The freshman class moves into the dorms at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus today. Parents will say their tearful goodbyes, head home, and before too long they'll begin to assemble care packages for the kids. Some colleges start earlier than the U, which means some students already have packages coming in the mail. Essayist Peter Smith is amazed at how many subliminal messages his mother-in-law can pack into a single cardboard box.
Smith: The college kids have only just gone back to school. It's a little early in the term for care packages from home. But my daughter just got one from her grandmother-my mother-in-law-and reports the contents as follows:
"...an assortment of prayer cards, a blue ribbon, a pre-printed pad of grocery shopping lists, address tags with Gramma's address on them, a blue holographic "Freedom is not free" bookmark, and a 2010 calendar."
It was one of my mother-in-law's storied, "Everything-But-The-Kitchen-Sink," packages, where she chooses a family member at random and bestows the flotsam and jetsam of her life upon them. Not all her flotsam and jetsam-she has ninety years worth. Only as much flotsam and jetsam as she can cram into one of those "All you can fit in ships for $7.50" post office boxes.
Everything has a hidden meaning. We've all learned to interpret the stuff she stuffed in. The prayer cards, for example. They reflect decades of devout Swedish Norwegian Irish Lutheran Catholicism. She's telling my daughter to go to church
And the blue ribbon is a grandmotherly affirmation-a kind of a "You go, girl" across the decades. The shopping list note pad is a reminder to eat well. The address tags scream, "Don't forget to write," and the "Freedom is not free," bookmark is part civics lesson, part reminder for my daughter to read and enrich her mind.
My mother-in-law is the queen of subliminal gift giving- in care packages, on birthdays or at the Holidays.
One year, for Christmas, she gave her know-it-all son-in-law, a furnace blower motor she'd found under the basement stairs. Another year, all her son-in-laws got nicely gift wrapped packages of grocery store meat. Not premium steaks. Nothing aged or exotic. The store label identified it as something called, "Random Meat" and it was approaching freshness code expiration.
Sitting there, I had to agree with her. From where she sat as the family matriarch, I, a middle-aged son-in-law, was indeed, "Random meat."
There is more. So much more. There's a parable in every present and care package she sends. But it's probably best I end this here. I have a birthday coming up and I don't want her to go out of her way and get me anything too... well... you know... thoughtful.