Kate Dudding: Defensive Packing

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This story was created during Elizabeth Ellis's August 1999 workshop on Storytelling: The Web of Humanity at The Omega Institute, Rhinebeck, NY. I would like to thank Elizabeth for her nurturing guidance, and all the participants for their helpful comments. In particular, I want to thank Judy Richter for suggesting the frame for this story.

Lucile at Lake Winnepesauke

The popular style of packing today is to pack light -- take just enough. My mother didnít do that. She was a defensive packer. She was prepared for anything.


Every year, we spent a week at Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire. And every year, my mother made sure we had enough clothes to wear if every day was hot. And she made sure we had enough clothes to wear if every day was cold. AND she made sure we had enough activities to do if every day was rainy. We brought several decks of regular cards, a few decks of pinochle cards, a cribbage board, Scrabble, several board games, a few jigsaw puzzles, 7 books for each person Ė enough to fill our Rambler station wagon, both inside and on top. We spent weeks ahead of time making lists of things to take.

One day, during all this preparation, I started making fun of her. And she told me this story.


Ken and Lucile 1943

" "I used to take just enough. When I went to New York City with your father for our 2 day honeymoon in July of 1943, I took just enough, and that worked out fine. And when I went to Louisiana to visit him for a week before his Army unit was shipped to Europe, I took just enough and that worked out fine, too. And when I went to Boston, two days after Christmas in 1945, to meet him after he got discharged from the Army, I took just enough. However, that time it didnít work out fine.

I was waiting in South Street Station in Boston for your father. He was later than he thought heíd be. So I waited, with my overnight bag, for some taxi to bring your father.

But he never got to South Street Station. Instead, one of his friends came and told me,íKennyís back in Fort Devens. You have to come back to there with me.í

So I took my overnight bag to Fort Devens, and I found out why Kenny hadnít come to Boston."

After being discharged, he was taking a taxicab to the railroad station. The taxi December 27, 1945 There were 2 men in front with the driver, and 3 in back. My father was sitting in the middle. A drunken Army driver ran a truck into the left side of that taxicab. The 2 men on that side were killed. The 2 men in the middle, my father and another man, spent 6 weeks in the hospital. And the 2 men on the right side walked away from the accident.

So there my mother was, with an overnight bag, just 2 outfits to last 6 weeks. Her sister had to come up from Connecticut and bring a big suitcase of clothes. Since then, my mother became a defensive packer, prepared for anything.


After hearing that story, I too became a defensive packer. When I travel by plane, I try to just have a backpack and a roll-on suitcase. Iíve improved on my motherís style of defensive packing by bringing versatile clothes. I bring lightweight shirts, with sleeves I can roll up if itís hot, or roll down if itís cold. And I have a pair of pants with zippers on the thighs, so I can zip off the lower legs, changing the pants into shorts, if it gets hot. Even if I do have to check a bag, I make sure I have everything I need for the first few days in my carry-on luggage.

For example, when my brother got married, my husband, my son and I flew out to Michigan. I was a bridesmaid and my husband was an usher. We checked 2 bags: one for my husband and myself, with our extra clothes, and one for our son, with his extra clothes and toys. So there we were, in the airport in Michigan, by the luggage carousel. You know what thatís like. The crowd gathered around the luggage carousel. It was not moving. Finally, it started to move and the crowd surged forward. A few pieces of luggage trickled down. They werenít mine; they never are. Then there was a steady stream of luggage and people were jostling each other, arms were flying forward and grabbing the luggage as it went past. We got our sonís bag. Then the flow of luggage slowed down, and the crowd thinned. When the same 4 pieces of luggage kept circling around and around and around, I realized that my suitcase was not coming. When I turned to my soon-to-be sister-in-law to ask where I could report my missing suitcase, I saw that her face was white and she wasnít breathing.

"Itís alright. Itís alright! I have my bridesmaid dress and shoes and everything weíll be wearing at your wedding right here. Iím a defensive packer."

She hadnít heard the term before, being new to the family, but she understood. She starting breathing again, and the color came back into her face. Her wedding was not to be at the mercy of Northwest Airlineís Lost Luggage Department.


So the next time you go traveling, you could follow the current trend, taking just enough, and hoping for the best. Or you too could become a defensive packer, and be prepared for anything.

Copyright © 2003 by Kathryn Eike Dudding. All Rights Reserved.


Kate Dudding (518) 383-4620
8 Sandalwood Drive kate@katedudding.com
Clifton Park, NY 12065-2700 USA
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