Some people have trouble leaving home. It’s not that they don’t want to see the canals of Venice or the art museum in Des Moines. It’s just that, well, they can’t seem to get out the door without taking everything but the kitchen sink. My husband, the psychologist, says many of us need what’s called a “transitional object” – a material thing that helps us feel secure.
We all know that children have these needs. What toddler doesn’t have a blankie or favorite toy that absolutely, positively must accompany them in their vast travels between home and babysitter, home and Grandma’s, home and the grocery store? My own kids certainly had their own requirements. My daughter had a favorite doll, Freddie, and later moved on to a spoon – yes, a plastic spoon – to which she gave an entire personality and history, not to mention a wardrobe crafted of whatever could be affixed to a utensil lacking arms or legs. We left him (her?) at K-Mart once, and it was touch and go until Daddy returned for a rescue mission.
My son grew attached at an early age to the silky fabric of the nightgown I wore while nursing him, going so far as to crawl to my closet on a nightgown-seeking mission. I finally took him to a fabric store where I found a close facsimile that I could cut into successively smaller pieces, ensuring we always had a piece of what had by then named his “ni-night.” The moment when I showed him the bolt of fabric was hilarious. His eyes grew huge and he crowed with joy, “NI-night!” It was the mother lode, so to speak. (I hope he will forgive me for outing him here. He has grown up into a fully independent, adventurous young man who can and does go backwoods camping and kayaking and canoeing and could probably splint his own broken leg after extricating it from a wolf trap halfway up a mountain, if such a situation, God forbid, ever presented itself.)
Years ago, I wrote an article for the local paper about women and their purses. What I didn’t mention then was how much of their contents goes largely unused. The bigger the purse, the more superfluous junk hides inside. I confess, I’ve done it myself. It’s all “just in case” stuff, much of it straight from the medicine chest. What if I have a coughing fit? Toss a dozen cough drops in. What if my stomach gets upset? I’ve got Mylanta from the Reagan administration squirreled away in an inside pocket. What if the movie/concert/political rally gets so loud it threatens what’s left of my hearing? There’s a pair of ear plugs in there, too, though the way they’ve been rolling around among the other stuff, it might not be so healthy to stuff them into my years.
There are people who can toss a few items into a duffle bag and head off into the world. As much as I’d like to say I’m one of them, I would be lying. In fact, I have this pathetically detailed List of Things to Take that I have devised with great care over the years. It helps, it really does. You may think it’s ridiculous to need a list that reminds me to bring underwear, shoes, and deodorant, but it helps free my mind for all the other things I must do before leaving home, such as cleaning the bathrooms, watering the plants, and making sure the cat is psychologically ready for our departure. (Just kidding. There is no way to do that.)
Despite all that planning, I have forgotten things I felt were essential. Right now I am writing from the cottage where we hide away once a year in the woods of northern Wisconsin. Two years ago, I was beside myself when, shortly after our arrival, I discovered I had forgotten my jewelry roll. For those of you unfamiliar with this object, it’s not a diamond studded pastry. It’s a nice little soft fabric case with zippered pockets to carry your earrings, necklaces, and bracelets from place to place without having them get all tangled up. Why I felt I needed jewelry on a trip to the woods is anybody’s guess. But I was so distraught, I ended up buying five new pairs of earrings at a local store.
This is something my husband has pointed out to me more than once, as I stand wringing my hands just before we lock the door and jump in the car (or, more often than not, as we cross the Wisconsin bridge – the point of no return). Most anything important can be purchased at one’s destination. It’s not like northern Wisconsin, or Paris for that matter, has no deodorant for sale. And it could be really interesting to try out a French grooming product – or, even better, to forget one’s jewelry roll on a trip overseas and be forced to buy new earrings in Dublin or Austria.
When my husband was newly married to his first wife, fresh out of graduate school and not yet embarked on their careers, they put their belongings into storage and traveled the globe, beginning in England and working their way through countries as diverse as India, Thailand, and New Zealand. To say they traveled light is an understatement. They rode third class on railways, hauling their essentials in backpacks that they kept editing as the climate and their needs changed. As they reached the heat of southern India, they gave away the sweaters they’d worn in Ireland. When they finished reading a book, they handed it to a fellow traveler.
Me? I carry a small library whenever we travel by car, a box filled with books of poetry, essays, short stories, and a thesaurus for my own writing. I do not travel light, and don’t even talk to me about a Kindle. So I guess books are my transitional objects. I mean, as long as I’ve got my earrings and toothpaste and favorite jeans and sandals and hiking boots and two tubes of my favorite kind of lip balm. That’s all. Of course, we’ve got another trip coming up, to a place we’ve never been before. So let me just check that list one more time. . . .