Family Stories: I Pack my Suitcase with…

The famous yellow suitcase!

I Pack my Suitcase with… 

I’ll never forget the time my son and I landed at JFK with over 6 pieces of luggage… just the two of us, plus more bags I was carrying! He never grumbled as we made our way to the shuttle van… laughing all the way as we struggled to carry them. The drivers in New York never complained about our weighty luggage, but the early morning shuttle driver in Georgia taking us to the airport always grumbled “what are you trying to do, bring it all home with you”. We never liked seeing that “one” very overweight grumpy driver at 6 a.m. He never was without a comment, and I bet he doesn’t miss me either!

Just as the title of this story says, I did pretty much pack my suitcase with everything. Remember the old game, “I Pack my Suitcase” that you played as a child? For some reason I felt very compelled to bring many Southern items home with me every year – and I still do today.

Holcomb’s Bar-B-Q

Until I finally learned how to make Bar-B-Q sauce with Mama’s help of devising a recipe, I lugged three gallons of Holcomb’s special sauce home every year on the plane. The legal limit today of carrying liquid on-board is 4 oz! I would surely be arrested today if I tried sneeking that on! After I learned that the TSA allowed you to also bring frozen food on-board, I quickly packed my carry-on suitcase full of frozen BBQ and Brunswick Stew. I never breathed easy until I was past security; they always seemed to open it… probably thought me crazy. I didn’t care what they thought, just as long as my BBQ made it to the plane.

Even though I already had a yard full of mama’s flowers, I still couldn’t resist more plants from her garden… and she expected me to, and always had flowers waiting for me to pack. She rooted hydrangeas for my daughter to bring home one year. I’ve never seen anyone with a green thumb like mama; she could stick a root in the ground anywhere, and presto, roots appeared. Of course there’s a drawback to going anywhere with someone with a green thumb… as everywhere we went, mama couldn’t resist pinching off a piece of whatever she coveted. Sometimes I looked the other way and kept walking … just waiting for the flower police to appear!

Later I began shipping through the post office as the airlines became more strict, and began x-raying all the luggage under the plane. I’m also not in the gardening mode now as I once was, but I enjoyed when hubby dragged out my treasured “Ola” lily and Elephant Ear plants in the summer.  I kept them in pots, as they are more tropical and cannot weather through our winters outside. Sadly both of my plants stopped growing and flowering… no more beautiful blooms.

The Ola Lily at Mama’s house

I recently discovered that mama’s Ola lily is from the Crinum lily family, and considered an heirloom Southern lily. They can only be puchased at special nurseries on-line that continue to grow and reproduce them; you’ll never find them in local nurseries. In searching online, I’ve discovered that they are actually called the milk and wine or confederate lily.

Driving around Georgia, you’ll see the Ola Lily occasionally, but usually only more in the country. We mostly see them around Siloam, and that’s where mama’s plants came from. It’s definitely one of the “pass along plants” – that you only have because someone has shared one with you from their garden. When someone shares a plant with you, feel truly honored – you’ll remember that person always when the plant blooms. I think of my grandmother Ola (McKinley) every time I looked at my lily when it bloomed. I even named it Ola, after her, because no one knew the real name of the plant years ago… and even today, I still call it the Ola Lily.

My favorite Tara House… The Nolan Home

My suitcases in previous years came home packed with Georgia treasures such as… bags of Georgia red clay soil, scooped up from Lumpkin and Greene County, bricks from the home of Granddaddy Bryan and Granddaddy McKinley’s fallen chimneys, bricks that once held up the southern porch of my favorite Tara house… cuttings of country pink roses from the yard of my Civil War 4th-great grandfather’s log cabin across from Cane Creek in Lumpkin County, cast iron frying pans that belonged to my grandmother Ola and my mother. One year I even brought home a 14-inch cast iron frying pan I bought in an antique store; it arrived safe and sound… after its airplane ride!

It was never easy leaving my mother’s house with light suitcases… no matter how hard we tried… it just wasn’t going to happen! Besides all the shopping in our favorite antique stores there, mama always had things she wanted to pack in my suitcase; and no one could say no to Mama! And those Southern antique stores always had “finds” there that I’d never find in Connecticut… and so they had to come with me also!

