The urban legend of the Pop-Tart wrapper as I remember it. Please feel free to leave editing and spelling errors I missed in the comments. Or, if you participated in this story and would like to tell your side of it, you are free to do that, too:)
I’m hiking up the mountains with my aunt, Karla, and we’re either in Sequoia National Park or somewhere in Utah. I can’t remember which.
Karla had a backpack that used to have the lunch we had eaten earlier on our hike. I, being around 9 years-old, carried nothing and had fun jumping in the little streams we came across on the path.
As the hike went on, I told my aunt that I need to go to the bathroom. She asks nicely enough if I can wait. Of course I can. I’m 9 years-old. I’m practically old now. But as the hike goes on, it starts to weigh on me like a ton of bricks. I tell her again that I really need to go and she says:
“There’s nowhere to go out here.”
That’s true. I guess there aren’t many outhouses on hikes. Though there should be. That would be a good idea. Because I really have to go.
After some more hiking, it’s all I can think about. I have to go, I have to go, I have to go. When I can’t take it anymore, I tell her again.
“Karla, I have to go to the bathroom.”
“Why didn’t you go earlier?”
Because I didn’t have to go then is my first thought. Since that’s something a little kid would say, I gather my pride and say, “I didn’t have to go earlier.” I didn’t even whine. I’m so old.
Karla stops hiking and looks around. She sighs and I can tell that she’s thinking of a plan. Good.
“You can go behind that tree.”
That doesn’t sound so good. The tree she points to is barely off the path. It takes some convincing on her part that it’s better than nothing and when she offers to stand guard, I agree.
The tree is wider than most trees are and it offers a lot of privacy. This is what leads my memory to place it as happening in Sequoia. Have you seen the trees there? You can’t even hug them, they’re so wide. As I answer nature’s call, it comforts me a little that we haven’t seen a soul on this hike. Deep down though, I can feel the terror of someone flying suddenly around the bend and seeing me.
When I’m done, I reach my hand out behind the tree.
“Hand me the toilet paper, Karla,” I say.
She scoffs. “I don’t have any toilet paper.”
I realize too late that it’s not a normal thing to bring toilet paper on hikes.
“Okay, I’ll take a napkin.”
“I don’t have any napkins. Why don’t you just air-dry?”
“I can’t,” I say, a little timidly.
“Why not?,” Karla says as she peeks around the tree and I can hear her gasp rip through the empty woods. “I thought you had to pee!!” She would later describe what she saw in that small peek as “a steaming pile.”
Oh are we in a pickle now.
“Why don’t you use a leaf or something?,” Karla suggests. I look around the woods as my thighs are starting to burn from all this squatting and all I can see are pine needles and sticks. Even if there was a leaf, I wasn’t going to risk wiping it all over my sensitive areas and then get some sort of terrible rash or disease. I’d rather sit here and let my thighs burn.
I’m getting really desperate now.
“Are you sure that you don’t have any napkins?,” I ask. We had food. It didn’t seem too far-fetched that we’d have at least a used napkin.
Karla, clearly frustrated now that I think she’s lying and that she actually likes standing there with me and my “pile,” pulls out her back pack and starts to rummage through it.
Angrily she says, “The only things in here are some trail mix, a water bottle and a Pop-Tart wrapper.”
“I’ll take it,” I say, immediately sticking my hand out behind the tree.
“What?” She sounds shocked. She wasn’t offering it as a suggestion but I don’t care. I wiggle my fingers urgently. Reluctantly, she hands over the tiny, silver wrapper that’s torn down the middle and covered in little red letters: Pop-Tart! Pop-Tart! Pop-Tart!
As far as toilet paper replacements go, Pop-Tart wrappers are not very good ones. It gets the job done, but I’d only give it a five out of ten if I were grading it for usefulness.
I walk out from behind the tree leaving all my pride behind. I’m never, ever going to speak about this again. We continue on our hike. Until.
“Is that you?,” Karla says as she sniffs the air.
“No,” I say defensively. She believes me and keeps hiking. Self-conscious now, I make more of an effort to stay down wind. I try to tell myself that it’s normal for all those flies to suddenly be interested in my back side and that Karla couldn’t possibly be right. As the hike goes on, Karla gets more and more insistent that she does smell something and that it is me. Finally, she stops on the path.
“You stink and you need to do something about it.”
“Like what? Do you have any more Pop-Tart wrappers?”
“No,” she says and she points to some snow next to the trail. This is where my memory insists that we were somewhere in Utah. I doubt there’s snow in Sequoia.
Karla stands guard again as I gather my courage and a huge handful of some cleanish snow. I’m so sorry I ever thought bad of you, Pop-Tart wrapper. You can have a nine out of ten for pleasantness compared to this. This time, as we continue on our hike, I leave my dignity behind as well in that small patch of snow.
You know how earlier I had every intention of never speaking about it again? Turns out, I forgot to tell Karla that. Okay, I didn’t even think to tell Karla that. I thought it was implied. And completely obvious. When we got back to the campground, she told everyone. The story has been passed down for years (and honestly most people leave out the snow part though I remember it very well) so that after a while, “Pop-Tart wrapper” became synonymous with “toilet paper” in my family. We’d be getting ready to go on a hike and I’d get a little nudge in the ribs. “Did you pack enough ‘Pop-Tart wrappers’, Jessica?” Ha ha ha. Laughing, laughing, laughing. Though napkins were more often thought of as essential on any hikes where we brought lunches – and me. For which I was very grateful.
Many years later, when I was a teenager and had all but forgotten about this, we had an activity in Young Women’s where we were supposed to tell embarrassing stories about ourselves. All the girls, including me, told stories like, “I burped in front of a cute guy. Tee hee hee!” The leaders anticipated this and called all of our moms to get the really juicy ones. We were all red in the face and laughing our heads off as the leaders went around the room and told the real stories they had gotten from all of our moms. It gets to my turn for the leader to tell the embarrassing story my mom told and she looks more serious than she did before.
“Your mom wouldn’t tell me the story. She didn’t think it was nice to embarrass you,” my Young Women leader says. I don’t know whether to feel relieved or left out. “All she would tell me was something about a Pop-Tart wrapper and-”
At the words “Pop-Tart wrapper,” I let out a high-pitched squeal, cover my mouth with both my hands, and I’m positive, even though I can’t see myself, that I’m beet red. My leader clearly thought my mom was just making stuff up (what could possibly be embarrassing about a Pop-Tart wrapper?), but when everyone sees my reaction, they won’t let it rest. I try my best to play it cool and pretend like I have no idea what my mom was talking about, but no one is buying it. I’m mentally kicking myself for reacting the way I did. Finally, I give in and through hysterical laugher I tell the whole story. Everyone in the room is practically drowning in laughter by the time I’m done. I think there were even a few tears.
Oh, the things that haunt you.