July 16, 2001
Packing à la Grandma


Grandma taught me how to pack a suitcase.

She always started out with a list. Although the camp registrar's office mailed a set of "packing instructions" to all prospective campers, every summer, their list was never complete enough or comprehensive enough for Grandma. So she rewrote the whole thing by hand, in outline form, noting exact quantities/colors/styles needed ("8 prs. white crew socks") ... thinking of stuff the Camp River Ranch staff hadn't thought of ("Extra pillowcase, package of safety pins, salt for gargling") ... adding special items she knew *I* would appreciate ("Rainy day book, colored pencils, small notebook"). Sometimes the list was two or three pages long by the time she was finished.

The suitcase I used for summer camp every year  --  a battered houndstooth Samsonite, as big as the trunk of our Chevrolet  --  was ceremoniously dragged out of the closet and set up in a corner of Grandma's bedroom, two or three weeks before I was due to leave. The packing list was taped to the inner lid of the Samsonite, and as each item was packed -- toothbrush, mosquito repellant, Kodak Instamatic film -- she carefully checked it off the list.

By Camp Day, I was completely ready to go.

The best thing about Grandma's packing system wasn't that it was so astonishingly (and lovingly) organized  ...  or that she started the process so far in advance, thereby eliminating any possibility of oversight or screw-up or last-minute scrambling around  ...  

... or even the fact that I never once arrived at camp without adequate supplies of Coppertone and flash cubes. 

No, the best thing about the system was the absolutely rabid sense of anticipation it fostered in eight- and nine- and ten-year-old Secra. Although my role in the packing process was mostly that of doorway observer/consultant  --  "Would you rather take the blue swimsuit or the other blue swimsuit?"  --  simply watching my suitcase being packed for camp every summer was more thrilling to me than Michael Nesmith, new library books and a Triple X Teen Burger, combined. It said I am going someplace incredibly groovy!

Now that I'm a grown-up, I pack pretty much the same way Grandma did.  With a few minor modifications.

I began compiling our packing list for the wedding three months ago. I went out and bought a purse-sized notebook, which I divided up into sections: Terri's Play Clothes, David's Wedding Stuff, Terri's Toiletries, David's Socks & Underwear, etc. etc. etc. ... one section per page. I carried the notebook around with me absolutely everywhere I went, and whenever I thought of something we were going to need to bring with us  --  David's reading glasses, gifts for the people in our wedding party, my jumbo bottle of quadruple-strength St. John's Wort  --  I grabbed the notebook and jotted it down on the appropriate page. Before long, the list had reached impossibly huge proportions. I had to go through and prune the unnecessary items (motor oil, a dozen eggs, all twenty-seven volumes of Grollier's Encyclopedia of Natural Science) simply because it wouldn't all fit into three puny suitcases. By the time I was done, though, it was an amazingly comprehensive packing list. And since I'd compiled it over a period of weeks, rather than scribbling it all down during a lunch hour, I'd had plenty of time to think of all those odd but critical items that may have been overlooked, otherwise. (Ibuprofen ... David's address book ... a supply of Band Aids, in case I bring the *hurty sandals.*)

I think Grandma would be pleased.

On the other hand, some things about my packing system are different from hers. Due to the cramped living conditions here in The Castle (see: 400 square foot apartment/zero feng shui), I've had to wait until today  --  the first official day of my vacation  --  to begin the packing part of the packing process. An open suitcase parked on the bed or the sofa or the middle of the living room floor of this apartment, for weeks, would be almost as inconvenient and dangerous as ... oh, say, a bicycle parked in the middle of the kitchen.

Then there's this: I'm not merely "observing/consulting" the packing process anymore. I AM the packing process. If I don't do it, it won't get done. Plus I'm packing for two people now ... and one of us wears an athletic supporter.

And finally, I'm able to take advantage of modern conveniences today that Grandma, circa 1968, never even dreamed of: Ziploc Freezer Bags to hold my pantyhose and my bridal headpiece and my *feminine hygiene products* [grrr] ... the travel-size toiletries aisle at Walgreen's ... surfing the Internet for tips on how to transport a wedding dress, wrinkle-free ... little collapsible hairdryers that weigh less than my new wedding ring ... luggage that rolls around on tiny wheels (and -- although smaller in dimension than the old houndstooth Samsonite -- actually holds MORE stuff). 

Packing has gotten a whole lot easier in the 21st Century.

One thing hasn't changed, though, and that's the 'rabid sense of anticipation' that all of this is planning and list-making and packing is fostering in forty-three-year-old Secra. Even after half a lifetime, the sight of an open suitcase still thrills me more than Matt Lauer, a new People Magazine and a large Roundtable Pepperoni Rostadoro, combined.

And it still says I am going someplace incredibly groovy!

But now if you'll excuse me ... this is as much *FootNotes* entry as I'm going to be able to foist on you this morning. It's time to dump out my coffee and switch off the computer and go drag the American Tourister out of the closet.

I have some serious packing to do.

three years ago: the art of grocery-shopping for one

throw a rock