This is not a story about my grandfather
by Salena Casha
On July 26, 1956, my grandfather’s suitcase hit a seabed at the bottom of the Atlantic just off the coast of Nantucket. While made of newly flogged leather cinched with brass buckles, it could not withstand the water in which it found itself. The brine soaked into custom-made Italian suits, a violet pocket square, and a black flat cap threaded through with gray. It bloated the pages of an Italian Bible and a book on civil engineering.
All were ruined.
As it lay there amongst the wreckage, the suitcase reflected that it had not been in expected company during either the journey or now. In fact, it had made the immigration upon the SS Andrea Doria alone. Pre-boarded days ahead of departure, it had no knowledge that my grandfather had journeyed to Rome for a final goodbye. At thirty-six, he had given his mother one last kiss and returned to his new wife in Naples.
“I miss mama already,” he told her. “I can’t leave when the ship arrives tomorrow.”
It was an exchange that likely saved his life. A week later, he took a propeller plane to New York.
The suitcase, however, had enjoyed its time apart from Lorenzo. The night that the Swedish-American Liner, the Stockholm, pierced the SS Andrea Doria’s prow and brought it to the deep, the suitcase of Lorenzo pulled together a dress suit of Merino Wool, a hand-troweled leather belt from Milan and a shirt of rose thread interlocked with cream and went up to the deck.
It stood, a ghost in Lorenzo’s clothes, breath mixing with the white steam of turbine exhales. There, it sucked down one of Lorenzo’s last cigarettes and gazed, not out at the silvered waves but longingly up at the white and black verandas of a first class to which it did not belong.
Moments later, the Stockholm’s ice breaker tore through the Andrea Doria’s starboard side, filling cabins with water, stranding eight lifeboats, and killing 46 passengers.
When Lorenzo awoke the morning of the Andrea Doria’s would-be arrival, the magnitude of his loss tasted like burnt American coffee. In the days that followed, he genuflected as he put on the clothes of his uncle, two sizes too big, and the shoes of his neighbor who had suffered polio, one with an added platform, the other without.
For a year, he walked with a limp that wasn’t his.
Sometimes, I’m convinced the currents took the suitcase back to Genoa. That, like my grandfather, it found its way back home through time and circumstance: a mother’s funeral, a fact-finding mission to Pompeii.
Someone will be clamming on the coastline and see the corner of the case clicking against a rock in the summer waters. They will haul the aged thing to shore and a sigh will escape that smells vaguely of cigarette smoke. There on whitened sand, they will spread out my grandfather’s clothes. Fingering the sea-worn slacks, they will wonder whose life they belonged to and how those clothes had lived.
And how they didn’t.
Salena Casha’s work has appeared in over 50 publications in the last decade. Her most recent work can be found on Levitate Magazine, Cerasus Magazine, Funny Pearls, and trampset. She survives New England winters on good beer and black coffee. Follow her on twitter @salaylay_c.
Photograph by alexroz via depositphotos, ID 27856529.