I was. That is, a child of the Fabulous Fifties. I just finished Bill Bryson’s The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid, given to me at Christmas by my wife (after I had given it, unread, to our younger son last year) and it’s pretty much a reflection to which I can bear witness, when not choking on laughs:
Under the sink, my mother kept an enormous collection of jars, including one known as the toity jar. “Toity” in our house was the term for a pee, and throughout my early years the toity jar was called into service whenever a need to leave the house inconveniently coincided with a sudden need by someone – and when I say “someone,” I mean of course the youngest child: me – to pee.
“Oh, you’ll just have to go in the toity jar then,” my mother would say with just a hint of exasperation and a worried glance at the kitchen clock. It took me a long time to realize that the toity jar was not always – or even often – the same jar twice. Insofar as I thought about it at all, I suppose I guessed that the toity jar was routinely discarded and replaced with a fresh jar – we had hundreds after all.
So you can imagine my consternation, succeeded by varying degrees if dismay, when I went to the fridge one evening for a second helping of halved peaches and realized that we were all eating from a jar that had, only days before, held my urine. I recognized the jar at once because it had a Z-shaped strip of label adhering to it that uncannily resembled the mark of Zorro – a fact that I had cheerfully remarked upon as I had filled the jar with my precious bodily nectars, not that anyone had listened of course. Now here it was holding our dessert peaches. I couldn’t have been more surprised if I had just been handed a packet of photos showing my mother in flagrante with, let’s say, the guys at the gas station..
“Mom,” I said, coming to the dining room doorway and holding up my find, “this is the toity jar.”
“No honey,” she replied smoothily without looking up . The toity jar is a special jar.”
“What’s the toity jar?” asked my father with an amused air, spooning peach into his mouth.
“It’s the jar I toity in,” I explained. “And this is it.”
“Billy toities in a jar?” said my father, with very slight difficulty, as he was no longer eating the peach half he had just taken in, but resting it on his tongue pending receipt of further information concerning its recent history.
“Just occasionally,” my mother said.
My father”s mystification was now nearly total, but his mouth was so full of unswallowed peach juice that he could not meaningfully speak. He asked, I believe, why I didn’t just go upstairs to the bathroom like a normal person. It was a fair question under the circumstances.
“Well, sometimes we are in a hurry,” my mother went on a touch uncomfortably. “So I keep a jar under the sink – a special jar.”
I reappeared from the fridge, cradling more jars – as many as I could carry. “I”m pretty sure I”ve used all these too,” I announced.
“That can”t be right,” my mother said, but there was a kind of question mark hanging off the edge of it. Then she added, perhaps a touch self-destructively, “Anyway, I always rinse all jars thoroughly before reuse.”
My father rose and walked to the kitchen, inclined over the waste bin and allowed the peach half to fall into it. “Perhaps a toity jar’s not such a good idea,” he suggested.
Our circumstances were a bit less upscale than the Brysons – my mom did not pull in a salary – but many of our memories are pretty close. Not surprising since we were both born in 1951.