My father kept a miniature clothbound notebook in his work shirt pocket and tucked a stub graphite pencil in the special slot in the pocket flap. He recorded the names of homeowners where he tended their yards and gardens and marked his earnings—usually $4 a half-day for his regular clients. He transferred those notes to a ledger every night.
His evening routine seldom varied. He cleaned his reel-style lawnmower and cloth catch basket in the backyard, wiped the yard rake and hedge clippers, and stored them in the toolshed. He came in the back door and washed up for supper. On warm summer days with plenty of daylight, he returned outside and puttered around checking the garden or tending his roses. At dusk, he settled at the kitchen table with the ledger and an indelible pencil in his hand. He touched the pencil to his tongue often to keep the purple pencil fluid as he transferred his earnings to the ledger. On Saturdays, after returning from grocery shopping, he copied each item and the price into the ledger to track the budget. We grew our own vegetables, so the basics included a pound of thick-cut slab bacon or bucket of lard, sugar, flour, oatmeal or Cream of Wheat, and sometimes Postum, and Velveeta cheese. He mulled over the last grocery list prices. He checked the essentials Mama had told him she needed for cooking and calculated the cost. After our town required inside sanitation, a new item appeared on the list. Toilet paper.
No more trips to the outhouse! No more harsh pages from the Sears and Roebuck catalog. Scott tissue entered our home for the first time at nineteen cents a roll. Then it escalated to twenty-nine cents, a price my father called outrageous considering the purpose. He restricted the purchase to a single 1,000-sheet roll at one time, only buying more when that roll neared the paper tube.
One winter evening during a slow period with no yard work, my father removed the thick rubber band from his wallet and peered inside. Then, he labored over the grocery needs using prices from the previous journal entries. He shook his head when the scant necessities totaled more than he had budgeted. He shook his head in dismay. He walked into the living room and asked Mama what she could cut from the list. Her response sounded like there would be no way to bake bread or cook without every staple. He returned to the table and hastily made more calculations. Chair legs scraped the linoleum as he stood and made four long steps back toward Mama.
“The toilet paper we have now,” he said in a hushed tone like it was a dirty word, “will last out the week if the twins only use four squares every day.”
My quiet mother, who usually nodded her agreement to his budget calculations, protested. “They can’t do that. They’re girls!”
I don’t remember what item he omitted. I only know it wasn’t the roll of Scott.