Stockpiling for Winter

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Jerry Nelson and his wife are sure to stock up on toilet paper every winter before snow fall begins.
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The hallway closet is dedicated to storing toilet paper through winter storms.

During the winter months, my wife always makes sure that our bathroom closet is filled to capacity with packages of toilet paper. What’s the reason behind this humongous stash of Charmin? She simply wants to avoid another TP emergency. We endured such a crisis a few winters ago, and she doesn’t want a repeat performance.

 Those of us who live in the Snowbelt know that a whiteout winter could come at any time. A whiteout winter doesn’t involve just one particularly nasty blizzard that, like a door-to-door salesman, inflicts itself upon you for a short while before moving on. A whiteout winter is a winter that brings an endless string of snowstorms — months and months that become one long, white blur of frigid misery.

I have a photo of my Grandpa Nelson that was taken in 1968. What makes this photo extraordinary is that he’s walking about 15 feet above the ground. Had Grandpa mastered levitation? Nope; he’s actually walking atop a huge snowdrift that’s occupying the space between the house and the granary — a snowbank that was massive enough to generate its own gravitational field.

It’s not a matter of if another whiteout winter will come, but when. This is why autumn finds us Snowbelters storing away supplies to see us through the next “snowpocalypse.” Something deep in our bones impels us to fill our pantries and stuff our freezers every autumn. Each home is stocked with enough to feed a small village.

“Be prepared” isn’t just the Boy Scout motto; they’re words that folks in the Snowbelt live by. Problems can arise when people fail to thoroughly adhere to this admonition.

One winter some years ago, the forecasters said we were about to receive a good old-fashioned blizzard, but that didn’t bother me; I was confident that we had sufficient stores to see us through a month of snowstorms.

The blizzard struck with fanatical fury, howling through trees, making a lonesome moan that could chill even the most hardened Snowbelt veteran. Snow fell at hourly rates that could have been measured by the 5-gallon bucket. At the height of the storm, visibility could best be described as “the end of your nose.”

As the wind shrieked outside our farmhouse, I looked out the living room window with a sense of self-satisfied serenity. We had stored up enough vittles to feed the entire nation of Luxembourg. Down in the basement, our woodstove radiated the warmth of a comforting fire.

The blizzard showed no signs of abating on its second day. I was enjoying a bowl of homemade tomato soup when my wife approached me with an expression that said something was deeply amiss.

“What’s wrong?” I asked, bracing myself for the worst. Was the dog’s tongue froze to the pump handle? Or was it something really devastating, like we’d lost our internet connection?

“We’re almost out of toilet paper,” intoned my wife dolefully.

“Is that all? I thought it might be something serious!”

“This is serious!” replied my wife.

I pointed out that we had plenty of paper materials on hand. Junk mail, I told her, was put on Earth for a reason.

No sale! It was forcefully impressed upon me that we were facing an emergency of epic proportions and something had to be done. I knew it was my duty to handle this situation.

By the following morning, the skies had cleared and the wind had subsided to a mere gale. I fired up my four-wheel-drive pickup and set out in search of emergency TP.

It’s only 6 miles from our house to town, but it could have just as well been a thousand. Every road in every direction was a sea of snowdrifts.

I chose the route that looked the most promising. I put the pickup in gear and floored it. Almost immediately, the windshield became an explosion of white. When I realized that the pickup was no longer moving, I exited the cab and assessed the situation.

The pickup was in so deep that it was suspended a few of feet above the ground. It would take countless hours of digging before its tires would again touch the ground. It was clear that I’d underestimated road conditions.

I retreated to the warmth of the cab and pondered my fate. Walking back to the house (and into the teeth of the wind!) was an unpleasant option. Shoveling my way out seemed impossible. But the worst part was that both of those scenarios meant returning home empty-handed.

Just when I’d begun to think that I might become part of a new glacier, something appeared on the horizon. It gradually drew closer, slicing through the drifts like a kitchen knife cutting through a birthday cake.

It was our neighbor on his payloader. He plowed a path to my bumper, climbed down from the cab, and hooked a chain onto my pickup.

“Thanks so much!” I gushed.

“Thank your wife,” he replied. “She’s the one who called. She said you guys are dealing with an urgent situation.”

“Yeah. We have a toilet paper emergency.”

“Cripes! That’s the worst kind! I’ll bust a path to town and make sure that the road stays open until you get back.” Thank goodness for good neighbors.

So that’s why, when the autumn leaves begin to turn, my wife stuffs the bathroom closet with so much toilet paper that we can barely close the door. Because she’s sworn that we will never again be caught short-sheeted.

Jerry Nelson is a former dairy farmer from Volga, South Dakota. He and his wife, Julie, live on the farm that Jerry’s great-grandfather homesteaded in 1887. They have two grown sons. He enjoys gardening, traveling, and putting around on his 1949 John Deere A tractor. Jerry’s book, Dear County Agent Guy, is available at and at booksellers everywhere.

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