Do you have toilet paper? / ¿Tienes papel higiénico?

La versión en español está después de la versión en inglés.

KATHLEEN TEXTED FRIDAY AND INVITED us for dinner Saturday night. Pedro was making ribs. We went late after the kids were already in bed. We brought a supermarket dessert and a loaf of banana bread. The ribs were dee-licious. Pedro also cooked corn on the cob (sweet corn if you’re from farm country). Also delicious. San Geraldo was in heaven. His favorite meal.

A few years ago, during one of our first meals at Pedro and Kathleen’s, Kathleen was putting Luke to bed, while we three remained eating. There were no napkins on the table, so SG asked for one. Pedro got up and quickly returned with a roll of toilet paper, as if that were perfectly normal. We cracked up. He said, “It’s all we have.”

At the time, SG and I were driving to Marbella weekly. He had an appointment and would drop me at La Cañada, a large shopping mall, where I would buy a package of decorative and fun paper napkins for them. That hasn’t happened for a while.

Last week, there were no napkins on the table so I asked, “Do you have any toilet paper?” Pedro proudly brought a roll of paper towels to the table and tore off half of one for my use. Saturday night, SG threw a package of dinner napkins in the bag with the banana bread and dessert. I’ll have to start shopping again. The toilet paper and corn on the cob remind me of a story. Everything reminds me of a story.

In 1984, SG and I flew from Washington, D.C. to South Dakota from where we took a scenic drive with his parents and grandparents to Flathead Lake, Montana for a family reunion. SG’s father, Jim, installed CB radios in his truck and his father’s car. The CBs were a bit of a headache, but there were entertaining moments.

The family enjoyed telling me, the city boy, stories of life on the Great Plains. They got on the subject of farming and, of course (SG’s family), that led to the discussion of outhouses (which they called, generically, biffies). SG was talking about how they used pages from the Sears Catalog as toilet paper. They’d crumple it in their hands first to remove the finish from the paper.

While I was riding with SG and his grandparents, Jim, came over the radio and said, “Dad, tell Mitch about the corn cobs.” Grandpa, a very stodgy and proper 82-year-old who treated me like one of his own, began in his deep baritone and serious, slow drawl, “Well, Mitch, inside the biffy we had two piles of corn cobs. The red ones. And the white ones. First you used the red ones. [Dramatic pause.] Then you used the white ones to make sure you got everything.”


KATHLEEN NOS ENVIÓ UN TEXTO el viernes y nos invitó a cenar el sábado por la noche. Pedro estaba haciendo costillas. Fuimos tarde después de que los niños ya estaban en la cama. Trajimos un postre de supermercado y una barra de pan de plátano. Las costillas estaban deliciosas. Pedro también cocinó mazorcas de maíz (maíz dulce si eres de campo). También delicioso. San Geraldo estaba en el cielo. Su comida favorita.

Hace unos años, durante una de nuestras primeras comidas en casa de Pedro y Kathleen, Kathleen estaba acostando a Luke, mientras nosotros tres seguíamos comiendo. No había servilletas sobre la mesa, así que SG pidió una. Pedro se levantó y regresó rápidamente con un rollo de papel higiénico, como si eso fuera perfectamente normal. Nos reímos a carcajadas. Dijo: “Es todo lo que tenemos.”

En ese momento, SG y yo conducíamos a Marbella semanalmente. Tenía una cita y me dejaba en La Cañada, un gran centro comercial, donde les compraba un paquete de servilletas de papel decorativas y divertidas. Eso no ha sucedido por un tiempo.

La semana pasada, no había servilletas en la mesa, así que pregunté: “¿Tienes papel higiénico?” Pedro con orgullo trajo un rollo de toallas de papel (y no papel higienico) a la mesa y arrancó la mitad de una para mi uso. El sábado por la noche, SG arrojó un paquete de servilletas en la bolsa con el pan de plátano y el postre. Tendré que empezar a comprar de nuevo. El papel higiénico y la mazorca de maíz me recuerdan una historia. Todo me recuerda una historia.

