Two decades or so ago, my mother told me a story about one particular afternoon meeting of the neighborhood book club, which Mother had founded. During their active child-raising years in the 50s and 60s, the ladies took turns choosing a book and hosting the monthly meetings. That month was Mother’s turn.
She made a special dessert – an ambrosia, pie, cake or whipped cream confection – set up the 30-cup coffee maker then expanded our dining room table with the extra leaves. Mother always used her fine china for these occasions, placing the matching sugar and creamer on the Lazy Susan in the center of the table.
The Round Hill Book Club functioned as an intellectual discussion group and social gathering, the emphasis on the latter as time passed. Although the women dressed like Donna Reed in her TV Show, they made no secret of the fact that their lives were anything but perfect. Over coffee and dessert, they shared their problems with honest intimacy.
That afternoon, one of the ladies said, “Why don’t each of us put our trials and tribulations on the Lazy Susan. We’ll spin it around and take whosever set of troubles we want.”
“We talked about it for a while,” Mother said when telling me this story. We were sitting at that same dining room table. “And we all decided that we’d end up claiming our own baggage.”
“I guess the problems were familiar,” I said, “fitting like a comfortable suit of clothing.”
“That’s right,” Mother said sipping her decaf. “We all had problems, and we didn’t want to start over with a new set.”
Soon after Mother told me that story, I gave a “Baggage Claim” card to a friend of mine. We two women, both of us divorced, had a good laugh. The image showed bewildered-looking men seated on and traveling down an airport luggage ramp onto the carousel. In the cartoon, one woman says to the other, “No, this one’s mine. Yours is coming down the shoot,” or something to that effect.
I imagined a gender-reversed card would have offended – a thought that made me rather ashamed of myself. But that card reminded me of the Lazy Susan day at Mother’s book club. It also crossed my mind that I had an opportunity as a baggage claimer – a card in three frames.
The images in the first frame would be self-portraits: I would be the person riding on the carousel and the one picking up the baggage. The next frame would take place in private, where I could open my baggage and sort things out. In the third and last frame, perhaps packing for another trip, I would have a new suit of better-fitting, tailor-made clothes.
There is an epilogue to this story, which I wrote about here. All the ladies of the Round Hill Book Club donned new suits of clothing. But for fifty years, they met over coffee and shared their joys and concerns in abiding friendship.