Posted by Sheila Connolly (Sarah packs real light--the rat)
I'm making my way southward for the Malice Domestic conference (my fourth) next weekend, and will be gone a total of eight days. Which means I have to pack clothes for eight days, ranging from grubby jeans and sneakers to fancy dress for a banquet. I have the suitcase (I believe in the distant past I blogged about it–it's the one with 17 zippers, and compartments inside compartments, and it always confuses me when I haul it out of the attic). I have the clothes, all neatly hung up so I know that they're clean and still fit and match each other, sort of (yes, a lot of them are black–can't go wrong with that, right?).
But now comes the crunch: fitting all those clothes into the suitcase. Don't even think about the "business" stuff–the computer, the bookmarks to hand out, something to read up until I get to the conference and end up with another fifty pounds of signed copies from all my favorite writers. Nope, the suitcase holds only clothes and related sundries (my, I have a lot of sundries–I could probably stock an emergency room).
My grandmother was a champion packer. Someday I'll figure out her history–she was orphaned early, fostered out, and refused to talk about her younger days before she met my grandfather. It wasn't until after she died that I did enough research to learn that she had grown up in Providence–I swear, in the 40-plus years I knew her she never mentioned Rhode Island, and out of her respect for her, none of the family pushed her too hard for details. But whoever raised her taught her the "gentle arts"–she could sew a mean seam, clean anything, and she had an obsession with order. Maybe it was because she had little in her childhood, that she treasured her chosen possessions and took such meticulous care of them.
But care she did. I still have boxes of her belongings–beaded clutch purses that date to the 1950s, sewing materials (anybody need a lifetime supply of seam binding?), and so on–all carefully bundled up with white tissue paper and white string, and labeled with a note. For her purses and shoes, she would add a little description, "black patent, wore to Sheila's wedding."
Why didn't I inherit that gene? I make stabs at organizing now and then. I buy plenty of file folders and labels, and sometimes I even use them. I have plastic bags for my wool sweaters, and plastic boxes to put them in–and somehow the boxes just keep multiplying. Good thing I have a very large Victorian attic, because I just keep adding more stuff to it.
My grandmother was a brilliant packer. She started with the best quality luggage, of course–my sister and I still share some authentic vintage Louis Vuitton suitcases, that weigh a ton even before you put anything in them (my wedding dress resides in one). Obviously she lived in a day when there were baggage porters and doormen to help out a lady, and she was definitely a lady. She also was addicted to tissue paper. There was nothing that couldn't be improved by wrapping it in tissue paper, especially when packing a suitcase. You'd think she had shares in a paper company (who makes that stuff anyway?).
And there were rules for packing. Shoes always went into little shoe bags (assuming she wasn't using the shoe suitcase, which had its own elasticized pockets inside–yup, I still have that too. And she sent me off to college with my own set of shoe-bags, after she had carefully stitched name-tags into all of them). Toiletries went into the "cosmetic case," also known as a train case–intriguing things in their own right, with removable trays and more satin pockets in the lining.
You will note that she had already accumulated three substantial items before she even left her home. My grandmother stood five foot four and weighed about 110 pounds–no way was she carrying all this stuff herself. Thank goodness for the kindness of strangers, or at least of the paid staff at her Park Avenue residence hotel.
Then she would wrap each item of clothing, after folding it very carefully (always the same way), in fresh (never reused) tissue paper, and lay it reverently in its designated place in her suitcase. Wrinkles were not to be tolerated (and remember, this was in the days before permanent press fabrics).
Where did I go wrong? I start out with good intentions. I'll admit I gave up on the shoe bags a long time ago, and the train case has morphed into flashy plastic totes for cosmetics and toiletries (flashy so I don't mislay them in hotel rooms–it's hard to ignore rainbow-colored plastic). I fold, I layer–at the beginning. But I always pack too much, and if I'm away for more than one day, I end up rummaging through the suitcase trying to find the thing I know I put in there just the day before (which is always buried in the bottom), and chaos ensues. There's obviously a reason most hotels provide irons and ironing boards these days (as if anyone still knows how to use an iron!), but at a conference, who has the time or inclination to iron clothes? My favorite theory is: just put it on, and the wrinkles will hang out. Uh-huh.
My daughter has adopted another strategy for packing: she rolls everything. Does it work? Well, from what I've seen, no worse than my method. And it's probably closer to my grandmother's method than to mine. Maybe there is something to genetics.
So, dear writer friends, if you see me at Malice this weekend, please excuse the wrinkles. I'm just happy to be there. And please let me know if you have any secrets to successful packing.