Dad’s cheap toilet paper



Recent shortages of toilet paper caused by panic buying during the pandemic remind me of my youthful days in the 1950s.

When our family moved to Storm Lake in 1956, Dad operated Cullen Our Own Hardware at 517 Lake Avenue, where Mary Angel’s and Mis Potrillo’s clothing store is located today. Most of what we used in our house came from his store, including toilet paper.

Our Own Hardware brand toilet wasn’t in the same league as Charmin. It was more like 40 grit sandpaper. I’m not so sure we didn’t get slivers using it. But use it we did, because Dad could buy cases of it at cost and that was good enough.

Mom finally put a stop to this bargain basement toilet paper, even if we had to pay more at the supermarket for the soft stuff.

With a family of six kids to feed (five of them boys), toilet paper wasn’t the only commodity Dad tired to economize on. He also bought unlabeled and mislabeled cans from the canning plant on West Milwaukee, where DeAnda Auto Sales is located today.

He could buy cans of corn, peas and beans cheap because you didn’t know for sure what was in the cans since they were missing the correct labels. Dad bought cases of these anonymous vegetables for years — and we ate them just fine. It’s just that Mom never knew for sure what vegetable she’d be cooking that night until she opened the can.

The plant, which opened in 1906, canned vegetables for private label brands, and provided a market for farmers in the area who grew sweet corn, beans and peas, crops that have long since vanished from the Iowa countryside over the past 60 years. The plant closed in the late 1970s.

MOM AND DAD were thrifty about other things, like long distance phone calls. In a practice followed by many other families, whenever any of us kids were traveling, like going off to college, we’d call home to let the folks know we had arrived safely. But to avoid the long distance charges, we’d ask for some fictitious person like “Bob.” Mom or Dad would refuse the charges and know that we were OK. I’m sure the phone company was aware of this trick, but there wasn’t much they could do, although occasionally the operator would try to cut you off.

When I went off to college, I suppose I was homesick for the first month or two and called home a couple times a week. Eventually Mom told me to quit calling so much because I was running up the phone bill. That’s what you call tough love.

While they were certainly thrifty, Mom and Dad weren’t cheap on things that were important. They fed us well, kept a dry roof over our heads and saw to it that all six of us kids got good educations. And that cheap toilet paper helped pay for that.

“MANY PARENTS are discovering that teachers may not be the problem.” — Bette Miller

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