Last week I was sitting in the chair at the barbershop discussing current events in accordance with the prescribed procedure at such places of business. (Do you ever wonder if barbers get tired of having to talk about the same thing all day long?) The subject of the inexplicable shortage of toilet paper came up.


We understood why there might be panic buying of some commodities, but why toilet paper particularly? As old-timers will, Jim Rodatz and I recalled that years ago that would not have been a problem. He suggested that as a good topic for an article, so here goes.


It may be difficult for my grandchildren to imagine, but I can remember distinctly when both sets of my grandparents first got indoor toilets. My mother’s parents got their kitchen water from a wonderful spring on the slope behind the house. My Green grandparents got kitchen water from a cistern, and drew their drinking water from a well which provided as refreshing a swallow as I ever swigged. The toilets, however, were “out back.”


This particular arrangement did have its inconveniences. A trip to the privy on a cold winter morning could be a thrilling experience, and the rough-cut holes in the seat were not very comfortable. On the other hand, you never had plumbing problems with an outhouse. Furthermore, teenage girls were not likely to tie up the facility doing whatever it is that teenage girls do that occupies modern bathrooms for hours on end.


Youngsters today do not even know what a Sears Roebuck catalog is, in all likelihood. More and more commerce is conducted electronically, and mail order catalogs are pretty much a thing of the past. The cell phone is the catalog of today. However, a few generations ago the big general merchandise catalogs performed a very important function in society. People bought all sorts of things mail order. I even remember when the Aldens catalog offered dogs for sale.


My father recalled that when his family ordered shoes each year, they would trace the pattern of their feet on a piece of paper (allowing enough room for growth), send the diagrams to the mail order house, and that would be their shoes for the year. If your feet grew more than expected, you cut a slit in the side to ease the discomfort. If the soles wore out, you put a piece of cardboard in the bottom of the shoe.


These catalogs served another important purpose totally apart from commerce. I do not recall my grandparents having toilet paper in the privy. That would have been an extravagant waste of money during the days of the Great Depression. What was there was a catalog. Sears Roebuck and J. C. Penney were the most common, but there were others. (Believe it or not, children, that was how it was, honest to goodness.) And that is why Jim Rodatz said that the current frustrating shortage would never have happened back in the good ol’ days.


I am very thankful for indoor plumbing. Outdoor privies were one part of nostalgia that I was very happy to let fade into the realm of memories. However, with four daughters and a wife in the house, along with two sons, I must admit that there were a few times back over the years when a growing sense of urgency made me wish there was still a “Plan B” in the toilet facilities.