That early pandemic shortage that sent shoppers searching was not a first.
It was early in World War II when King George II sought help from the British ambassador in the United States, writing, “We are getting short of a certain type of paper which is made in America and is unprocurable here.”
“A packet or two of 500 sheets at intervals would be most acceptable. You will understand this and its name begins with B!!!”
Historian Andrew Roberts identified the paper as Bromo, “a soft lavatory paper,” author Erik Larson wrote in “The Splendid and the Vile.”
Larson’s tome, released this year, focuses on Winston Churchill, his family, close aides and efforts to involve Americans during the blitz in the first year of the war.
The title came from a line in the diary of Churchill’s private secretary about the peculiar beauty of watching bombs fall. “Never was there such a contrast of natural splendor and human vileness,” John Colville wrote.
Churchill, aides and others often stood outside, or even on roofs, to watch the bombings, Larson reported in the book.
The pandemic shutdown provided extra time for reading, at least for we retirees who are free of family or job responsibilities (though not worries about our families who haven’t had that luxury.) True libraries closed their buildings, but they continued to provide electronic book loans which provided us hours of pleasure or contemplation.
The stay-at-home orders also spurred many to order food, supplies, even the sometimes elusive bathroom paper. But demand also put a crimp in deliveries, we discovered.
My husband and I, residents of rural areas for many years of our marriage, already had a habit of ordering supplies and even furnishings. Our first bedroom set arrived in rural Montana after it was ordered from Montgomery Ward. Mention that company or Sears Roebuck and our generation almost inevitably recalls our childhood excitement when the Christmas catalogs arrived in the mail.
We do not see huge paper catalogs now, and we do our ordering online. Generally the orders arrive promptly. During the pandemic there have been exceptions, we learned.
With extra time on my hands, I started piecing the quilt top my granddaughter, now a WVU freshman, requested with her T-shirts from years in the Martinsburg youth community theater program.
It required more iron-on interfacing than in my drawer, something that also seemed to be in short supply except in large, and more costly, quantities. In mid-April I finally found a smaller supply and ordered it April 15 through, not surprisingly, Amazon.
An email the next day, informing me that it had been shipped! But the arrival date? May 2 to May 24! Is it making a trip around the world, we wondered.
The material was in the mailbox before the earliest estimate — by one day. It came May 1.
That’s such a minor difficulty.
Much bigger problems loomed for the sick, their families, those who have been laid off, and, as I wrote last month, for the 7,300 Peace Corps volunteers abruptly called home.
It shocked us when we first heard of it through one of the former volunteers who served in our 1961 South American project.
Initially it appeared the evacuated volunteers were in limbo.
But later in April the U.S. Labor Department clarified that the evacuated returnees were eligible for unemployment benefits provided in the Congressional stimulus package and some other assistance.
At first there also appeared to be some doubt if they could return to service. The federal agency has since announced that beginning late this month evacuated volunteers may apply for either reinstatement or re-enrollment.
There is no guarantee of the first, the Peace Corps website states. “Although we cannot promise to return you to your original site, we will do our best to do so, if you are interested.”
Or the volunteers may apply to re-enroll for another full term of service (about two years) in a different country.
October is the earliest date volunteers may be sent back to the field, the agency stated, and that is, of course, subject to the host countries and, presumably, the status of the pandemic.
“Peace Corps may start issuing invitations as we assess, in partnership with our host country governments, if the conditions are right to welcome back volunteers,” the website says.