The Suitcase

IT was snowing heavily, and I felt like a walk. Perhaps the snow was daring me to come outside, and I was in the mood to take up a dare. Perhaps something of my childhood delight in snow awoke in me. My shoes offered no resistance to my galoshes, nor did my clothes to my long, quilt-lined winter coat, my head to my woolly watch cap, and my hands to my gloves. Standing before the mirror, I took stock of myself. I looked like a snow-prepared wanderer in full flush, mindful of danger yet eager to wander again. Just as I was going out the door I remembered the books, a dozen or so of them that I had long been meaning to take to the synagogue, for the library there. They were books that I had read but did not want to keep, books that had done all they could for me and now were ready to do the same for others. I gathered them up, packed them in a little suitcase, and set forth.

Darkness had fallen. Day had ended, and night begun, letting it be known that their stately alternation was not to be flustered by anything as flighty as snow. Thousands and thousands of flakes, tiny as tiddlywinks, were tumbling down, turning the world white and dreamlike.

It felt good to sink my galoshes into the soundless stuff, my breath doing misty somersaults on the air. Occasionally I reached over with my free hand and brushed a bunch of snow off leaves on the drooping branch of a bush. Up sprang the branch, bobbing and cavorting like a little horse.

I shifted the suitcase from my tired arm to my fresh one. How many times had I seen my father do that when I was a child and he a young man going to graduate school. Wanting means for something fancier, he had carried his many books in this very suitcase. Not only to relieve an arm did he frequently shift the weight of the suitcase, but, as he said, ``to keep myself from becoming permanently lopsided.'' And he added, with a mock-sententious, a playful-Solomon smile, ``We must never allow our burdens to alter our uprightness, David.''

On the first journey I ever took all by myself, my first solo, my father lent me this suitcase. He even helped me pack it. Though on the outside it looked small - only 2 feet by 2 feet of soft brown leather - it was deep and roomy on the inside, where a mulberry-colored lining gave off welcome and cheer. We managed to put in all my favorite trousers, shirts, socks, and even my football. My father walked with me to the train station that morning, carrying the suitcase by its fleece-lined handle. If you peered closely at the leather you could see parts where it had been mended and remended over the years. My father was very proud of it. It had belonged originally to his great-grandfather, who had brought it to America full of all his worldly and unworldly goods. Down a steady line of sons it had passed, like a kind of rugged keepsake. Someday it would be mine.

The sky over the station platform that morning was dark and heavy, swelling with rain. I hoped the train would come before the sky burst, because I was going to see my favorite cousin and had spruced up my clothes.

My father stood looking down at me, smiling his tall smile. He loved me deeply, and was always very good to me, but he was not a demonstrative man. When he'd been the one to go on a journey, we'd always said good-bye just by shaking hands.

THIS time was different. When the train came and the ``all aboard,'' he handed me the suitcase, making sure I had a firm grip on it. Then he leaned down and embraced me, squeezed me tight, and kissed me on the head.

A few minutes later, as the train pulled away and we waved at each other through the window, I saw that his eyes were glistening, as if two big raindrops had fallen on him alone. For a moment I thought maybe he was sad to see his suitcase go and I had a vision of him teetering under a stack of books, like a tired waiter with too many plates piled on top of one another. But then I understood it was myself, his son, he was sad to see go. I was, after all, growing up, wasn't I? And someday I would be leaving home and going my own way.

A voice of snowy exclamation recalled me from this reverie. It was my rabbi. He was just about to lock up the synagogue when he spotted me. ``So, David,'' he said, nodding at the suitcase, ``you're going somewhere, and in such weather?''

Little did he know that the suitcase and I had made my first historic journey together. I went over to the protection of the eaves, set the suitcase down, and opened it. ``Books, rabbi,'' I said proudly. ``I've brought you books.'' I told him that my father had once carried books in that very suitcase, and now I had, too. Picking up a book, a particularly big one, the rabbi sighed and said, ``There are already so many books in our library.'' My heart started to fall, but then I looked at his eyes and saw from the grateful mischief there that he was only teasing me.

``However, for such books,'' he said, gently putting the big one back, ``and carried in your father's suitcase, well, the books on our shelves will just have to press even more closely together, and make room.''

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