By Steve Oden
You know it’s a pandemic when stores can’t keep toilet paper on the shelves.
The coronavirus panic proves once again that modern humanity can do without a lot of things, perhaps even smartphones and McDonald’s, but threaten the toilet paper supply—well, there’s a reason folks fear the “end” times.
I am not joking. Among all the lessons learned during the Great Depression and war years of the 20th Century was the critical importance of toilet paper. I can’t remember a single time growing up in the 1950s that dad allowed us to run out of it.
My father was born in 1927 into a poor sharecropper family trying to eke out a living in the hills and hollows of Appalachia. Part of the generation that won WW II and economically pulled themselves up by their bootstraps, he never forgot a childhood when hunger was a wolf at the door because of their subsistence lifestyle.
I read this morning a learned professor’s theory about why one of the public responses to the coronavirus threat involves hoarding TP: “People are stocking up because it gives them a sense of comfort and control. Just seeing those white, fluffy rolls reassures them that they won’t have to go out in the streets to risk catching this virus.”
That’s BS, if you will pardon my scatological reference.
Smart, well-seasoned folks like my father knew that even if the Black Plague instead of Chinese flu was ravaging the nation, you wouldn’t want to wipe with corn cobs.
Believe me, I’ve tried the old corn cob method and can’t recommend it. When stores start stocking sterilized corn cobs in the personal hygiene section, I’ll know the Apocolypse is here.
Back in Depression days, corn-cob cleanup was a reality. So was wiping with pages torn from the Sears & Roebuck catalog, rags (a classification of fabric too worn to sew or be patched, also a one-and-done alternative), leaves, cotton lint or the burlap from seed-and-feed sacks that couldn’t be turned into undergarments or towels.
As a lifelong hunter and fisherman, I can attest to the unsuitability of types of faux toilet paper. Leaves are horrible, especially in the autumn. Many have been the times that I removed and used a hunting knife to cut my underwear into strips, rather than gather leaves because I forgot to bring TP.
You outdoor folks, both women and men, know what I’m talking about. Don’t deny it.
Once I tried the catalog-page wipe. Nope. I much prefer newsprint: not as slick. Neither are pleasant, but your local newspaper is a far better choice. Informative, entertaining and utilitarian.
Let’s see Google’s news aggregation do that, folks. Or the cable news networks.
Nothing replaces good old toilet paper, however. We have become reliant on it because our fathers and mothers, even grandparents, described the horrors of living without it. My father’s first trip to a Sam’s Store was at the age of 70. He marveled to see the huge bulk packages of TP and the price deals available.
Dad came home with the bed of his pickup truck loaded with boxes of TP. He slept peacefully that night, knowing that the family was protected for months against economic depression, wartime shortages and the possibility that every paper mill in the U.S. might cease production. He added to his hoard whenever close to a Sam’s.
So, don’t let the so-called media experts fool you. They’ve been shoveling a lot of—whoops, nearly had another slip of the word processor—garbage about the coronavirus and the run on toilet paper. Let them try a corn cob and see if they sing a different tune.