En 1984, SG y yo volamos desde Washington, D.C. a Dakota del Sur, desde donde hicimos un recorrido panorámico con sus padres y abuelos hasta Flathead Lake, Montana, para una reunión familiar. El padre de SG, Jim, instaló radios CB en su camión y en el coche de su padre. Los CB fueron un dolor de cabeza, pero hubo momentos entretenidos.

La familia disfrutó contándome a mí, el chico de la ciudad, historias de la vida en las Grandes Llanuras. Llegaron al tema de la agricultura y, por supuesto (la familia de SG), eso llevó a la discusión de los retretes fuera de casa (a los que llamaron biffies). SG estaba hablando de cómo usaron páginas del Catálogo Sears como papel higiénico. Primero lo arrugarían en sus manos para quitar el acabado del papel.

Mientras viajaba con SG y sus abuelos, Jim, vino por la radio y dijo: “Papá, cuéntale a Mitch sobre las mazorcas [sin maíz].” El abuelo, un hombre muy pesado y correcto que me trataba como a uno de los suyos, comenzó con su voz profunda de barítono y su acento lento y serio: “Bueno, Mitch, dentro del biffy teníamos dos pilas de mazorcas. Los rojos. Y los blancos. Primero usaste los rojos. [Pausa dramática.] Luego usaste los blancos para asegurarte de tener todo.”

• On the road to Flathead Lake, 1984. Yes, that’s me with (black) hair.
• En el camino a Flathead Lake, 1984. Sí, soy yo con pelo (negro).
• Sunday morning. Beckett and his first chocolate chip banana bread.
• Domingo por la mañana. Beckett con su primer pan de plátano con chispas de chocolate.

Author: Moving with Mitchell

From Brooklyn, New York; to North Massapequa; back to Brooklyn; Brockport, New York; back to Brooklyn... To Boston, Massachusetts, where I met Jerry... To Marina del Rey, California; Washington, DC; New Haven and Guilford, Connecticut; San Diego, San Francisco, Palm Springs, and Santa Barbara, California; Las Vegas, Nevada; Irvine, California; Sevilla, Spain. And Fuengirola, Málaga..

28 thoughts on “Do you have toilet paper? / ¿Tienes papel higiénico?”

  1. My father, who used to visit his grandfather on the family farm in Colorado, has told the same story about red and white corn cobs, though theirs were kept in outhouses. I guess Biffy’s didn’t deliver to Colorado!

    1. Bob:
      SG’s family’s were kept in outhouses, too. They just called them biffies. (Like Kleenex for all facial tissues or Hoover for all vacuum cleaners.)

  2. One of my sons says all our family conversations always end up with us talking about shit–literally. 🙂

    My mother’s family came from East London and my aunt did not have an inside toilet in her council house until the mid-1960s. Always dreaded needing to use the loo as a child as this one-hole wooden bench in a shed was out back down a tall, narrow brick passageway (with a cemetery behind the wall). Bitterly cold and dark in winter (had to carry a torch/flashlight) and the only loo paper was small, dull white waxy sheets that you had to briskly rubbed together in order not to ripped your nether regions to shreds. Ah, memories.

    1. Mary:
      On two boyscout overnighters I did sit in an outhouse with a 2-whole bench AND I used that waxy supposed toilet paper. Ugh!

  3. According to media reports, napkin companies are all apparently on the brink of bankruptcy because nobody uses them anymore except old geezers like us Boomers. Today’s youngsters just rely on paper napkins, leftover fast food napkins or (*shudder*) toilet paper. Savages!

    1. Debra:
      SG and I used to use cloth napkins all the time. Lately, it’s been paper towels and paper dinner napkins while the cloth napkins sit in a drawer.

  4. Thankfully the outhouses were gone from the farm before I was born. In 1978 my grandmother bought a house in Florida near the space center, she remarked that is was the 4th house that she had bought in her adult life, and the first one that an indoor toilet in it when she bought it.

