My favorite travel accessory has to be my oversize "fanny pack." Black, plain, waterproofed nylon. Large central compartment with roomy saddle-bag type compartments on the side and a hidden zipper compartment on the back side. This item perhaps suits me best because I love to travel light--part of my free-spiritedness? It took me around India when Mom, Phyll, Elmer and I visited back in the 80's. It was my standard luggage for my many long, long Greyhound bus trips out west and back, or up north and back. I once gave a Toastmasters speech about "riding the dog" (greyhound), with this fanny pack as my main prop. It was my "humorous" speech (#4 on the required list of prepared speeches), and it did elicit lots of laughter. I explained that travel by bus required a different costume and baggage than air or train travel. Dress down, I said, to fit in. Carry everything close to your person. Be prepared for anything and expect the unexpected. The contents: bus tickets, identification, money, pen, paper, map of the US, paperback, Dramamine (to help getting to sleep sitting up 4th night in a row), half-roll of toilet paper, small washcloth, shampoo, toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, extra pair of underpants, sunglasses, small radio-cassette player and a book on tape plus 2-3 music tapes, Kleenex, Wet Wipes, package of hard candy, some granola bars or package of cashews, chapstick, lipstick, comb, nail clipper (not allowed on planes these days!), list of important phone numbers, phone card, and probably some other things I have forgotten. YES, it DID all fit in that fanny pack!! Weighed about 20 lbs but I didn't need to rely on my baggage following me to my destination (which it seldom did). I was quite self-sufficient for survival at least 5 days without anything else but my fanny pack. It is stored in a place of honor in my closet, ready for the next adventure.

Travel light...that feels best for me. When Brian and I went to Europe for 2 weeks last summer, all I took was a small carry-on with wheels and handle. (And handbag of some kind). I didn't even use half of what I took, at that. When we went through customs leaving England, the checkout person asked me with great suspicion if that was all the baggage I had. She really didn't want to believe me when I said "Yes, I travel light." I spent a month in Guatemala with only a backpack, though I came back with several local-made duffels stuffed with material, carved things, masks, souveniers. Travel to the Guatemala orphanage was another story. Michael and I arrived with 5 humongous suitcases packed with toys, medicines, medical supplies, books, cosmetic samples, and so forth. Came back home with only a small suitcase apiece.

Brian and I travel to Hawaii in April. Guess it's time to bring out the fanny pack.


Another staff and I have started up a climbing club and have taken a few students out every other weekend or so. This weekend after we climbed we went looking for another spot to try out next week and I took some photos while we were there. We were pretty near the Kodai Christian College and Kodai Christian School. I've attached them in case you want to use them. No stories about bags. I thought and I thought and nothing happened. (Editor's Note: that happens to all of us Great Writers from time to time, Nikhil....)


Hills near Kodai Christian College