Thursday, May 21, 2009

Packing the Car



The classic summer story: mid-June 1979, a turquoise Pontiac Catalina with white vinyl interior waiting patiently, quietly overheating in the hot sun, trunk open to be filled, at the fire hydrant on a corner in Brooklyn.

Father sweating and shouting and banging luggage down the stairs, mother standing guard against ever-advancing meter maids wielding ticket pads, two little girls flittering, racketing, and generally getting in the way.

Finally, the car is packed. It is packed. To the gunwales, the trunk filled to bursting, and besides that every last nook and cranny crammed full. Of what? Children; various pets; a cello, two violins, a flute; art supplies; clothes; toys; journals; books to be read; for several summers my mother's dissertation notes, her typewriter, her manuscript; special pillows; an elaborate lunch of fried chicken, or egg-and-caviar sandwiches, or cold hamburgers.

We did not travel light.

When I think of all those summer vacations in the Adirondacks, I always think first of the packing and unpacking of the car. The dread, the heat, the horror. The anticipation, the fussing, the aching muscles. Things forgotten and turned-around-for. The unnecessary things packed and transported but left, all summer long, in a dark corner of the cavernous trunk.

Arriving and unpacking. Already thinking two months ahead to the end of summer and the inevitable re-packing.

Summer vacation, as a little girl, was framed by these packing episodes. We were seized with a madness of Mustn't Leave Behind. A desperate shoring-up of familiar objects against change. Every eventuality, seen and unforeseen, must be provided for.

There would be no badminton game without a birdy, no quiet moment without a comic book, no summer cold endured without the grape-flavored Dimetap, no scenic view confronted without pastels and sketch pad. Never would we be caught unprepared!

*"Pontiac Muscle" by Mike Mertz, from Flickr Creative Commons

46 comments:

The Clever Pup said...

Nice story. I can smell the car.

nick said...

Oh, I'm an early bird again....

My father in law was exactly like that. He'd spend days packing the car for a week's holiday, with every conceivable thing he might need - plus the kitchen sink. Drove MIL completely batty. Needless to say, he only used a fraction of the stuff he hauled around. Me, I've always travelled light - if in doubt, leave it out. It hasn't failed me yet.

Old Knudsen said...

A very American tale I don't think I have anything to compare with it.

Ronda Laveen said...

It is so true. We go on vacation to get away from it all but, somehow, can't let go and leav it behind. A nice family memory, albiet flavored with loading and unloading trauma. Does packing and unpacking bother you to this day?

Anonymous said...

Okay so I have a visceral memory of the adventure of making the trip North with you guys at the beginning of one of those summers. Hardboiled eggs with caviar (had your aunt had a party the night before?) splitting the back half of the seat with you and your sister uncomfortably but entertainingly. A pile of stuff on the other side that rose to the headliner. We played a game your dad invented where we spotted dead things on the road and then sorted them between dead "animate" objects (oxymoron?) like possums and dead "inanimate" objects like shoes. Something flew off the top of the pile and out the window and we had a car-wide panic attack thinking it *might* have been some dissertation-related notes. So much fun! Thanks for taking me along.

A

Ronda Laveen said...

I meant "leave."

Mr. Shife said...

What a great summer memory. I certainly miss those summers when you didn't have any responsibilities except being home before the sun went down. Thanks for sharing.

Brian Miller said...

great post! i feel the tension of the unpacking and packing and anticipation there of...sounds like some boy scout blood beats in those hearts...always be prepared.

Baino said...

Beautifully written Leah, very visual. We used to do the same with the addition of a large dog on the back seat!

Candie Bracci said...

Hi,great post Leah!:)

Sandra Leigh said...

I used to know a woman who would pack winter clothes for a summer holiday (and vice versa) - just in case. Also a battery-powered bedside lamp, because wherever she was going, they might not have lamps.....She was a barrel of fun. I think it was knowing her that started me on my path toward traveling light.

Cece said...