    1. David:
      I had never even heard of a house without indoor plumbing until I met SG, although he grew up with indoor plumbing.

  5. We use cotton cloth napkins and have a ton of them. When we are out and about we use paper napkins I gather from coffee shops and restaurants. Since we old geezers/thanks Debra are slobs at time while eating….. they come in very handy.
    That biffy story was hilarious! Grandpa sounds like a gem for sure.

    1. Jim:
      We used to only use cloth napkins. I don’t know what’s happened to us (we still have them in a drawer). My mother collected “free” paper napkins whereever she went (and sugar and artificial sweetener… and mustard and ketcup… and soy sauce… and…). I think that’s why I can’t do it. Jerry’s grandparents were so good to me and such a joy to be around. A role-model couple.

  6. We routinely use half-sheet paper towels for napkins and then I use the used “napkins” for cleaning seaspray off the window frames. In desperation, I have used toilet paper instead of paper towels and paper towels instead of toilet paper! Dinner looks scrumptious. Becket seems delighted with chocolate chip banana bread; he may need a whole roll of paper towels for cleanup.

    1. Wilma:
      Until Pedro, I never used toilet paper instead of paper towels or napkins. Come to think of it, I didn‘t use it that night either! Kathleen has a large package of wipes on hand at all times.

  7. That is one happy looking family! I love corn on the cob. Our here this years was the best I tasted in years too. I just bought the last of the season week before last, froze some, and made Chicken Corn soup with the rest. Now time to move on to butternut squash and cauliflower soups for me.

    I sure hope Beckett didn’t BBQ finger paint the walls after that meal?!?!?!?!

    1. Mistress Borghese:
      I’m not a fan of corn on the cob because it’s messy. (What a jerk.) But Pedro’s was so delicious that I finally just cut it off the cob like SG’s father used to do because he had dentures. I also hope Beckett didn’t fingerpaint the walls. They’re all brand new and freshly painted. But I’m sure Kathleen didn’t let him leave the table until he had been completely sanitized.

  8. I remember using crushed newspaper whenever we ran out of tp growing up. How can two adult people forget to buy the stuff when they had six girls in the house? Cloth napkins? Really? I still use paper towels. It took me a long time to use the cloth napkins at fancy (to me) restaurants because I was uncomfortable getting them dirty. Sheesh, no wonder I’m the life of the party! My west coast bestie turned me on to sweet white corn years ago. I have a hard time with the yellow stuff now. SG’s family seems like a lot of fun.

    1. Deedles:
      I don’t remember ever running out of tp when I was growing up (and, believe me, that’s something I’d remember). SG and I always used cloth napkins. I don’t know why we stopped. We have tons of them pressed and folded in a drawer. SG’s father wouldn’t eat sweet corn unless it was picked that day.

  9. I saw an old magazine ad once from the 1920’s that featured a disgruntled employee with the caption: “Is your bathroom breeding Bolsheviks? Buy Scott toilet tissue!”…. who knew that sore arseholes cause communism? LOL

    1. Tundra Bunny:
      I’ll have to check out that old add. But, didn’t everything breed Bolsheviks at one point (one very long point) in American history?

  10. Ah, the joys of a happy child covered in bits of chocolate. My parents talked about the corn cobs but I never knew the punch line until reading it here.


    1. Janie:
      Oh, the things I learned from SG’s family. I would often have to put my hands over my ears and sing really loudly (still do).

      1. Oh, sure we did. But I thought the subject was the bare cob after the corn was eaten. Are those red with indian corn? And isn’t indian corn normally used for decoration as opposed to eating? That may be why I’ve never seen the cobs…

      2. Walt the Fourth:
        I don’t even know if Indian corn is the same as red corn, but I’m pretty sure the cobs were similar in color to the corn. Until I met the South Dakota clan I knew nothing about corn (still don’t know much). However, that’s when I learned sweet corn was what you ate and all the rest was feed corn. Feed corn cobs were what were piled up in the outhouses.

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