Halloween is getting to be like Christmas. People just cannot wait. Retailers start stocking Christmas stuff in September. Public decorations start going up in early November. And now, Halloween is being fast-tracked. The first day of October, I saw its first manifestation: a yard that had been “rolled” with toilet tissue. The sight of all that soft white paper being wasted brings out the Puritan in me – you know ... the fear that somebody somewhere might be having fun?
It is more complex. It involves the socio-economic layering of Sparta’s society when I was a youth in the early 50s. We had no wealthy families. There was only one well-to-do, and they kept their living standard only modestly better than their neighbors. Others were sharecroppers, renters, or young ex-servicemen trying to pay for land and climb into the yeoman farmer class. Some of these gave it up and moved to town. Others took day jobs in service, manufacturing, or distribution and farmed at night. Others had working wives.
A convenient way to describe the social layering was by toilet facilities. The well to do and two-income families (working wife, military pension, or 4-Fs who had worked in war industry and saved) had indoor plumbing. These could be counted on the fingers (likely one hand). Next came those with “sanitary toilets,” i.e. concrete flooring with a seat placed over a dug pit. These dated from the WPA era, and my family had one. One notch down were those with outhouses – an outbuilding with a seat open at the back. Snakes, wasps, spiders, and inquisitive roosters could cause a visit to be painful. These families were the “pore-but-proud.” At the very lowest economic level were the “just plain pore,” who used a barn or nearby woods to answer nature’s call. Only those with indoor plumbing could afford toilet tissue. The rest of us depended on the Sears Roebuck catalog or corn cobs for sanitary care.
The practice of rolling yards got its start back in the 80s when I was still “teaching school,” as we called it then. The kids were teaching me, but I did not realize it at the time. Each time I saw soft, clean toilet paper being wasted, I was reminded of how we enjoyed Uncle Lester’s visits in the 50s. He was a retired Navy CPO who had settled in NC, and in alternate years, he and Aunt Emma would come for a fortnight’s visit. His lifestyle seemed exotic and luxurious to us. He shaved daily and would drive to Houston every few days to take a shower at the barber shop. Furthermore, he always brought a roll of clean, soft toilet paper and left it in the toilet. Sis and I thought he was rich. For two weeks, we were spoiled to treats of candy, taken fishing (he had a rod and reel rather than cane pole), were allowed to accompany them as they visited other relatives, and treated to store-bought loaf bread. The biggest luxury to me was that toilet paper. When they went home and the last of the roll was used, we faced two more years of catalog pages.
I remarked to some youngsters who were recounting their adventures that it seemed an expensive and wasteful activity. A young man replied, “It doesn’t cost anything. You just go in restrooms at stores and restaurants and get it.”
I hope he was just pulling my chain, but his vote counts the same as yours. Now, that’s scary.