Covid-19 Diary: Please Don’t Hoard the Charmin

Confession: I’ve never used a corn cob in place of toilet paper. I’ve never used a hand full of Lamb’s Ear from the flower garden. Or even a page from the Sears and Roebuck catalog.

But I have made use of an old-timey outhouse a time or two. I’m not talking about a newfangled plastic porta-potty, but about a real wooden outhouse with a crescent moon on the door and splinter danger everywhere. Old-timey outhouses are one reason I’m grateful to have been born in a time and place where indoor plumbing was the norm. And to have been born to a mother whose linen closet was filled not only with perfectly folded sheets and towels and tablecloths but also with plenty of toilet paper.

My earliest memory of toilet paper is of single-ply Scott tissue, each roll individually wrapped in paper only slightly more stiff and scratchy than the toilet tissue itself. Although Charmin began selling toilet paper in economical four-packs back in the 1930s when Mother was a child, her brand loyalty remained with Scott for decades. It finally shifted when “Please Don’t Squeeze the Charmin” commercials hit TV airwaves in the 1960s. Mr. Whipple convinced Mother and most every other housewife in America that their bathrooms desperately needed Charmin.

Remember when toilet paper came in colors? A lovely roll of pastel blue, pink, green or yellow toilet paper was the perfect designer touch for bathrooms with pastel blue, pink, green or yellow sinks, tubs and toilets. Or you could go with floral-printed toilet paper. You could even buy it scented, of all silly things.

By the time the 1980s rolled around, worries about the harm such fancy bathroom tissue might be doing to the environment, not to mention the human body, convinced manufacturers to return to plain white toilet paper with no dyes or perfumes. But now that consumers didn’t have to decide between colors and patterns and scents, other dilemmas arose. Store brand or name brand? One-ply, two-ply or even three-ply? Soft or strong? Quilts or ripples? Single roll, double roll, triple roll or even quadruple roll?

I remember a time in the not-too-distant past when those were real—and, in retrospect, ridiculous—choices I was forced to make every time I shopped for toilet paper.  Not anymore.

When I got home from Denver in mid-March, with toilet paper panic already in full swing, I was grateful I’d bought a nine-pack of triple rolls before I left. Surely that would last me for a while. The first couple of times I went to the grocery store, I couldn’t even score a single roll of one-ply Scott. Then, in early April, I went to Sam’s Club during senior shopping hours. They had toilet paper stacked to the ceilings! But only one choice: Member’s Mark Ultra-Premium bath tissue (“less lint, superior softness with the strength you need”), 45 large rolls. I happily heaved a package into my buggy.

So did every other senior citizen at Sam’s. I didn’t pass even one shopper without a 45-pack of toilet paper in the buggy. Victory was ours.

I’ve never really kept track of how much toilet paper I use over the course of a month, but since I’ve been sheltering in place with no visitors, I’m sure it’s no more than two rolls a week. Which means that if I’m reasonably frugal, I have at least five months of toilet paper on hand. More than enough for me, and plenty to share if I hear of a friend in need.

But I think I’ll plant a big patch of Lamb’s Ear in my flower garden, just in case.

(May 3, 2020)