My mother, the Precautionary of our family, is also a packing genius. She knows just how to fold clothing and accessories to fit snugly in our various-shaped pieces of luggage. She became an expert at this as a young bride, her husband’s military career only allowing a certain amount of personal stash. She has changed techniques as soft-sided satchels and bags have replaced steamer trunks, hard-sided suitcases and overnight bags of yesteryear, but everything still has perfected placement.
Mom’s dresser drawers are also proof of her skill. An errant ant couldn’t fit between the meticulously folded piles of undergarments.
“Mom, why don’t you spread your clothes out into these empty drawers?” I once asked.
“That would be a waste of space; besides, those are for Aunt Ethel when she visits!”
Ah, yes, Aunt Ethel. My great-aunt who lived 8 states away. I had met her once a decade before.
“When is she coming?” visions of my cluttered bedroom’s orderliness not up to proper specifications.
“You never know,” Mother sighed, “which is why we must always be prepared.”
She then gave me THE LOOK. (The look that says, ‘What planet did you come from’—which, by the shifting of an eyebrow can change into the OTHER LOOK that says, ‘You haven’t been brought up in a BARN!’)
Mother was the same way when she was preparing food—not just enough to satisfy us, but always a little extra, just in case. In case there was a grieving neighbor, a displaced fellow employee, a church outreach to those less fortunate. One school year during a particularly bad economy, she packed our lunches with double portions to share with any kids who might be hungry.
Going on a short vacation or even an overnighter, Mother taught us to pack for two extra days. It didn’t matter that we had never stayed longer than had been planned and might never do so. It was a standing family joke that one of us would be stranded at an airport or rushed to an emergency room, mother chasing after us off in the distance, waving an extra pair of underwear in the air.
Then there’s the house key issue. Growing up, Mother always had a duplicate house key hidden somewhere on the property in case we couldn’t find our personal key. Of course, the only problem with this was that she changed their hiding places frequently.
“Someone may be watching you retrieve it sometime, so we have to think of different places to put it.”
We weren’t brave enough to admit that on the occasions we needed the spare, we couldn’t remember which place it presently was located, so we had to scamper around the yard, looking in several hiding places, like squirrels looking for their hoarded nuts. If anyone WAS watching us THEN, they would know all places to look, anyway. This we did not suggest to her, not wanting THE LOOK.
As we moved away from home, we were instructed to make sure our parents and siblings had duplicate keys to each others’ homes; never mind that our visits were timed down to the minute because of everyone’s busy schedules and the chance of an unplanned visit (the shortest distance between any of us was 200 miles) was practically nil.
“You never know, guys. What if one of you went on vacation and forgot to put out food for the cat, or a package too large for the mailbox was delivered at your doorstep in the dead of winter?”
The possible calamities never ran out.
Then, there was the car keys debacle. One time, in ‘ought 5’, Mother dropped her car keys in a snow bank and was marooned at the side of the road for hours (this being before the convenience of cell phones). Hence, we were destined to have an extra car key hidden behind the license plate or attached somewhere under our cars’ carriages.
Recently, Mother decided to go and visit Aunt Ethel (since it was obvious Auntie needed to be reminded how important it was to share dresser drawers). Not trusting the airlines, she was driving. Her baggage required a car-top carrier, making her little car resemble a one-humped camel.
“But, darlings, as long as I’m already going, I should take the Christmas presents for that side of the family!”
“Mom, it’s May, for goodness sakes!” rolling my eyes heavenward with THE LOOK.
The look that says, “I could use that extra dose of patience about now, Lord.”
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