I remember our trips to Michigan. Only we would throw a matress in the back of a Datsun 210 pickup truck with a campershell, most of our clothes were in trashbags, cause we didn't have real luggage, and we would add lots of blankets and pillows. My sister and I would stay up all night the night before we left on our trip so that we could sleep most of the 13 hour drive north. My dad would get us loaded up and we would usually leave 4am early for the trip. We always stopped at a Hen House in Illinos for breakfast, and usually hit a Wendy's or what ever around dinner time. If my sister or I felt the urge to pee, we would start banging on the back glass in attempts to get my parents attention. They did not have sliding glass windows, so once we did get their attention, we would have to use sign language to communicate. My Dad hated stopping until he needed to. But the summers in Michigan were wonderful, and I can't wait to get back.

Jaime said...

packing! the most stressful part of every trip.

savannah said...

too funny, sugar! i have to ask the coconut krewe what they remember of road trips v airplanes. when i was a kid we never took road trips - it was by train or plane. i do remember living in frisco with just the 3 boys & the MITM. he was down in la and i decided to load the van up and drive down. i put my jammie clad sons in the back of the van with blankets and pillows and left the house at midnight! i'm pretty certain i packed some clothes. ;) xoxox

kylie said...

we always went away for two weeks, to the same place, rental up the coast. we didnt have a huge car but the boot would be chockers and us kids had to carry all the stuff up the stairs when we got there. i always seemed to take the iron. why did we take an iron? and why did we take cleaning stuff for mum to clean the shower when we arrived?

i still loathe unpacking.

this was great leah

Megan said...

You write so well. I can see the whole thing in my mind's eye.

My cousin starts the packing for the annual camping trip by lining the entire bed of his truck with beer...

just bob said...

Ah... summer in the mountains. I never got to experience one as a child, but as a grown up visiting friends near Mt. Snow in Vermont. Lots of ponds, and swimming, and mosquitoes, and my first experience using an outhouse. No TV, scratchy radio barely picking up the Red Sox through the static, and sitting on the porch drinking beer and listening to stories of bygone days.

Kris said...

My father's car had vinyl seats that would burn your legs when you sat on them in summer.

Marianna said...

We were kinda like that, only with food (food is important for us Greeks:). Imagine that...

Great post! Thanks for sharing lol
xoxo

Emerson Marks said...

Bloody Hell! Packing all that gear would do my head in. I always pack light. The clothes on my back, a couple of spare pairs of scampers, passport and a toothbrush and off we go.

Leah said...

Clever Pup--hahah! You just made me laugh. Alas, I too can smell the car...

nick--That kind of packing can be traumatic. Over the years, I've learned to pack, well, let's just say lighter...you're right, you can never go wrong with packing lighter.

Old K--it is very American, I agree. That huge car, even the fried chicken. Oof.

Ronda--packing and unpacking is still very stressful for me. But I try to let go as much as possible (which is relative, you know--I'm a recovering over-packer!).

Leah said...

Allison--I think the eggs and caviar were leftover from these little hors d'oeuvres grandma Eva made for a cocktail party...I hadn't remembered that game until you said. This is why I cherish our collective memory.

I heart you so much!

Leah said...

Mr. Shife--I'm going to try to have a summer like that, this summer! I feel I owe it to Hedgehog.

Brian--I think my dad did have some Boy Scout blood, lol. Now I try to think that I can always pick up something I need along the way!

Baino--sometimes we had a huge dog too! But usually my grandparents transported her. We did have a hamster and a dove, though...

Candie--hi there! thanks for visiting!

Sandra Leigh--I am so convinced of the value of traveling light. But with me, it's a work-in-progress.

Cece--mattress in the back of a pickup? That sounds awesome. And some summers, especially the early ones, we packed our clothes in garbage bags too.

Jaime--I heartily, fully agree.

Leah said...

savannah--I've made one or two bootleg trips with a be-pj-ed Hedgie tucked with a pillow in the back seat!

Kylie--that's such a funny memory. I too think unpacking is actually the very worst part of it. And maybe your mom didn't trust the cleanliness of the shower?

By the way I like your avatar.

Megan--lol, it's brilliant! It's a sort of traveling light by traveling heavy concept.

Just Bob--you have captured summer in the mountains with your lovely comment. I would add to that, eating blueberries off the bush in the sunshine. I cannot wait!

