Toilet Paper

I grew up in a home with four women—my mom and three sisters—and they used up toilet paper like they had a vendetta against trees. In fact, we had a family rule that when one of us went to the store for any reason, that person was supposed to pick up a four-pack of Charmin because it was always on the shopping list. 

It would have been more efficient to get those huge packages of toilet paper with 32 rolls, but I don’t recall stores selling them in those quantities back then. Besides, isn’t there something mortifying about carrying around that much toilet paper at once? I always worry that other shoppers will think I have the runs. 

As my sisters got older, I suppose the family bought a boatload of feminine hygiene products as well, but I wasn’t involved in those purchases on account of my maleness—though I was shielded from the mysteries of menses less and less as the years rolled on. By the time my youngest sister got her period, the event was considered an acceptable topic for dinner-table conversation.

“Did you start?” my mom would say while we all tucked into our tuna casserole without batting an eye. 

I’m not complaining. I’d much rather talk about tampons than have to participate in the roughhousing that packs of boys seem to relish. Not long ago, one of my siblings was telling me about a game played by a nephew where he and another child would repeatedly run full speed at each other from across a room, just so they could collide. 

What type of violent, potentially brain-damaging nonsense is that?

When I was little, by contrast, my older sister and I would play “Printing Press.” It involved putting baseball cards in alphabetical order by the players’ last names, and then putting the cards in an album. 

I have no idea why we called this exercise “Printing Press” or why we found it enjoyable. I’m not saying we were bright—only that we were gentle. 

Part of what it means to be in a family is to have shared rules, rituals, and nomenclature. Printing Press and compulsive Charmin consumption were just two of the tissue squares in the toilet paper roll that was us. 

One of the challenges of setting up house with someone with whom you want to start your own family is you have to synthesize your rules and rituals with those of the other person, pretending all the while that it’s totally valid to open all the gifts on Christmas Eve or fold bath towels wrong.

On some things you have to put your foot down, though. For instance, my husband, Frank, used to opt for cheap, single-ply, truck stop–grade toilet paper that was rough to the touch and about as tear-resistant as cobwebs. 

This simply would not do, so I made an executive decision: We are a Charmin family and shall be forevermore. The Ultra Strong kind, if you please. 

Fortunately, Frank has no qualms about purchasing those embarrassing 32-roll packages. As he sees it, why let a thing like dignity get in the way of a good bargain?

This paid off during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, when people were hoarding toilet paper for some reason and the stores were all out. But Frank had accumulated a stockpile that got us through just fine. 

Though different from my own methods, his TP preparedness aligns closely with the values I was raised with and, come to think of it, might be why I married him.  

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