Hey, everyone. The newsletter has been on hold because I’ve been with my grandpa, who passed away this weekend. A lot of people think that they had the best grandpa in the world, but they’re all wrong, I’m sorry! Mine was the best who ever lived!!
We’re cleaning out his house now, and it’s filled with nothing but treasures. There’s a small replica of James Bond’s Aston Martin with a button to launch the villain out of an ejector seat four feet in the air. There are valentines spanning decades, usually addressed with silly salutations like “to my sweetheart Carol Ann valentine honey.” There’s his scuba diving equipment and photos from the week-long golf camp he took me to when I was about seven. And there’s all kinds of things that just interested or tickled him and my grandmother: newspaper and magazine clippings; that list of coincidences between Lincoln and Kennedy printed before the internet was around to debunk them; and issues of Reminisce, a nostalgic magazine with stories from the past.
Reminisce has some cool stuff in it — the latest issue, which we found in Grandpa’s mailbox, is about Harlem in the Jazz Age — but it also occasionally features supplementary booklets with stories sent in from readers. The most confusing one is titled 100+ Home Remedies We’d Rather Forget!
This pamphlet is a sobering reminder that the past was a nightmare and humans are idiots, which can’t have been the intention. Some anecdotes sound merely unpleasant. Nadine Shaw wrote in from Kentucky that “Mother’s remedy for an upset stomach, back in the 40s, was to burn a biscuit until it was black, then scrape the black part into a large glass of warm water, which the ‘victim’ had to drink. To this day, I don’t like toast that is overly browned.” Others are puzzling. South Carolina reader Doris Smith shared a story that sounds like something from the Onion’s man-on-the-street takes: “When my brother began to cut his teeth, Dad put a hole in a dime and had my brother wear the coin around his neck so his teeth would come through easier. I thought that was unusual, and it didn’t work.”
Some of the solutions seem actively dangerous. Charles Smith from Delray Beach, Florida, submitted the following story: “When I was a boy, growing up in Massachusetts, I sometimes had what was known locally as the croup. Mother’s remedy was a teaspoon of sugar liberally laced with coal oil or kerosene. It seemed to be effective. But I’m not sure if that was true for medicinal reasons or because of my revulsion at having to take another dose. One thing is for sure… it’s been years and years since I’ve had the croup — or a taste of sugar and kerosene!”
Skeeter Harbaugh from Brookline, Missouri, wrote in with a harrowing tale that she reported quite bluntly. “My mother, Ella Sampson Followell, used black pepper on all five us kids when we got a cut that bled. So when I managed to get a finger cut off she emptied the pepper shaker on my hand, wrapped the hand and finger in a towel, and took me to the hospital. She told me later that she heard the doctor complaining about all the pepper on my hand, which he had to clean out before he could sew my finger back on. I didn’t lose much blood or the finger, but I don’t recall my mother ever again using pepper on our cuts.” I would hope not!!
The anecdote that most concerned me came from Betty Silvas in El Mirage, Arizona. “I was telling my daughter how I got head lice, when I was seven,” began Betty, conversationally. “My dad bought a little drop of mercury, mixed it with lard, and rubbed my whole head with it. My head was wrapped with a towel for the night. The next morning, I washed my hair with hot water. I never got lice again. My daughter told me that mercury is poison. Well, I guess it was — for the lice.” (The book has a disclaimer in the back that specifies that these home remedies “are shared for entertainment purposes only and are not recommended for use,” which is duplicated on Betty’s page for very obvious reasons.)
Here are some more highlights from the 100+ home remedies that Reminisce readers would rather forget.
- This book contains lots of cures for warts. “Scratch a wart until it bleeds, then put battery acid on it,” suggests Dawn from North Carolina. Two people wrote in with stories about rubbing coins on their warts. Betty from San Jose said that she was instructed to wrap a piece of steak around the wart, but that she substituted raw hamburger meat and it worked fine. Beatrice from Sonoma had to rub half a potato on her hand and then bury the potato. Similarly, Roxanne from Indiana said that her aunt would tie a string around warts, then put the string under a rock and let the string rock. “The wart eventually disappeared,” she claims, which seems like it would have happened on its own anyway. Frances from San Jose had a more active solution, writing that her family cut off the head of a chicken they were going to cook, “then rubbed the warm blood on the warts. I had to let the blood dry and throw the chicken head over my shoulder and not look where it landed. I’m now 70 years old, and no warts!” Lucille’s family’s wart remedy also involved a chicken. She wrote to say that when growing up in West Virginia, “we pricked it with a needle till it bled. Then we rubbed a kernel of corn over the wart and fed the corn to a chicken.”
