Just as my big brother entered our farmhouse, I reached the bottom of the staircase. The warm smells of beef roasting in the oven collided with the cold, fresh air that had rushed in when he opened the back door. Even after the door was shut, icy air surrounded him like an aura. He handed Mom letters from the mail box and then asked, “Who wants to be the first to read the newspaper?”
“Me!” I announced, as I snatched it from him. The folded and rolled paper felt as cold as ice. Holding it away from me, I said, “Burrr! It must be really cold outside today!”
My brother laughed and said, “You didn’t even read the paper, yet you found out something from it! It’s 20 degrees below zero.” Turning to go back outside to finish barn chores, he teased, “Have fun reading the front page.”
There were ten years of age difference between my brother and me. He liked to joke about how I thought reading the funnies and letters to Ann Landers was actually reading the newspaper. He sometimes scoffed, “I’ll bet you think the front page of the paper is where the funnies are found.”
The paper had warmed up a bit. I carried it into the living room and lay down on the linoleum floor next to the heat register. Warm air from the furnace gently flowed out of the grilled opening. Unfolding the paper on the floor in front of me released new waves of the icy cold.
For the next hour, I slowly read and enjoyed the comics. I especially relished “Our Boarding House” with Major Hoople and Alley Oop’s latest trip in time. I pondered over the joke about how life was 30 years ago in “Out Our Way” and enjoyed seeing that Priscilla’s Pop was still eating mashed potato sandwiches to save money. Reading letters to Ann Landers was like dessert for my mind. That day, the letters were all from angry people who were upset about the direction their toilet paper came off the roll. I thought to myself, “That matters?”
One person wrote how angry it made him when his wife put the roll of toilet paper on the spindle so that it fed over the top. He ground out in a style that fairly shouted, “The only way it should ever feed out, is from down under!” The next letter whined, “It only looks right when it feeds over the top.” Some posed good reasons for the over or under argument. I liked, “If it’s over, my cat is less likely to pull and unroll it all while I’m at work.”
I rolled up the now warm newsprint and put it on my Mom’s rocking chair where she’d find it when finished with her house work. Deciding to survey my family on this issue, I asked one of my sisters, “Which way do you think the roll of toilet paper should go, over or under?”
My sister replied, “I just want the person who emptied the last roll to replace it. Whoever doesn’t is a rotten fink!”
Finding another sister, I asked the same question. She responded, “I don’t care about the direction, I just expect people to not be pounding on the bathroom door because they want to use it when I’m in there!”
Mom was in the kitchen peeling potatoes for our supper. Her answer to the question made me stop and think. She said, “I’m just glad if there’s some nice, soft toilet paper on the roll. Years ago, we didn’t have the luxury of toilet paper nor an indoor bathroom.”
I was quiet for a while thinking about how the family had to use an outhouse in the back yard up to a year before I was born. Going outdoors had to be really awful on cold days like today, but they didn’t have toilet paper either? I finally blurted, “If you didn’t have toilet paper, what did you use…” Not knowing for sure how to end my question, I lamely added, “when you were done?”
Mom shrugged as she rinsed the potatoes and put the pot on the stove. She said, “We used things like a page from an old Sears and Roebuck catalogue.”
I tried to imagine using a cold, crinkly, printed page…ugh! I shuddered.
The verdict is that we are lucky to have toilet paper to use in indoor toilets. Getting upset about the direction of the roll means we haven’t known real hardship.