Joanne Sherman: Parting is such sweet confusion

The columnist wonders why getting out of town never gets easier.

It takes me longer every year to pack our motor home for the trek that leads us snowbirds from Shelter Island to Key West.

This year our RV had been serviced, our house was ready for the winter and the proof-of-insurance cards for the RV and the car it tows were under a magnet on the refrigerator a full three weeks before our departure date. There was no excuse to not do it right this time. And yet — once again — as I sit here typing, I can hear my traveling companion rummaging around for his good belt. If he asks I’ll say what I always say, “Oh, it’s here. Somewhere.“ But I know it’s not.

No matter how much time I have to get ready for a trip, it’s just never enough.

What happened to me? I’m the woman who could travel anywhere on a moment’s notice. “Paris? Sure, let me grab my toothbrush.”

Here‘s a perfect example circa 1976, Virginia: My husband was at sea and I was fixing breakfast for our two preschoolers when another navy wife called and said that our husbands’ ship was going to dock for three days in Florida. She was flying on a plane that was to leave in less than three hours and when that plane taxied down the runway, I was sitting in the seat beside her.

During the span of time between her phone call and take-off, I’d managed to shower, dress and convince my neighbor, the over-worked and perpetually tearful mother of three preschoolers, to add mine to her mix (they were so small, I figured, she’d hardly notice them in all the chaos.) I packed clothes for me, clothes for them, then raced the boys to the house next door so fast their four little feet never even hit the ground.

“Kiss kiss. Mommy loves you. Be nice to Mrs. Westbrook, she looks like she’s having one of her nasty migraines.” And … I made it to the airport with a half-hour to spare.

But I don’t operate that way anymore. I need three days just to plan an excursion to Riverhead and it takes me 45 minutes and 10 trips back and forth between the house and car before I ever leave the driveway.

Phone? Yes. No. Go back and get it.

Bathroom? No. Yes.

Out to the car. List? Yes. No. Go back and get it.

That’s why I was relieved to have so much time to get ready for this year’s trip.

When I was whining about packing up, a friend said “I know what you mean. I hate packing for a vacation.”

Vacation? Pardon me, but this snowbird stuff isn’t like that. When you go on vacation you take sunscreen, “50

Shades of Grey,” and a party dress; not a vacuum, the crock pot and the entire contents of your medicine cabinet.

A veteran of many snowbird excursions told me that she prepares by placing items into piles. “You’ve got your yes piles and your no piles,“ she explained, “Yes goes with you, no doesn‘t.” I used her method and made yes-no piles throughout the house of clothes, shoes, belts (!) and kitchen items. There were yes-no piles of important papers, foods, books, medicines, everything. I was so pleased that I’d finally discovered a workable system.

I will admit to feeling kind of uppity when we finally hit the road. Never before had I been so organized, nor had the packing up process ever been so painless.

The flaw in my system wasn’t apparent until our second day on the road when my husband pulled out a pair of paint-spattered denims with the baggy seat.

“I didn’t mean to bring those!” I said, wondering how they managed to jump from the no pile to the yes one. The next pair of denims had paint spatters and acid holes (and a baggy seat.) It was then that I realized what I had done, not with just his pants, either, but with nearly every well-sorted pile. All the rejects are with us, here, in Key West.

And the proof-of-insurance cards? Yeah. They are safe. Under a magnet on my refrigerator. On Shelter Island.

Editor’s note: Joanne will  be checking in regularly about life on the road, in Key West and on Shelter Island.