Kris--yes, what was with those demonic vinyl seats?!

Marianna--At least food will definitely go to good use, and be eaten up! That's funny though.

Emerson--that manner of packing is so admirable, so smart! I'm very jealous that you are able to. It's my goal in life.

The Silver Fox said...

So many of us try to get away from it all by taking it all with us. (I wish I knew who said that first!) I always shook my head in disbelief when I saw people bringing televisions to campsites.

Emerson Marks said...

Trust me, travelling light is the only way, Leah

Leah said...

Silver Fox--televisions at campsites? Good Lord. At least I can say I've never gone there...

Emerson--I'm just about to leave on a weekend away, and I'm not bringing my laptop. For me that's the ultimate in travelling light! Let's see how I do with my withdrawal symptoms...

Suzanne said...

I'm probably last and you won't even read this, nor will anyone else, but it matters that I write this. I love you. You know that.

Hummmmmmmmmm. Pontiac. Did you hear recently that the Pontiac is discontinued? Hummmmmmmmmm. I grew up in a Pontiac stationwagon. It was sort of a pea green, but big enough to fit the "gang!" I have very, very fond memories of a Pontiac.

Vacationing. How much can you bring along? Well, I've learned as much as can fit into the car until Grandma says "Okay, that's enough." How rude!

Leah, this is such a seriously beautiful post. You are a brilliant writer. I will say it again. Please submit to a magazine. Any magazine. I swear to God I would read your article every month. I'm one of your biggest fans and of course, one of your dearest friends!!! I love you so much. You know that. Honey, Country Homes, Country Living, House Beautiful, etc. I'm begging you to just try. I know what I love to read in all of those mags. You would never disappoint a reader. Never.

Just trust me.

Baby, I love you so much.
XO

Suzanne said...

Oh, just an aside. Do your realize how much Kylie's new photo looks like you know who?! Yup. Me too!

XO

Suzanne said...

She'll be busing tables at The Wild Onion. Right?

Books,Coffee,etc.... said...

Hi! Leah,
What a very nice vacation story "Packing the Car" by Pontiac Muscle" by Mike Mertz, from Flickr Creative Commons.
Because I'am quite sure that anyone who has ventured on a vacation by car...can relate to the ordeal in the story.

Thanks, for sharing!
DeeDee ;-D

Auntie, aka Dog Girl said...

OH what memories.
I just LOVE to over pack.
My boyfirend hates it when I over pack for our annual visit to the Dominican Republic (next month will be our 11th trip).
Over packing is an art.
PS
Your writing is and art.

MJ said...

Sudden memory of having to pee by the side of the road.

PI said...

That rang a lot of bells except we had four of us in a motor bike and side car. The thing that always drove me potty was that at both ends Mum would always say: 'All hands to the pump.'
Every bloomin' time!

Suzanne said...

Oh, and baby, I forgot to mention, the comments are like dessert! What an amazing group of people. You could have a book published about the true stories of "Road Trips!" What an absolute riot. Can you imagine the fun researching for that one?!!!

Oh, and just so I can put my mind at ease, "A" is hubby, right? Sorta like a wolf in sheeps clothing. Pretty transparent. What a keeper. Oh, and one more thing, when you drove past the exit to Rt. 28 I hope you waved to the family.

Love you. XO

Suzanne said...

No, that can't be hubby, can it? You met in college. Hummmmmmmmmmm. A mystery man.

Leah said...

Suzy! I've been away for the weekend, just got back. "A" is my best friend from forever--we've known each other since in utero, literally--our moms met when they were pregnant, and we were born two weeks apart.

I'll be back to catch up! I didn't take my laptop, which was quite a feat. It was maybe good for me though...

xo

merelyme said...

Awesome. The memories come back...thanks for the vacay!

My trips/breaks now include walking the dog without the cell phone. Wish I were kidding. ;)

In the last seven days with our five week old we have been to Chicago, Up North, and are hitting the Lakeshore in a few hours! He is a go, go, go kind of guy!

Suzanne said...

Perhaps good for you, but no good for us. WOMAN!!! KNOCK IT OFF.

