Emergency supplies that we kept in the washstand drawer four score years ago were slim pickings compared to the stock in today’s medicine cabinet.
Rubbing alcohol was the most used all-around treating agent. We splashed it on stings that hurt and bites that itched. We took turns massaging alcohol on stiff back muscles. We dabbed it on face pimples. And we applied it to every cut and scrape—“The stinging is good; shows it is killing germs,” my mother said.
Castor oil was the most dreaded. I was threatened with dire punishment if I didn’t take it but I couldn’t think of any punishment that could be worse. I practiced holding my nose while I swallowed. Nothing lessened the horrible taste. My mother mixed it with orange juice in an attempt to disguise the sickening stuff. As a result, I was so turned against orange juice that I could not stand the thought of drinking it until I was grown, even though I knew it was fresh and undoctored.
Some form of camphor was kept on hand for really bad colds. I rubbed ointment on my throat and around my nose. My faithful nurse-mother soaked a flannel cloth in camphorated oil and safety pinned it underneath my pajama top so it would lie against my chest. Several baths were required to remove the telltale scent.
I could have been a poster child for Cloverine salve. Chapped lips, rough hands, cracked heels and scraped knees all received a spread.
Injuries that required a bandage were first covered with the salve before the ripped strips from an old sheet were tied on. If the injury was to a finger or thumb, my mother rushed to the sewing machine and stitched a custom-fit stall, cut from the same old soft white sheet, to hold the bandage in place. Adhesive tape in those days was not all it was cracked up to be for bandaging.
Many people supplemented bought medicines with nature’s herbs mixed into potions, but my family didn’t experiment along that line. We picked poke sallet and ate it with poached eggs and cornbread; we boiled fragrant sassafras roots and made tea; but all that was simply because we liked the flavors. My dad would grab a leaf of cured tobacco and chew it to make a quick poultice for a bee or wasp sting.
Neither did we use turpentine or coal oil as many did on or in the body as a curative agent for what ailed us. I did soak rag strips in coal oil and tie them around my ankles and wrists to ward off chiggers when I picked blackberries. Perhaps this helped, but never was it one hundred percent effective. I had to head for the alcohol bottle before the day was gone.