Friday, September 25, 2009

Personal packing

Packing for a trip home, I am realizing, is as personal as the way you walk, or the way you whistle. It's as individual as the color you paint your living room, or what you take in your coffee.

My best friend has her father's packing gene. They pack a car the way they load a dishwasher: Everything fits like books on a shelf, like pieces into a jigsaw puzzle. One item out of place can cause the entire car to be repacked, the entire dishwasher reloaded.

In July, I went to Minnesota with my friend Laura and her family, and stayed in the cabins they rent every summer. They have been going there for so long that they have their own storage shed for items like blankets, barbecue grills, cans to hold gasoline for their boat.

The day before we left, Laura went into packing mode. She turned her sadness at leaving into efficiency: Into boxes went pillows and blankets, spices and life jackets. Into the truck went those boxes, and then to the storage facility. Three trips, three truckloads of stuff.

Hers is a choreography of sorts, one with grace and timing that grows more perfect each year. Though I did whatever she asked me, I also inherently understood that I was basically in the way. So I stood by and watched, mesmerized; half-smiling and clumsy, as I have done all too often on any number of dance floors.

As I write this, I'm in the final hours of my trip to Santa Fe. David and Jennifer, the dear friends who asked me to share their vacation, drove here; I flew in a few days later. We spent today, our last, in town, buying more in an afternoon than we had the entire week.

My friends' purchases included some really beautiful pieces of art. Shopkeepers swaddled each in tissue and bubble wrap, protecting the pieces and, at the same time, putting minds at ease that everything will be safe for the journey home.

We're leaving early tomorrow -- me in the air, they on the road -- so packing has begun. Not in earnest, and not in the stylized way of my best friend and of Laura.

I tossed a few things into my suitcase and gathered my dirty clothes into a pile. Dave and Jennifer carried their tenderly wrapped purchases to the truck, gently nestled them in, and then came back in the house. We're now all reading, working the crossword puzzle, and trying to decide what to have for dinner.

I like this sporadic method just fine. Last days of trips tend to make me sad, so the less I'm aware of packing (and thus, the end), the more settled and serene I feel.

In an hour or so, I'll put everything into my suitcase except what I'm going to wear tomorrow. If you looked inside, you'd see neither neither a jigsaw puzzle of order, nor a dance card filled. Yet it is mine. It is my walk, my whistle, the color of my living room and a cup of black coffee.

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