Writing this column is indeed a combined effort. My sister, June, is a major contributor. Thank goodness for Skype.
June in Key West or in Angola, Indiana, can talk to me here in Beaverton, Oregon, most every day. We chat about the past as well as fill one another in on the present. I end up looking things up online while we chat to clarify memories. In these conversations, we learn about the different youths we had with our seven-year age span as well as open doors to memories tucked and forgotten. This is how this column came to be.
We did not have a medicine cabinet as I have mentioned before. We had a shelf across the wall at the top of the basement stairs. I remembered bottles of pills, salves and Toni perms on the far end of the shelf. “We did not have prescriptions drugs when I was little,” June said. I guess I had never thought about it. She was actually one of the very first recipients of penicillin which was a brand new drug. Her two years of suffering with rheumatic fever and the determination of her parents and doctor made her a candidate for this new medication. The difference in our ages saw a big change in that first aid shelf.”
“Mom always gave me this horrible stuff to suck on when I had a sore throat,” I said. June replied that it was horehound. I always thought I was sneaky putting it under my pillow when Mom left the room. Maybe, just maybe, I was not the swiftest kid when I was little.
“Remember sassafras tea?” June asked. Yep, I did. Mom always handed me a cup of that pink tea which was another remedy I did not care for when I had an upset tummy. “Mom brewed the little sticks of tea,” June added. Hm. I always thought tea came from in little herbal pieces. Swiftness…..strike two.
Farm kids are always getting cuts and scrapes. When that happened, Mom brought out the little bottle with the lid that had a stick on it. Mercurochrome stung like the devil when applied and left a nice pink tattoo to mark the spot. No one thought back then about the mercury it contained. Surely many of the old remedies would have been yanked off the shelf with all the regulations we have today to protect us.
“Do you remember Lydia Pinkham?” June asked. “Never heard of her,” I replied. Then I did the online search. Lydia concocted a ‘woman’s tonic.’ According to what I discovered, her product did give some relief to complaints of the female users. And why not? Her remedy contained drinking alcohol and ethanol. Lydia probably enjoyed drinking her concoction while she created her fantastic marketing plan.
“Remember Watkins Petro Carbo Salve?” June asked. Hm. I remember that dark, thick, sticky stuff that Mom slapped on anything that needed to be treated. “Didn’t Dad use that on the cows, too?” I asked. Well, sure enough, he did! It was another petroleum-based product that was used from drawing boils to relieving pain and itching. Some farmers kept a tin of it in the barn for the cattle.
The label on the old bottle read: For Man – for wounds and burns. For Beasts – for wounds, saddle, galls, scratches and wire cuts. Yep, that was on the shelf, too. Black Diamond Liniment.
I found it interesting that most of these products are still on the market. Of course, some have changed to meet FDA standards. The barker who sold his wares or the man who knocked on the door selling his products house to house would be happy to know that their products did produce results and stood the test of time.
Always I look forward to my conversations with June. Conversations that broaden my perspective and certainly bring the past into focus in new ways. I have fond memories of that silly shelf that held adhesive tape and gauze that waited to be replaced by Band-aids. I grew up knowing that if it was on the shelf, it was good enough for the cows and good enough for the kids.