Toilet Paper Redux

My mom, stepdad, sister, brother-in-law, and nieces joined us in Utah this week for a last few days together. They live in Florida and California respectively and we won’t be passing their way for at least another year. With a majority of our parental units in the same building at the same time, we called a family council to discuss “the trip.” We knew we might be in for a grilling—remember, we are taking away a significant percentage of their grandchildren and exposing them to unknown diseases and dangers for the better part of a year. Everything went pretty well until we reached the topic of India. At this point in the conversation, my sister, Melinda, called her husband, Todd, in from the playroom. Though Todd appreciates a good jungle gym as much as the next guy, he was watching the preschoolers rather than sliding and climbing himself. (Can you believe Big Lou—Tom’s dad—built this on his own?)

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Todd is a relative expert on India since he spent two semesters working and studying there. Masterfully playing into the grandparents’ collective fears, he described some of the more valuable lessons he had learned while in the subcontinent: wear local clothing, be prepared for dirt and stench, and expect chronic diarrhea. This alone was enough to send Tom’s mom, Lorelie (she of licking the toilet seat fame), into a veritable paroxysm of disgust. But Todd had just gotten started. “Because you know they don’t use toilet paper there.” “What?” “They use their hands, their left hand to be exact.” As if someone had just described her worst nightmare, Lorelie was wrought with horror and disbelief. “And these are the same people who will be cooking the food you’re eating?” she inquired. “Mmm hmmmm.”

From this point on, there was no progress in the discussion. None of the older generation could get beyond the lack of toilet paper. “What if you take your own?” Lorelie wondered. “There’s nowhere to put it,” replied Todd. “You’d have to take it with you or throw it on the street, because very often you don’t even have a toilet to use. That’s part of why it smells so bad.” Again, shock and dismay. Todd realized he had unintentionally inflicted serious damage to our cause and qualified his former statements. “Don’t get me wrong. I love India. I loved my time there. I think you should stay two months, not just one. There’s so much to see. The people are great. The country’s like a big dog whose bark is really fierce, but once you approach him he wags his tail and you realize he’s friendly.”

The grandparents remained unconvinced, but like everything with this trip, they know they must accept it. We’ve given them little choice in the matter. They just smile, nod their heads, and think to themselves, “They must be crazy.” Lorelie, however, remains traumatized by the toilet paper notion. She is handling it a little better now that Tom explained the hand is used only to splash, not to wipe, but she still turns green any time the subject comes up.

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