Blogging Along the Brandywine: Recalling old lessons

As children, my sister and I used to tease our father. Even though he was now a successful patent attorney, he was still the child of German immigrants, who grew up during the dust bowl and depression days in North Dakota.

After breakfast, if his paper napkin was still more or less clean, he would fold it and put it in his pocket. Often that evening, we’d see him remove the paper napkin and use it again. As little girls, we’d sing out with a giggle “Daaa- deeee.”

Toilet paper has become a scarce commodity.

Our father also carried a cotton hanky in his pocket which went in the laundry hamper at the end of the day.

My sister very clearly remembers the day when after pulling a graceful ribbon of toilet paper off the roll, our father admonishing her to use no more than two squares. She was then given a lecture about why out-houses were always equipped with old Sears Roebuck catalogs.

And both my grandmothers kept well-stocked pantries — large closets with shelves of cans and boxes of non-perishable food and other supplies.

So many of those voices from my childhood are coming back to me.

The generations that came of age in the 1960s, and after have been spoiled.  We weathered the Kennedy assassination of 1963, the long gas lines of 1973, the terror attacks of 9/11 and the recession of 2008. If we wanted something, we could always make a quick trip to the store, or more recently, just click on Amazon and you’d have it in two days.

But we’ve never known a time of facing an invisible, stealthy and, as yet, uncontrollable enemy.

At our house, we are now using cloth dinner napkins, formerly reserved for company. The cloth napkins save the paper kind, last for more than a day and when they get dirty, go in the laundry basket. In addition, I just ordered another dozen cotton handkerchiefs to stretch the remaining boxes of facial tissue which are no longer on store shelves.

And while it took me several trips to the market, we now have a healthy pantry and freezer. But the first day I looked for frozen veggies I was met with an aisle of empty freezer shelves with only okra and Brussels sprouts remaining.

It shook me to the core, as it reminded me of a long-ago trip to Russia I had taken with our students when I was teaching. We were in Leningrad on a cold, drizzly, March day, when the tour guide saw a line outside a shoe store. Seeing a friend in line, she told the bus driver to stop. She jumped out, gave her friend some money and jumped back on the bus. She said she didn’t know what had just arrived, but it must be good.

And no, I haven’t seen toilet paper in the stores since I grabbed 4 rolls of Scott's single-ply 1000 at Lowes two weeks ago.

But there’s one more voice from the past that I hear too. It’s my maternal grandmother, a feisty, no-nonsense nurse who served in France in WWI with the Army’s American Expeditionary Forces.

When we were toddlers, our parents left my sister and me with our grandparents in Washington, D.C., while they vacationed in Williamsburg. After an afternoon of sight-seeing, grandma would say,

“Now wash your hands good!”

So please listen to grandma and do it.

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About Sally Denk Hoey

Sally Denk Hoey, is a Gemini - one part music and one part history. She holds a masters degree cum laude from the School of Music at West Chester University. She taught 14 years in both public and private school. Her CD "Bard of the Brandywine" was critically received during her almost 30 years as a folk singer. She currently cantors masses at St Agnes Church in West Chester where she also performs with the select Motet Choir. A recognized historian, Sally serves as a judge-captain for the south-east Pennsylvania regionals of the National History Day Competition. She has served as president of the Brandywine Battlefield Park Associates as well as the Sanderson Museum in Chadds Ford where she now curates the violin collection. Sally re-enacted with the 43rd Regiment of Foot and the 2nd Pennsylvania Regiment for 19 years where she interpreted the role of a campfollower at encampments in Valley Forge, Williamsburg, Va., Monmouth, N.J. and Lexington and Concord, Mass. Sally is married to her college classmate, Thomas Hoey, otherwise known as "Mr. Sousa.”

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One Response to “Blogging Along the Brandywine: Recalling old lessons”

  1. brandywinebard says:

    Thanks Chris and Bonnie for your replies. Glad you liked it.
    And oh my gosh….I arrived at the Giant at 5:50 this morning (March 31) for the 6:00am Seniors Shopping. I got a 12 pack of Scotts t.p.
    Oh I shouldn’t say that – now everyone will be at my door.
    Stay health!

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