Instead of a handkerchief or tissues, Dad’s pockets always contained a paper towel. Usually used. And if he noticed any of us kids sniffling during a church service, out came the dirty Brawny. I feared and hated that paper towel. Even at a young age, I had a sense that one hanky for one nose was a good rule to live by. Often I would shake my head at him, as if to say, “No wipe needed here.” If he kept coming, I’d say in my firmest church whisper, “No, thank you.” Sometimes that worked, but usually Dad wasn’t deterred. It’s as though he was captain of the snot police; the slightest sniffle would cause a seemingly involuntary reaction in Dad to reach into his pocket and pull out the paper towel. I can’t tell you how many times I spent all Mass long concentrating on not sniffling. I’d hold my nose closed. I’d sneakily run a sleeve under my nose. I got good at the silent sniffle.

It wasn’t just the idea that Dad might have already used the paper towel that made me hate it. The darn thing hurt my nose. To the nose of a little girl who’s just entered a warm church after walking outdoors on a New England winter’s morning, a paper towel feels like 100-grit sandpaper.

In those days, I envied the kids in school who would arrive at church with their own mini packets of soft, white, clean tissues. I secretly longed for one of those personal tissue packs. But my parents had lived through the Depression. Tissues were a luxury in their minds, and luxuries were something you lived without. For the same reason, they only bought the one-ply econo brand toilet paper (but that’s for another column).

So, when my daughter walked in for breakfast last week, her nose red and chapped from blowing with toilet paper, I thought it best to bring some softness into the house for her sniffer. I rarely buy tissues, except around flu season, when I pick up whatever is on sale. But perhaps there is a best buy in the tissue world. To find out, I surveyed friends and found that people have either strong opinions about tissues or no opinions at all.

“We are not tissue users,” smiled gal pal Erica. “We use toilet paper.”

“People are always asking me if I have some tissues, and I almost never have any in the house,” explained college chum Sarah. “Once in a blue moon I will buy whatever is the cheapest brand, but I have no favorites.”

Frank, my pal Bernice’s husband, a longtime allergy sufferer, is a tissue fan. He has a box of tissues in each room of his house.

“When Bernice and I were first married, she was horrified to learn that I used rolls of toilet paper as tissue sources. They would be left all over the house — it was so trashy! She started buying lots and lots of tissues, but if it was anything other than Kleenex [white tissues, 200-count, $2.00 at Vons], I would moan about my poor chafed nostrils. So, she bought tissues with lotion, and that only made me complain even more. Poor, long-suffering woman. I do not like the tissues that come with lotion. I hate the aloe-covered tissues. It feels like the tissue comes pre-snot-slickened. My nose never feels clean afterward.”

“Whatever I have a coupon for,” snickered sis Nancy, “that’s what I buy when it comes to tissues.”

But her hubby Leon did offer a fave. “I like the Puffs with lotion. You can definitely tell the difference between them and a generic tissue. Your nose will thank you for it.”

Liz, mother of an asthma sufferer, also had a strong opinion. “I love tissues,” she laughed. “I have them all throughout my house. My son gets lots of colds because of his asthma, so we are always wiping that poor guy’s nose. We’ve tried a lot of brands, and I only recommend using Puffs Plus Lotion [$2.49 for 132-count at Vons]. They are so soft, thick, and durable. When you blow, they don’t blow through. And they’re soft on your nose, so it doesn’t lead to chapping. They’re a little bit more expensive than other tissues, but some of the generic tissues feel so stiff and crispy, they feel like you are using tissue paper. The only negative I have with the Puffs is when it comes to wiping lipstick off your lips: they leave a little lotion-y film on your lips. So, use toilet paper for that.”

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