Every day around noon time mail would come to our boarding school. This was a highlight of our day. In elementary school we waited until our house parents had the mail and called our names one by one to get our letters. In junior high and high school we would gather around the school office near the entrance of the building, where mail was sorted and put into little boxes. Mail was always exciting. Whether it was a plain envelope or a blue aerogramme it meant connections with the world outside of boarding school, connection with parents, with friends who had gone on furlough or left Pakistan, with relatives from the United Kingdom or United States, Sweden or Germany.
Three times a term packages would arrive from home for my brothers and me. They were always shoe-box size, wrapped in brown paper and tied with string, sometimes sealed with wax. I would rush to find a private space amidst a crowd to open this treasure.
I knew even before I opened it some of what it would hold.
There would be brownies – eight of them, separated into two layers. There would be lemon squares wrapped in wax paper and then reinforced with thick aluminium foil. There would be homemade cookies and fudge. Often a small jar containing homemade jelly or marshmallow fluff would be carefully wrapped in paper to keep the glass from shattering. It was a long, bumpy trip from upper Sindh in the southern area of Pakistan to the high mountains in the north where our boarding school sat surrounded by pine trees. And there was always, always a note from my mom.
As much as I wanted to keep the package by myself, at least for a little while, there are things you learn early in boarding school. Like the unspoken rule that you share your goodies with the popular kids. So I had to share with the popular kids, and then I wanted to share with my friend Nancy – she was my best friend. And then, well, there were the kids who never got packages from home and you really wanted to give them a bite or two.
Before you knew it, the package was gone. Gone as quickly as your mom’s face through the train window as you left for boarding school, your eyes straining to see her until the clouds of dust hid the platform from sight. Gone as quickly as your dad’s voice echoing from the platform.
Packages were reminders that we were special, significant to someone. Packages were tangible proof that we had parents, that those parents 800 miles away cared about us.They reminded us that though in boarding school we sometimes felt lost and one of many, at home there were parents who prayed for us, thought of us, baked for us.
Packages told an unwritten story of a mom who baked in the heat to make sure she had our favorite goodies to send. A mom who laid everything out on the table, wrapping and packing, making sure that all was equally distributed. Packages told of a dad who went about his daily work with a stop at the post office, chatting with the post man about politics, the weather, and the price of onions. A dad who made sure that these well-wrapped treasures made it via an inefficient postal system from the desert of Sindh to the green mountains of Murree. Packages were concrete proof of family and home, of belonging and love.
My world of packages and boarding school is long gone. The packages I now receive are generally from a book seller, delivering books to our apartment, the packages laying on the ground until someone gets home to dust them off and take them inside. But just last week there was a package, wrapped carefully, first in a white envelope, then in brown paper. It was a gift from one of you – a blog reader whom I’ve never met. My heart leapt, just like it used to when I was a little girl opening up that package with brownies and lemon squares.
Some things never grow old — and brown paper packages, tied up with string must be one of them.
Note: This essay is incorporated into a larger memoir Worlds Apart: A Third Culture Kid’s Journey
Picture Credit: http://pixabay.com/en/logistics-post-post-brand-485225/