Packing is the arena for a family’s power plays

Frightened that in comparison, World War II would look like a couple of kids with pea shooters, I cringed at a potential clash of the family packers.

I understood this is a common trait among humanoids in groups — one person is designated as lead packer, for moving, camping trips or arranging the top shelf of the refrigerator.

At our house, my husband, Chuck, is the head guy. The kids and I have absentmindedly kicked ashes around many a doused campfire while Chuck personally loaded the gear. Our worst experience was traveling with a car top carrier. It was one of those trips where we headed to a new campground after each breakfast.

Chuck saw to it that the homemade roof box was loaded the identical way each morning. None of us could put anything aboard. One didn’t present their sleeping bag for loading until the roll was secured exactly in the center with a knot. A tarp covered the carrier though nothing could have blown out.

Chuck connected rings in the waterproof fabric with rope.

He made perfect hospital corners.

Now this is a guy who can step over the same wet bathroom towel for days, but if a truck needs packing, Chuck becomes as energetic as Richard Simmons. When our friends, Jim and Teresa, moved from Everett to Marysville, Chuck arrived at their Everett home bright and early to position himself in the back of the moving van. It wasn’t his house or his family, but Chuck directed the truck packing from chairs to coffee pots.

Our son, Brody, and his girlfriend, Lisa, recently moved to Renton. We drove our 1990 Ford truck to their Seattle apartment to help with the shift. Lisa’s younger sister, Nikki, was at the scene.

We formed a slave chain, moving boxes from the hall to the elevator to the parking garage. I was an upstairs worker and didn’t get to the basement until Chuck had stacked his truck as concise as a Rubic’s Cube. There wasn’t an inch of wasted space. The group turned its attention to our daughter Kati’s boyfriend’s truck.

Left with the larger pieces of furniture, Chuck pushed a dining room hutch into the back of Brent’s rig. I rested on the tailgate of our Ford because, as usual, I knew better than to actually load anything for the journey.

Lisa’s sister, Nikki, stood next to Brent’s truck. I saw her raise and wave her arm as politely as a second-grader who needed to use the washroom.

"Could I make a suggestion?" she asked Chuck as sweetly as jam on toast. "I think if you turn that the other way, the table will fit in front."

I gasped. Chuck turned ever so slowly to face Nikki, who I now realized was the Idaho clan’s family packer. Could anyone dare question Chuck’s stacking ability? What would he say to Nikki? It’s was too horrible to comprehend.

"OK," Chuck said. "Help yourself."

Breath escaped my lungs.

This was such a precious moment of submission. Nikki hopped into the back of Brent’s rig and finessed the hutch into a perfect position. She commanded troops as to how to stack the table and chairs. Her work was top quality. I think even Chuck was impressed, but he would never say so.

I thought the experience might mellow my chief packer. I was wrong. When we pick up our weekly groceries on Saturday mornings, I still cool my heels behind the cart in the parking lot. I do not put any plastic sacks filled with ice cream and dish soap into the automobile. Mr. Perfect needs to stack the trunk in his own fashion.

Milk goes here. Bread goes there and so on.

I am allowed to unload at home. I am not allowed to move his glass pitcher filled with his orange juice from the center of the top shelf of the refrigerator.

We returned Sunday from San Francisco where we attended our nephew’s wedding. Getting ready to go, Chuck was his usual self. Here is how I pack a suitcase — smash, crunch, plop. Chuck moved in behind me to rearrange all of my clothing, making sure the shoes I dumped on top of the pants were professionally repositioned on the bottom of the luggage.

He could teach a packing class to butlers.

When we got home Sunday afternoon, I decided to be nice and empty his suitcase. I was not surprised to find he folded his socks in tight pairs, worn or not, as if he faced a drill sergeant’s locker inspection.

I gave up deciding what was clean or dirty and tossed everything in the laundry or a sack for the cleaners.

Family unpackers stick to the plan.

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