I was reading in the newspaper a while back about on how experts are predicting the increasing cost of toilet paper is going to push it out of reach for most lower income families to afford. Of course, the bathroom fixture manufactures have come to the rescue by developing a double flush auto-hygienically personal cleaner toilet that will eliminate the need for the use of toilet paper which is on sale for a little over $3000..down from the $6500 original price tag.
Yaw, that solved the high priced toilet paper problem. I was really not interested in reading any further to find out exactly how that worked since I was going to save that edition of the newspaper for the day I cannot afford toilet paper and use that article instead.
However, this made me start thinking about what people did before such luxuries as toilet paper came around. That got me to remembering one of the few stories I remember my great-grandfather telling during one of the many times he held family court out on the back porch of his house in East Texas.
I was around eight years old when he told this story and why I remember it was due to how funny I thought it was to hear my great –grandfather telling us about what people in that part of the country had to used before there was toilet paper.
What caused my great-grand father to tell the story was one of my cousins reporting there was no toilet paper in the outhouse. Yes, when I was a kid they were still using outhouses on the farms of rural East Texas. Indoor plumbing back then cost thousands of dollars and none of the family could at that time afford to have plumbing put in. Kinda like the $3000 self cleaning toilets that they feel will solve the future problems caused from the lack of affordable toilet paper. My family did however eventually put indoor plumbing in before my GG-father passed away.
But I digress. Once the announcement of there being no toilet paper was made one of my uncles got up to take care of the problem by walking into town to purchase toilet paper, which was about quarter mile away. Since there were probably fifty people gathered for Sunday lunch it was an urgent problem to solve…must be where I got my problem solving skills.
While that was being taken care of my GG-Father started cranking up the story with the usual, “I remember..” statement. He told us of what was used as toilet paper before there was toilet paper, which to him was just a few years earlier.
What people used after the Civil War, up until the early 1930’s ,was corn husks…yes, I giggled too. That is why I remember this story. Just the thought of how that must of felt using a corn husk to take care of business makes me hurt. Of course my cousins and I got a huge kick out of that and the remarks my grandfather, all my uncles and my dad had on how they also remembered those days. That just added more fuel to our enjoyment of hearing this story.
I remember the next part of the story very clearly because of the way he put words together that described the situation clearly. He went on to tell us that “corn was really never needed in this part of the country until people found out how good corn husks could be for closing the deal in the outhouse”. (Now you see where I get my colorful language.)
Naturally he clarified that statement by explaining that corn had always been around but just to feed the livestock in the winter. Cotton was the mainstay of the economy in East Texas and every available acre of land a person owned was planted in Cotton. But cotton was too valuable to be using in the outhouse.
Even the corn grown in the garden was grown just for a meal or two and not for personal needs. So, according to my GG-father, the acreage allocated to grow corn ”back in the early days” was just enough to feed whatever livestock they kept through the winter. And the husks from that corn was usually fed to the livestock or used as barn bedding, so there was no extra corn or husks to use for things like toiletries.
When people found out how corn hush could be used as an “alternative” in the outhouse they had to then figure out their annual needs for the husk and add acreage to the their corn allotment to cover that need. I remember my uncles telling my GG-father not to go into what the “alternative” was because of us kids not needing to know. I’ll leave what that alternative could be to your imagination since it was left to ours to figure that one out.
He went on to tell a story about how it took years for one of his neighbors to figure out the right allotment of land to cover for the corn husk needs he with a family of 12 kids. His neighbor would come around each spring, well before the annual corn crop was planted, asking if anyone had any extra corn husk his family could borrow.
I have this image of there being some entrepreneurs back in the 1900’s who make a business out of selling corn husk. They probably are today the Venture Capitalist now handing out $100 million dollars by the handful.
The story on corn husk toiletries continued with my GG-father addressing the fact “you didn’t just use any husks on an ear of corn”. He went into a long dissertation on which of the corn husks to use. This resulting in him issuing a command for me, the oldest of the great grand kids, to run to the barn and get him an ear of corn. I remember that day like it was today…it was 100 in the shade and the barn was a 1000 yards from the house. Or at least if felt like it was that far back then.
I came back with three ears of corn in the husk because I didn’t want to have to go back…that was again another sign of my genetic upbringing to thinking ahead. However, this time my thinking ahead got me a scolding from my father on wasting corn. Fortunately my GG-father defused the scolding by telling me to give the other two ears to my grand mother to have her cook them up for his lunch.. But I digress
He immediately drew everyone’s attention to which husk to use from an ear of corn “for your personal hygiene needs”. If I remember correctly it was one of the middle husks. He just kept telling us that “ of course, if you don’t want to pay attention here you can use trial an error. Then you will come to the husk that I am talking about”. Naturally, we had no idea what he was talking about because none of us were thinking we would every need to use a corn husk.
Now this history lesson, combined with a show and tell, was pretty much what took place every time I went with my parents to see GG-Father. Except for this occasion this was not the end of the story.
My uncle had not gotten back from town with the resupply of toilet paper yet and one of my cousins, who just graduating from Potty Training School, had to go.
OH, the timing was so unfortunate for my cousin because what took place next is what got me to remembering this story. That day lives on in my memories because as my Uncle took my cousin by the hand to take him out to the outhouse my GG-Father threw him the ear of corn saying.. ”you’ll be needing this”.
Yep, you guest it. To this day my cousin’s nickname is ‘Cobb’….and I am laughing out loud right now just remembering the look on his face as he walked off with his dad to the outhouse.
This could be the look on your face if what the experts are saying comes true with the price of toilet paper becoming a luxury and we have to go back to something as natural and economical as a corn husk. Guess the show and tell my GG-father gave will come in handy for me someday.
I will have to tell you later the story my grandfather told a few years after my GG-father passed on what my GG-father told him he use when they ran out of corn husk. Yes, potty humor was big in our family gatherings.