April 16, 2021
Lately, I’ve been exchanging emails with a cousin. Since our moms were sisters, one of us tends to tell a story about what our respective mother or our mutual grandmother did or told us. The other one responds with a similar story or a completely different one.
It’s been lots of fun seeing how the sisters kept some of their family traditions. One of our recent email conversations has been about home remedies that our mothers used when we were sick as children. My mother and my aunt were raised during the Great Depression, plus they were raised in a family of nine children. Doctors were only consulted in the most dire circumstances, so home remedies were common.
It’s probably no wonder that my cousin and I both remember most of the same remedies from our own childhoods. After all my grandmother raised nine children to adulthood using those tried and true remedies. It turns out, though, that the sisters varied their ministrations in some ways.
In my family, Vicks Vaporub was the go-to cure for nearly everything that ailed you. When I was growing up, there was always jar of Vicks in the medicine cabinet. Dad used it for everything. If you had a cold, it got rubbed on your throat and chest, followed by an old sock safety-pinned around your neck. If your nose was stuffed up, Vicks was rubbed around your nostrils to help you breathe. If you had a headache, you rubbed Vicks on your forehead. My dad was even known to swallow a dab to help soothe a sore throat.
The Vicks tradition was less important in my cousin’s family; his mother heated up Dr. Pepper soda and made any child with a cold breathe in the fumes. To seal the cure, the patient drank the Dr. Pepper. If no Dr. Pepper was in the house, my aunt used Jello in the same way.
Both sisters followed the tradition of soaking almost any kind of wound. They put hot water into a basin and added a dollop of ammonia. The afflicted part was then soaked in the concoction. The theory was that the ammonia would disinfect the wound. By my cousin’s and my day, we’d also had vaccines against tetanus, but my grandmother had used the same treatment to stave off “lockjaw” as she called it back when her children had not been vaccinated.
Then there were the remedies for stomach upsets. Mostly these consisted of a glass of 7 Up to settle the stomach or maybe a glass of Alka Seltzer, if the child could be coaxed into drinking the nasty stuff. You can probably tell what my view of Alka Seltzer was since I still refer to it as nasty, but I do remember Mom trying to get us to choke it down – usually to no avail.
No matter what the illness, the final step in effecting a cure for anything was a nice hot bowl of Lipton’s Noodle Soup. My mother kept the bright red package on a shelf in the pantry, and it was her meal of choice for any child home from school suffering from anything from measles or chicken pox to a stomach ache. I admit I still make myself a package for lunch any time I’m feeling a bit under the weather.
I don’t remember using as many home remedies with my own children. Doctors visits and antibiotics were the preferred remedies by then. In spite of that, I still keep a box or two of Lipton’s soup and a jar of Vicks on the shelf. I don’t know how effective either actually is in curing anything, but for me they remind me of being cared for by my mother, back when I was sure she could cure anything with a bowl of soup!
Researcher/Director at Large