It was a daunting decree for our daughter's family: a short-notice job move from Chicago to Seattle. Her husband, Brad, scrambled to do what he could, then drove their car - with, among other essentials, the family dog - 2,400 miles west to start work.
Susan, my husband, and I had eight days to wrap things up before she and her babes would board a plane headed the same direction. The clock ticking, we fell to our task.
If their house motto had ever been, "A place for everything," it soon became, "Everything all over the place." Indeed, this young family's possessions waged an almost palpable protest against their abrupt uprooting. For each item we packed, 10 more surfaced: knickknacks, single socks, floppy disks, foodstuffs ad nauseam, toddler toys ad infinitum. Pictures hung subversively behind open doors. Oddments flickered in my peripheral vision from every angle as if to say, "You'll never get us all packed - no way!"
Each item spawned questions. Shall we pack it now? Leave it for the neighbors? What is this thing? And how does it work?
Wait! I'd admonish myself: Never mind how it works. I was a workhorse in dire need of blinders. Alternating frenzied bursts of effort with bouts of despair, I'd lose myself reminiscing over photos, alphabetizing spice containers, sorting CDs by musical genre.
As we sifted and winnowed our way through the week, the kitchen junk drawer became our barometer of chaos. We'd dump it repeatedly into a trash bag, storage bin, or packing box, but it would not stay empty. Paper clips, pacifier covers, drill bits, foreign coins, pen caps, single earrings - every item that could fit in it, did. Several times daily, it offered up fresh assortments of Post-it notes, pencils, lipsticks, odd keys, address labels, and whatnot. Especially whatnot.
The pice de rsistance of our panic-driven process was a large wicker basket. I'd nestle it into a cardboard box, then return an hour later to find the box unsealed - and the basket once more at large: on a counter, or snuggled coyly in another box (from which it also escaped with Houdini-like guile, only to reappear later behind a disconnected TV).
By Night 4, the rigors of power-packing invaded my repose. Retiring after a microwaved dinner of cheese ravioli (pots and pans had just been crated that day), I dreamed of sorting little pasta pillows by color, wrapping each in tiny bubble-wrap blankets. The next night, I awoke from a darker dream, about to shriek, "Oh, no - I think I packed the grandchildren!"
On the sixth afternoon, I collided with Susan at the top of the stairs. Each of us cradled a half-dozen items in our arms. Eyeing our burdens, we discussed respective destinations. Then, attempting a swap, we shimmied in the other's direction, too addled to put it all down and reload.
Fatigued, now flummoxed by this gridlock, I almost conceded defeat. Just then, a telephone leapt from my arms and bounded down the steps. From below, my husband chuckled, "Hey! It wants to go."
That broke the spell.
GOADED by the specter of a moving van soon to arrive, we rounded up the stragglers of this domestic uprising and contained them in cardboard. On Day 8, burly workers loaded it all onto a large van.
One final item - the wily wicker basket - lurked in a corner, filled now with junk-drawer detritus. The truck driver summarily swaddled it in a trash bag and dispatched it through the wide-open door. "No need to box it," he shrugged.
The house motto had morphed into "Anything - and everything - goes." Both sad and happy to see this house empty at last, we scurried after the truck driver with the vacuum cleaner, smug as little conquerors that, in the end, we'd managed to pack even the dirt.