A girl learning to read cursive, I discovered a piece of paper on the kitchen counter one day. Mom’s pretty handwriting listed words like flour, baking soda, tea bags–things she used in the kitchen.
Then, in the middle of the list she wrote TP. What was that? I heard her walking up the basement steps. She came to the counter, picked up the pen next to the paper, and added Tide and Clorox to the list.
“Mom, what’s TP?”
“Why, that’s toilet paper,” she said as if I should know.
Well, I didn’t. And I couldn’t remember hearing her or anyone else say TP, for that matter. Furthermore, I hadn’t yet grasped the expansive application of abbreviations within the English language.
Of course I understood what USA meant. Everyone did. But TP puzzled me. Why did Mom use the first letters of both words instead of spelling it out like she did baking soda and tea bags?
I’d stumbled upon my mother composing her grocery-shopping list, which meant she’d be driving to A&P after dinner. She might bring home a bag of M&M’s and hide it for Sunday night with Disney. I knew what A&P or M&M’s were, but not what the letters meant.
I knew Mom depended upon her grocery list because she couldn’t remember everything our family of six needed without it. Asking Irene next door for a roll of toilet paper wasn’t like borrowing a cup of sugar.
Women of a more genteel generation, my mother and Irene didn’t speak of such bodily functions in public. When I overheard Irene mention changing her daughter’s diaper, she said BM. I asked Mom about that, too, because she never said BM.
A farm girl from Appalachia, Mom didn’t talk about such things to my sisters and me. We didn’t know she grew up using an outhouse. In her sixties, Mom at last declared, “I hated that thing. A lizard ran up my back and I had to have tetanus shots. They were very painful.”
When visiting our Kentucky uncles throughout my childhood, they’d allude to the Sears and Roebuck Catalog and outhouse with a smile and glint in their eye. Mom never did.
In the 1960’s, TP took on a mischievous meaning. Teens went to wasting their household’s toilet paper on another’s property by stealthy nighttime visits. My parents couldn’t imagine such behavior.
Neither could I until a sleepover with a good friend at her house. I’m ashamed to admit I followed the crowd and TP’d another good friend’s home. I felt awful and eventually tracked her down forty years later and apologized.
A woman who escaped childhood polio and recovered from the Hong Kong flu in 1968, I’m learning to read the signs of the times. What would my resourceful parents think about folk hoarding toilet paper when there’re washcloths in the house?
Dear Reader, foremost, who will tell the whole truth about this present pestilence termed COVID-19?
I don’t want to follow the wrong crowd again.
Contact Iris at firstname.lastname@example.org.