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Packed with thrills

My only objection to ordering products by mail is the packing material they use these days. Has anyone given this subject the attention it deserves? It's a mystery to me how this trend toward the-most-modern-idea-is-naturally-the-best ever got started. Really, what can you learn from three yards of air imprisoned within 2,781 plastic bubbles? How entertaining are polystyrene snowflakes that whoosh out of a carton as if reenacting the Great Blizzard of '78?

Recently I received a rather large carton crammed the old-fashioned way - with newspapers. That is what I call proper packing! You can conjure with a newspaper. The papers were from more than one community, too, and issued on five different dates.

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If this seems small matter, consider that wending through newspaper packing can be no less an adventure than searching for those missing ''pesky, little pieces'' while assembling a jigsaw puzzle. A sentence from a Page 18 in this recent delivery, for instance, concluded on Page 19: ''. . . wave a baton, and shake a tambourine.'' Now, how could anyone ignore a sentence that ends with waving baton and rattling tambourine?

Finding Page 18 and the first part of that sentence is a task that may take an hour of rummaging (there happened to be five Page 18s in my carton), but imagine the thrill when finally I discovered baton waving and tambourine shaking is what bandleader Lester Lanin does best. I had no idea Mr. Lanin and his orchestra were still performing. Naturally, I had to stop unpacking and enjoy all the marvelous Lanin records in my collection.

There is something mysterious about puzzles, by the way, that seems to unite us. Take the scrambled word game I encountered on a comics page about halfway into this carton. Someone using a ball-point pen had grappled with the disarranged letters valiantly, yet without success. I had to take over and unravel the thing. (Incidentally, if you know a carton-packer who has been muttering ''galamateam'' for the past six months, kindly pass along ''amalgamate ,'' would you? With my best regards.) A small matter - but unimportant?

Does it matter that six or maybe 10 months ago, two or three thousand miles away, the day ''over yonder'' was expected to bring wind, cold, and snow flurries? Maybe not. But digging a little deeper into the carton, one discovers in a letters-to-the-editor column that it was on this very cold and blustery day that an elderly woman, living alone, had not expected delivery of the morning paper, her only contact with the outside world. Consequently, she was overjoyed to see the young newsboy on her route shoving his way to her door through waist-high snowdrifts. Now doesn't that little human drama beat the whoosh of a polystyrene blizzard?

Yes, opening a carton packed the old-fashioned way was always enlightening, entertaining, inspirational - a leisurely meander through many byway delights. Too rarely, it still is.

Of course, the meander has its dangers. You might be embarrassed while unpacking if someone impatiently asks ''Well, come on, what is it you ordered?'' and you have to mumble ''Gosh, I honestly can't remember. But I'm sure I'll get down to it eventually.''

When you get right down to it, we generally get to where we are going sooner or later, don't we? So, why not pause amid our blizzard of haste toward the latest idea of efficiency and take time to enjoy the small, old-fashioned pleasures? I, for one, believe the ''stuff'' with which we fill a carton, or a lifetime, is a matter of no small importance. It is the ''little pieces'' that make jigsaw puzzles, and life, complete.

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