Besides bringing home antiques, there were other food items that I had to find room for in my suitcase, such as boxes of Luzianne Tea… like I can’t buy tea bags at home, but it makes the best sweet tea! Bags of green peanuts is always a must… have to make boiled peanuts upon returning home. White Lilly flour is another must have every year… which comes in 5-pound bags, and there are often two or three of those packed somewhere in my several suistcases! I just can’t make mama’s southern biscuits without that flour – it’s a must!

And do you know how hard it is to carry loaves of Sunbeam BBQ bread through the airport without squishing? One man evem stopped to ask me why was I carrying so much of that bread – he said he was just curious as to why. It’s another staple I can’t buy here. I contacted Sunbeam about them selling it here, but their answer was, “no one would buy it there.” Boy is he wrong, people in Connecticut love bread… and it was always one of those “asked for things” from my son when he didn’t come. Now my son lives in Florida… and he still can’t buy it there. I guess Sunbeam doesn’t think anyone in Florida will eat it either!

Mama fussing around in her gardens…

From one visit to the next, mama collected things for us… things that “she” thought we might want,,, and expected us to bring home… in our suitcases. The night before leaving mama’s, we began playing the game of… I pack my suitcase with!  We packed, unpacked, and repacked… then weighing the suitcases… only to start asking who had room in theirs, for whatever wasn’t fitting in ours! Then after our suitcases were packed to the brim, here came mama with more things… telling us to just stick them somewhere!

I still remember many of the looks that the check-in-guys gave me before finally tossing my suitcases on the traveling belts, and sending me on my way… I always gave a generous tip when they took my suitcase! I would tell my son, “well I do want my bags to come along for the ride… on our plane!

On one trip, mama had over fourteen new baby dresses and books for me to bring home for the granddaughters, and when I didn’t pack all the books, she seemed disappointed. Granted the dresses didn’t weigh much, but they still took up room!

The extra shopping bags were usually dragged out on our last night… for the hard-to-fit breakables that never made it into the suitcase. I carried them nonchalantly, pretending I’d just purchased gifts at the airport…. and I was never questioned! When I tell you our bags were filled to every nook and cranny – Believe me!

So you can see, besides packing my suitcase with ancestor memories, I also include other strange items like flour, peanuts, bricks, red dirt, plants, BBQ, Brunswick Stew, bread, peach pickles, cast iron pans and whatever goodies I found in the antique stores and hiding around mama’s house; Lots of  goodies always hiding there!

The last time I packed goodies from Mama’s house was in 2021 when we sold the house. Even though I was no longer traveling by plane… we still managed to pack many suitcases and bags with the last goodies salvaged from Mama’s house. While I knew there were many things I shouldn’t be bringing home, I just wasn’t ready to let go of many of Mama’s treasures just yet. There was nothing there worth big bucks, but they held dear memories to me.

Mama’s biggest treasures was always her jewelry and clothes… and I always promised her that I wouldn’t throw them away… and I didn’t. I packed all her jewelry to bring home… hoping to make a craft with them oneday, but haven’t come up with just the right “idea” yet. She always said, “buy a big jar and put them all in.” That would take a really “Big” jar! Jewelry and clothes were her favorite possessions, and I even brought some of her clothes home for sewing projects down the road. I better get busy!

What do I pack in my coming home suitcase today… still the White Lily Flour, and BBQ if we are anywhere near Holcomb’s in Greensboro.

 “So, What do you pack in your suitcase?”

To read more Family Stories, click HERE.

© 2023, copyright Jeanne Bryan Insalaco; all rights reserved


About Jeanne Bryan Insalaco

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5 Responses to Family Stories: I Pack my Suitcase with…

  1. Eilene Lyon says:

    Can you imagine what they would charge you today to put all that on a plane?! I do like the ring of “Ola lily” and think that should be it’s official name. Your mother did have a green thumb, for sure!!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Seriously! This post reminded me of the times we went on our annual vacation to my parents’ and both ways we had to sit on the suitcases to lock them in! 😄😄😄

    Liked by 1 person

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