Toilet Paper Hoarders by Patty LaRoche

Hint for the week: A couple of corn tortillas make a splendid substitute for a few squares of toilet paper. Fortunately, there are other options. Just ask Howard, my friend who is known as one who never lets inconveniences upset him. Recently he emailed his take on the Covid-19 toilet paper rush.

What is this all about?  You don’t need toilet paper.  The origin of the item “wipes” comes from history.  Every cowboy carried a wipe.  Every wagon in the wagon train had multiple wipes.  The “wipe” was a twelve-inch square piece of flannel that you used to “wipe” with.  Afterward at some point you washed it in a stream and let it dry.  In the old West the wipe was scented with crushed sage.  Today you get the same odor from Sage after men’s shaving lotion, a cheap version.  After drying, the “wipe” was ready for use again… In an emergency you could use your flannel shirt tail and then rinse it in the stream.  Flannel “wipes” were an early way to control waste paper refuse. Of course, one had to be careful you didn’t drink the water if someone was rinsing their “wipe” upstream from you. To dry them, you simply hung them on a wheel spoke to dry at the end of the day.

Howard, Howard, Howard,” I say aloud as I bang my head on my computer table.

So why this rush on toilet paper? It makes no sense. There’s no shortage. Most of it is made in the U.S.A., so we are not at the sharing mercy of some foreign power. There is just a shortage of kindness.

One saleslady told me that she hoped her employer would refuse to buy back the hundreds of rolls a few hoarders will try to return once this pandemic is over. She shared that several buyers bought up enough toilet paper to fill their garages. (Thank you, selfish people. It is because of greedy ones like you that my family will be digging through the rag bag to find some tattered flannel.)

When Dave and I drive from Mexico, occasionally we encounter “toilet paper ladies” (“señoras de papel higiénico”) at gas stations. Their job is to hand us a roll of three or four squares as we enter the restroom. In an emergency, I guess we could beg for more, but thankfully I’ve never been that desperate. I’ve always been grateful our country does not have to rely on such measures. But could that be our future?

Maybe the message for us is the same delivered by Moses as he led his fellow Israelites from a land of poverty to a land of prosperity. “Remember how the LORD your God led you the entire way in the desert these forty years.” There had been miracles aplenty, but Moses knew his follower’s history of forgetfulness. This journey into the Promised Land could be the same. The Israelites could forget to thank God for His blessings. They could become entitled. The same is true for us.

We need to remember—and be grateful for– how God provides. Maybe this time of going without will cause us to never again take little things (like toilet paper) for granted. Then again, maybe it simply will make us more grateful for flannel.

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