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Home Remedies

Leon Anderson

I was brought up during the Great Depression in Collinsville, IL, where my father worked in a lead smeltry. We lived in one of the infamous "company houses" and, like all the other children in the neighborhood, we had our share of children's diseases. In fact, if someone else had a communicable illness it was guaranteed that we would get it if we hadn't had it before. Measles, chicken pox, whooping cough, mumps, and pink eye all made the rounds. Some more serious diseases also affected our community at times. Diptheria, scarlet fever, tuberculosis, and sometimes small pox hit families close to us. Diptheria, in particular, was a killer of children and several of my friends succumbed to this dread plague. There were shots which could be taken to immunize you from some of these diseases but few of us got them, because our parents just couldn't afford them.

In addition to the old standbys, aspirin and Vick's salve, there were a host of home remedies for most of our ailments. For a chest cold, onions were fried, put in a small cotton bag, and laid on the patient's chest. If you had a cough, your throat was painted with kerosene, or coal oil as it was known then, and for croup a tablespoon of kerosene and sugar was prescribed. Sulfur and molasses were given for a tonic to thin the blood if you had boils. Once, to Mom's dismay, we all got what was then known as "the seven year itch." It seemed like it lasted that long too. One of the jokes of the day was the answer a boy gave when asked how he knew he was fourteen years old. "I've had the seven year itch twice," he said proudly.

The cure for the itch was sulfur and lard mixed together and applied liberally. The primary part of the body attacked by this malady were the legs and large running sores developed there. Our long cotton stockings would stick to the sores and have to be Pulled off each evening. The sulfur and lard mixture would be applied each night and morning. For weeks after we had been cured our clothes smelled like brimstone.

Coal oil was used for a variety of ailments, some of which I have already mentioned. R was often poured on a cut or abrasion to prevent soreness and infection. I can attest favorably to its success in these areas. I have had kerosene applied to many punctures I have received from nails and stones. Going barefooted as we did all summer it was inevitable that our feet would suffer. I remember one summer day, barefooted as usual, I stepped on a mower blade which had been left leaning against a fence. Both sides of my right foot were deeply gashed and thick red blood poured from the wounds. I hobbled home and Mom poured kerosene into the cuts without even washing them first . It was common knowledge that washing a wound in water caused it to be sore the next day while cleansing it with coal oil would prevent soreness. In this case and in my experience with numerous other injuries of this type there was no soreness and the cuts healed rapidly.

When we had cuts on our feet we were admonished not to walk barefoot in the grass until the dew had dried or dew poisoning would result. I've heard people say that this is an old wive's tale, but again I can testify to the fact that my cuts invariably got infected when I did not heed my parents' warning.

There were several solutions to stop the bleeding from severe cuts but the strangest one I remember was the application of spider webs or the silk from milkweed pods to the cut. These remedies were used primarily when the victixn was some distance from help.

Sassafras tea was another remedy used a lot for thinning blood. I don't know how much good it did but we drank it as directed. It didn't harm us at any rate. Some folks in our neighborhood believed that wearing an asafetida bag around the neck would prevent colds. This, no doubt, worked as the bags smelled so bad no one would go near the wearer. The reduced contact with other human beings probably resulted in fewer colds. Thankfully, our parents did not subscribe to this theory and we were spared having to wear the evil-smeuing bags.

Being sick had some benefits that helped illnesses to be more bearable. When I was ill I was wrapped up nice and warm, the home remedies were applied, and the rest of the family gathered around at bedtime. Mom would talk about the pies and cakes she would bake, always the ones I liked best. Dad would tell about plans to visit relatives in Tennessee that summer if circumstances permitted and of the fun we would have. My sisters and older brother would relate to me what had gone on in school and who had asked about me. The teacher always sent homework to any student who was absent so that he would not fall behind and one of my older sisters would help me with it. Then I would be read one of my favorite stories until I fell asleep. A lovely tijrne was had by all. Some of my favorite memories were of the days when I had measles, pink eye or some other children's illness.

Perhaps children in today's world where doctors are readily available and many varieties of medication can be easily purchased would wonder how we managed to survive with the home remedies our parents used. Of course modem medicine is far in advance of what was available back in those days but occasionally I read in a magazine or newspaper article where an old-fashioned remedy is proven to be quite effective. This news always gives me a great deal of satisfaction, although I would advise readers not to utilize any of the remedies described here without checking with a doctor first.






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