Thursday, November 3, 2011

Just In Case

There are millions of distinctive qualities that make my mother such a special, beautiful person, both inside and out. The only quality, however, that made her such a favorite target of the Homeland Security customs officers, however, was her choice of suitcase.

Huge and black, with wheels and a heavy-duty metal handle, that suitcase as I remember it could have easily fit a small child...and judging by the way customs targeted and searched through that thing, that was exactly what they were expecting to find.

Whenever we traveled abroad, Dad's rule for Hanna, Max, Alex, and I was "Whatever you bring, you carry." Instead of the intended effect, lighter and more careful packing, this usually meant we carried about half our things in our small bags and the overflow went into Mom's car trunk of a suitcase. No room for both a heavier and a lighter jacket? No worries, Mom had room. Things packed so tightly there's no room for souvenirs? No worries, Mom had room. Snacks, books, stuffed animals, video games, rolls of toilet paper? No worries, Mom had room. As a result, Mom's suitcase became a "just-in-case." So carefully packed before we left Kansas City, on the return journey it would be stuffed so full it would be misshapen and practically bursting at the seams, groaning along awkwardly on unsteady wheels, and letting off the occasional clank or gurgle as things shifted in its depths. Every time she passed through customs, she was pulled over for searching. And every time they searched her, she'd get that vaguely embarrassed expression that all moms get when caught indulging their children in some kind of unnecessary luxury.

I hate to admit it, but Dad was right. As a result of that indulgence, I've never really learned how to pack. Instead of bringing along what I know I'll need, I bring along everything I think I might need - a "just-in-case" I'm now forced to carry. Packing for the beach house is a prime example. What I wear when I'm there in the summer, historically, is two swimsuits (one to wear while the other dries - I hate putting on wet suits), two pairs of shorts, two shirts, flip flops, running shoes, and a couple running outfits. I've never once needed a jacket, jeans, heels, or anything dressy...but the packing monster insists on planning for every contingency, like snow on Dauphin Island in July or a black tie event at the Oar House, purveyor of fine fried food, beer, and Alabama football. We even have a washer/dryer there and a closet filled with things like jackets and extra sweatshirts...but still, I persist...just in case.

So here I am on the eve of my flight to New York facing an empty suitcase with a brain full of running-related what-ifs, and I have a feeling this is going to make for a very heavy suitcase to haul around for four hours - we land around 11ish and don't check in until 3. I know what I need and don't need...but I also know I can't really just buy whatever I might forget. Going to the beach in a new swimsuit is one thing, running a marathon in a new shirt or shoes is a totally different, different-bad. At least I don't have that many contingencies to plan for, weather-wise - the forecast looks absolutely beautiful for marathon running and I know exactly what I'm going to wear race-day: purple Alzheimer's Association singlet, black Under-Armour shorts, fluorescent yellow compression sleeves, black armwarmers, light gloves, and the turquoise/silver/white Mizuno Wave Runners. (If you're looking for me during the race, that's my outfit!) And we're carrying on, so I don't have to worry about losing luggage. If I didn't have to worry about the size of my bag, though, I'd totally be in the attic right now looking for that black monstrosity of a suitcase. Assuming that thing still zips, of course.

As for the rest of my day, Mom never went on a trip without first cleaning the house from top to bottom - something that annoyed me to no end when I was a kid. "Why are we cleaning?" I'd ask. "No one's going to be here!"

"What if the house burned down or we were robbed?" she'd ask. "Someone might have to come in here and I don't want them seeing a messy house. You know, just in case."

"If it burned down, what would it matter? And who cleans for burglars?"

"JUST. DO. IT." And then she'd give me a look that would send me scurrying off to my room to pick things up off a floor no one would see.

She was right, though. No one would see it, but it was nice coming home to a clean house. So I'll do it too...just in case.