- Similarly, Ruth Davidson reports that when her father was a boy in about 1887, he stepped on a rattlesnake and got bitten. His mother treated it by sticking his foot “in the warm cavity of a chicken she’d just killed.”
- I didn’t realize that humans could get worms like dogs do, but apparently they can be prevented with a mixture of either turpentine and brown sugar or oatmeal and kerosene.
- Someone treated chicken pox by chasing a chicken until it flew over the afflicted child.
- Whether or not you’re religious, someone can treat your nosebleed by reading a Bible verse aloud to you until you have it memorized, at which point “the bleeding will miraculously stop.” However, you must be religious in order for Jimmie McDowell’s burn remedy to work: simply say “Two angels came from the north; one brought fire, one brought frost. Go out, fire, come in frost, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost” three times, then blow on the burn. Again, Jimmie stresses, “A person must have faith for this to work.”
- Delton Conlon from Bradenton, Florida reports, “I often got boils when I was young. My dad had four hunting dogs, and he’d have one of them lick my boil. Believe it or not, the sore healed. Our veterinarian told us that a dog’s saliva had healing powers, and said that that was why they always licked their sores.”
- Readers provide a wide range of options for curing an earache. “When I was a boy, during the Depression,” writes Clarence from Pennsylvania, “my parents would treat my earaches by putting a warm raisin in my ear.” Two people wrote in to say that their parents treated earaches by blowing smoke in their ears. Margaret from Washington, age 91, said that she read a column in the paper “by a Dr. Brady,” who I assume was the old-timey equivalent of Dr. Oz, that recommended treating an earache with iron rust. Margaret said she scraped some off a hay mower, stuck it in her ear, and never had another earache. Irene from Seattle said that her family’s cure was “to bring one of the tame barn cats inside and let me use the cat as my pillow.”
- Some dude wrote in to say that there was an old “granny woman” in his community who would treat children’s infections with moonshine from her slipper. I need more information.
- I truly hate every time that spiders or webs are mentioned in this book. One child was forced to wear a bag around his neck containing “mustard, onions, brown sugar, camphorated oil and spiderwebs” to treat whooping cough. Edith Parker from Saraland, Alabama reported that in order to treat a nosebleed, “Grandmother went out to the barn, collected a small wad of cobwebs, spit some ‘snuff juice’ on it, and stuffed it up my nose. The bleeding stopped immediately.” Donna in Pittsburgh shared some wisdom from her childhood in the 20s and 30s in a small mining town in Pennsylvania: “For a sore throat, place a crushed spider way back in the mouth. (When I heard this one, I never admitted to having a sore throat.)”
- This book offers plenty of advice on treating infected wounds. Someone who stepped on a rusty nail wrapped a “plug of sod, dirt side up” around the wound. I thought this sounded gross until I found a similar solution for treating a “felon,” or inflammation, with cow manure. Another child who stepped on a rusty nail had a piece of bacon wrapped around her foot, which she said made her feet slide around in her shoes when she insisted upon going to the county fair, bacon-wrapped open wound be damned. (This bacon cure was also mentioned for a bunion.) Someone else did the same thing with a rotten apple instead of raw meat, and I don’t know which one sounds worse.
- Medications that children consumed instead of applying topically ranged from Sloan’s Liniment (“he thought that if the liniment was good for the outside, it should be good for the inside”) and Vick’s Vapo-Rub (mixed with sugar).
- Someone reported the following remedy for sore joints: “My grandparents would fill a small bag with earthworms, hang it in a warm spot and place a pan underneath to catch the ‘oil.’” I read this aloud to my brother Brian, who wondered if they did this because earthworms… are so flexible? Was that the idea?
Anyway, modern medicine is a gift.