July 1959. I’d won a place on a 6-week tour of Europe in an essay competition. The day our buses roared into Geneva, we got mail from home. During suppertime at our 1800s hotel, I started showing some of the kids Dad’s letter. Explaining that he’d finally done the deed we’d discussed (and neglected to mention to Mom), sending labels and coins with his secretary’s return address, he enclosed a carbon copy:
Dear Northern Tissue Company,
I am enclosing two Northern Tissue Paper wrappers and 25¢ for the musical toilet paper holder offer advertised on The Barney Bean Show. My bathroom is blue.
The guys who read it laughed, the girls tee-heed, and Dwayne Johnson from Dubuque sang out, “Hey, I saw one of those this afternoon in the cuckoo clock shop a block from here.”
It cost me five bucks. Painted white, it sported some stylized leaves and a strawberry. A spring connected the music box to the paper roller. When you tugged it, you got a tinkly tune. I’d hoped to find “The Star-Spangled Banner,” but happily settled for the popular German ditty “Oh, Meine Papa.”