In the waning years of Daddy’s life around 1990, a year or so before he married my late stepmom Hazel, he was having a hard time managing things in his little frame house on the farm where he was born and raised. He broke his hip in the late 1980s, and his mobility never returned to normal.
He rarely was highly observant of the finer details of an orderly household. When I was a child he dropped little pieces of tobacco throughout the house, most often on and around his easy chair in the living room, when he filled his pipe to overflowing before lighting it. Mother found this highly irritating, especially when he stood up and the tobacco flakes fell from his bib overalls to the floor.
Daddy seemed to think his need to smoke a pipe, and the particular messy way he did it, overrode Mother’s need for a tidy house–but he never outright said so as far as I know. His apparent lack of concern about her rebukes–tied with his just “not seeing” the mess he made–revealed such an attitude on his part. While I did not think in these terms in those days, Daddy was completely inconsiderate and insensitive in exercising his smoking habit.
So it was interesting to see how Daddy managed his house when he lived alone for a period of years. As his health declined, the number of medicine bottles increased on the little tabletop beside his easy chair. He had a medicine cabinet in the nearby bathroom, but he preferred his medicines at hand so he would not have to get up to get them in the bathroom. Magazines such as Successful Farmer and Farm Journal piled up on the end of the sofa near his chair. Bathroom cleaners populated the top of the toilet tank, but the bathroom grime suggested Daddy neither noticed it nor the bottles of cleaners at hand. His bedroom and kitchen were similarly usable but not especially clean or tidy. Far from it, actually.
On one of our trips to see him, Ellen and I asked Daddy if we could get him anything from the grocery store. He reached over and picked up a used Number 10 envelope that he had leaned up on edge among the medicine bottles. He had a grocery list on the back.
As he handed me the list he explained what he wanted in particular. A certain brand of crackers. Same with beans, bread, eggs, and so on. Then with regard to paper towels on the list, he said, “Son, get the ones with the picture of the man on them.” I smiled when he said this, so he emphasized very seriously, “You know, the ones with the man on them.” He emphasized the word “man” each time, speaking in a clear, firm voice.
I said, “I think you mean Brawny paper towels.”
Daddy said, “That’s it. Brawny. They have the man on the front.”
Brawny paper towels that Daddy liked. (Photo credit)
That was nearly a quarter century ago and this episode of Daddy ordering paper towels from the store is one of my most vivid memories of him during that period of his life. It’s certainly possible that Daddy had tried other brands of paper towels over the years and just found that Brawny towels were better than the others. But I doubt that in his case.
I think Daddy had to surround himself in a “manly” house with “manly” products. He did not want to be overly domestic, did not want to go soft in old age. Did not want to make choices that a woman might typically make, as he saw it then.
Oddly or not, Ellen and I have shopped for Brawny paper towels ever since. She doesn’t really care about the brand that much, the best I can tell, but she knows Brawny paper towels remind me of a fond moment with Daddy. This is related in thought to the blog post I wrote a few months ago about brand loyalty, about how Daddy’s preferences for pickup trucks when I was growing up led me to own several cars among my car choices from that same company throughout my adult life.
Ellen and I have a supply of Brawny paper towels in our pantry. A roll of them is always near our kitchen sink. I keep a roll in our garage for cleaning car windshields and windows. We keep Brawny paper towels in our bathrooms beside the Windex.
Nearly every time I reach for a paper towel, many times a week, this memory of Daddy comes to mind: “Son, get the ones with the picture of the man on them.”