Steamer Trunk

June 15, 2019

Saturday of the Tenth Week in Ordinary Time; Province Jubilee Celebration

One of the great things about intergenerational living is the opportunity to learn informally about the parts of history that don’t make it into most books. When I was younger, I was most interested in the great world-shaking events but at this point in my life, I am more curious about how people lived at different times and in different contexts (even today). Even though I have no desire to return to Downton Abbey this September, what I enjoyed most when watching the series initially was seeing characters adjust to new technologies such as the telephone as time marched on. Even after nearly 11 years of being around the Marist Brothers’ Center at Esopus, I still enjoy thinking about and explaining to visitors how the ice house was used for refrigeration in the summer sans electrical connection. Of course, it is easier to enjoy imagining this than living it; those who had to hack chunks of ice out of the frozen pond and haul them up into storage weren’t doing so for fun and probably rejoiced when this task was made obsolete.

Today is a great day to think in terms of historical perspective; each year on the day before Father’s Day, the Marist Brothers in the USA recognize those among us celebrating significant anniversaries. In the language of religious life, we refer to this as a Jubilee celebration. This year’s jubilarians include twelve Marist Brothers who are celebrating 60 years in this life, along with 98-year old Bro. Joe Teston, the oldest of our guys in the USA, who is celebrating 80 years as a Marist Brother. Some of the changes that have occurred throughout these decades were the result of deliberate reform, and some snuck up on us with changing technology. Regardless, much has changed.

Like my example of the ice house, many of the archetypal elements of religious life that have fallen by the wayside are undoubtedly more fun to think about (if even that) than they were to live… great silence, chapters of faults, etc. While I’m not sure I have found any of our guys to be nostalgic about these elements, several are at least able to laugh about their earlier practices good-naturedly.

I am particularly captivated by the usage of the old steamer trunks (stock photo provided below for those who need one). Each brother had to be able to fit all of his personal items into one such trunk at the end of each year. The very practical reason for this is that while the brothers were away on their summer retreat, each trunk would be shipped to a new location or left put, depending on its owner’s assignment for the next year. He would only find out where his trunk was at the end of the retreat, and that is where he would go.

While I am unambiguously glad that we have a more significant voice in our assignments these days, as I was packing up my items to move from Lawrence, MA back to the Bronx, I found myself missing the concept of the old steamer trunk. Again, this may be an example of something that is easier to miss because I never experienced it. Nevertheless, even though I don’t tend to accumulate as many items as some other people, I still feel sometimes like I have more than I need or want. That doesn’t mean though that I necessarily have the discipline to do a significant purge of my belongings on a regular basis. Changing my address provides some opportunity to pare down, but I am still not the “one trunk monk” that some of our elder brothers once were.

When I think of how little I really need though, I ask myself why not.


This week’s “Ear Candy” was a surprise for me. I thought of the song pretty quickly given my thoughts on packing and moving, but I had always associated “Leaving on a Jet Plane” with Peter Paul and Mary who made it famous, not realizing that John Denver wrote it. For your listening pleasure is a rendition by the composer. This week’s “Brain Food” may be disappointingly faddish, but as I thought about what becoming a one trunk monk would mean for me, I had to go to the trending Marie Kondo. Provided here is an article that introduces her method of simplification.

Ear Candy: “Leaving on a Jet Plane” by John Denver

Brain Food: “What Is the KonMari Method?” by Johnna Kaplan

Come back next Saturday for a new post!