Some folks wore, or carried in their pockets, a small cloth pouch containing plants, herbs and/or spices believed to have medical benefit. Others believed in the magic of a tonic, home made, and administered in ample dosage at the right time of the year. There were as many different recipes for the tonics as there were people making them. Many of these ingredients were the same as those sewn into the aforementioned pouches.
The chief requirement of these ingredients, whether for the pouch or the tonic, was that they be natural and easily obtainable. They were rarely, if ever, “store bought stuff,” for the simple reason that most folks back then lacked the wherewithal to make such purchases and many did not have access to vendors selling such. Of course, a trip to the shack of a “white witch” or a “conjure man” could produce the necessary secret ingredients, provided one carried the price, which could run anywhere from a plump hen to a kid goat or a suckling pig. Dabblers in the mystic arts rarely dealt in the coin of the realm.
In my mother’s family, the flu retardant of favor was based on the belief that a body, clean on the inside, cannot be infected by outside sources. Thus was born the ritual of the yearly cleaning out. The cleaning out was accomplished with a two tablespoon dose of castor oil.
If you are one of those fortunate people who have never been subjected to the castor oil treatment, I have two things to say to you. First, you have been truly smiled upon by the gods. Second, pray fervently that you continue to lead your charmed life. There is no way to describe the experience, or the taste of castor oil, except to say that the vilest, nastiest, most repugnant taste sensation you can imagine would taste like a chocolate malt when compared with a shot of castor oil.
I fought, like a wounded and trapped animal, the taking of the vile stuff, to the point of being spanked and sent to bed with no supper, only to find the dreaded concoction sitting at my place the next morning. Many a day I went to school with no breakfast because of my defiance of the “devil’s concoction.” Out of desperation, my parents decided to try mixing the castor oil with something. Oranges could be had cheaply at that time of the year in west Texas. So, my mother would squeeze the juice from a couple of oranges into a glass and pour in the dreaded castor oil. Here is where the plan went awry. Orange juice is a liquid. Castor oil is, after all, oil.
The blending process was, to say the least, less than desirable. Though successful in getting me to force down the despised medication, it was also successful in, forever, ruining the taste of orange juice. To this day, 65 years after my last taste of orange juice and castor oil, I still taste castor oil when I attempt to drink orange juice.
Since the Saturday after Thanksgiving, I have been suffering with a severe case of the flu, which has rendered me mostly inactive. I spend a lot of time in my recliner, affording me time to think. The total lack of integrity in daytime TV forces one to revert to the art of reminiscing or just sitting for hours with a blank look on one’s face. At my age, sitting still and expressionless for long periods of time can prompt questions like, “Poppa, are you still with us?”
So I have spent a great deal of time this past week weaving in and out of memories of illness, cures, tonics, castor oil, asafetida bags, mustard plasters, menthol rubs, etc.
Everyone’s cure for the flu started with instructions on the use of the medication, then ended with, “Do that, get plenty of rest and drink liquids, you will be better in a week or 10 days.”
I finally went to my modern 21st century doctor, last Friday. He gave me a prescription and the name of an OTC product. He said, “Take those meds, get plenty of rest and drink liquids and you will be better in a week or 10 days.”
Well, at least we haven’t gone backward in 70 years.
Pete Borden is a retired masonry contractor in east Cobb.