And yes, I knew that. Well not the two weeks apart stuff, but I knew something was up and it wasn't hubby. Will he/she always be "A?"

You realize you went to the Adirondacks without any of us. How rude. Not a single invite. *Stands at kitchen sink eating macaroni/tuna salad alone, whspering "Friend my ass."* Don't speak. Just don't speak.

Suzanne said...

Also whispering. Oh leave me alone.

Leah said...

It's not that exciting, A's Allison, a lady.

I LOVE TUNA PASTA.

Suzanne said...

It IS that exciting. I love Lake George.

Tuna pasta. The best. Mom is the Queen of Tuna Pasta. How do you make it? Here's how she makes it. Pasta, usually Elbow. The whole box. Two cans of tuna (chunk light in water). TONS of ripe tomatoes. A bit of celery. Some parsley. Not Italian, curley. A small onion. Helman's mayo. Not too much. Just enough.

Tell you a funny story. The Helman's mansion is just up the hill behind our house. One afternoon my sister and I decided to find it. We hiked through the woods till be were beat. Came back home and told Mommy we couldn't locate it. Mom said "Just walk up the road."

Here's another one. Helman's grand daughter stopped by the house one day on her horse to meet our horse, Sugar. She was a sweetie and invited us up. She said "I'm just up there," and pointed to the mountain behind our house. I thought she was kidding. I had no idea there was anything up there except woods. Hence, Laura's and my treck.

It's now a very famous Ulster County B&B. Oh, and I might add, stunning. And to think, we had an invitation when it was a personal residence and couldn't find the damn place for the life of us.

Happy Adirondacking.

XO

Suzanne said...

Oh, and just so you know, we did walk up the hill and stood at the entrance to the estate. It said "NO TRESPASSING." I remember Laur saying, "You think that means us?" We didn't and started to walk in. We walked for what seemed like a mile or two then got scared and ran back out. I know that place is up there. I've Googled it!!!

Leah said...

Suzy--I make it with baby peas, sweet pickles, and of course the Hellman's. I want to try your mom's way, though. Sounds yummy!

I'm back in Bklyn. It looks like it's gonna rain...

I loved the story of the Hellman's manse...

Suzanne said...

Yes, I know...Hellman's. I'm lazy with spelling. You know me!!! And granddaughter. Please. I know how it's spelled. I just get lazy-stupid!!! Oh yes, the Hellman's story. Insane. Our neighbors!!! Oh, and our other neighbor? A very, very, very famous artist. I'll tell you about him soon. He lives in a restored barn half the year and in Italy the remainder. Needs the barn. His canvases are huge and in high demand. Probably 50 ft by 20 ft. No joke. Freakin' huge.

Hummmmmmmm. Your tuna salad. Interesting. I'm going to try it. So that's all you put in, just peas and pickles? I've often thought about pickles. Peas? I love peas. Nice idea. I forgot that Mom also adds red peppers and onions. Sorry about that. And yes, always Hellman's. Honey, if you only have peas, pickles and tuna, isn't that a bit bland? Where's the kick? No onions at all. Even green onions?

Oh, and just so you know, another wonderful salad is made with cottage cheese.

Here's the recipe:

cottage cheese
tomatoes
green onions
cucumbers
peppers

No, it doesn't really matter how many veggies you incorporate. Trust me!!! But you must have cucumbers. For some reason cucumbers and cottage cheese sing. I think you can add anything you like, but cucumbers and tomatoes...important. Have fun. Big curd, little curd. Who cares!!!??? Wing it.

Love you darling and always fun to talk to you about food.

XO

Leah said...

Suzy--also pasta! and salt and pepper. I like rotini. It is sort of bland, comfort food. Sarge hates it though--just me and Hedgie. When I make tuna salad, not tuna pasta, I make it "white trash" style (after all I'm partially W.T. myself on my dad's side)--tuna, Miracle Whip, mashed potatoes, hard-boiled eggs, and sweet gherkins mixed in with the tuna. Totally delicious. Not very gourmand-ish, but still...

Why is it that cucumbers and cottage cheese go together so beautifully? I totally agree with you. They are a match made in heaven.