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  • How Do You Spell Relief?

    by Cookie Curci

    In an active household, where hardly a day goes by without someone skinning a knee or suffering a mild body ache, a well-stocked medicine cabinet is essential. Maintaining that cabinet has become increasingly expensive. I didn't realize just how expensive until my husband and I recently restocked our own household medicine chest.

    At our local pharmacy, we perused the endless enticing shelves of medicinal remedies. We filled our hand basket with the necessary supplies--antihistamines, stomach antacids, antibiotic ointments, nasal decongestants, bandages, cotton swabs, etc. By the time my husband and I reached the checkout counter, we'd filled our shopping basket to the brim. I was surprised at the number of items we'd managed to cram into our little plastic basket, but even more surprised when the total rang up at nearly $100!

    I couldn't help but remember when I was a kid in the 1940s, and $100 would have been enough to pay the household property taxes for a year and still have enough left over for a month's worth of groceries and medicinal needs. Our household medicine chest was a simple one, consisting of one jar of Vicks Vapor Rub, a bottle of aspirin and a box of baking soda. Those were the days when a little Vicks and a lot of Mom's love was all we needed to cure a chest cold. It was a time when that old saying "Take two aspirin and call me in the morning" was no joke but the sage advice of the family doctor.

    A small box of Mom's kitchen baking soda was the only antacid on our medicine shelf. It also sufficed as the family's daily toothpaste. Our childhood scrapes and scratches were treated and smeared with tincture of iodine. And just about everything needed for a well-stocked medicine chest was sold to us door-to-door by the J.R. Watkins Company. From liniment to laxatives, the friendly Watkins man had it all.

    In Grandma's day, the medicine cabinet was even simpler. Household cures and remedies were grown in the garden and concocted over a wood-burning stove. Like most women of her day, Grandma treated her family with down-to-earth homemade notions and potions--everything from sycamore tea to treat bellyache or cayenne pepper plasters to soothe Grandpa's rheumatism. Healing salves, hot poultices, liniments, pastes and more were all part of Grandma's medical regimen.

    Grandma's soothing herbal teas made from catnip leaves, comfrey root, chamomile, basil, mint or chicory served to treat a variety of ills. Family members suffering from stomach aches, sore throats, headaches, allergies or hives found relief in a cup of Grandma's tea. To treat a cough or a cold, Grandma had her own old-fashioned version of NyQuil: She would bring lemons and water to a boil, add ginger and mint and a good helping of honey and sugar. When the ingredients melded into a thick syrup, she added a shot or two of Papa's strongest brandy and served it good and hot to her patients. A large spoonful of this potent mixture usually gave us a restful night's sleep.

    Grandma added dandelion and chicory to her ground coffee to soften the caffeine's effect. As far as household fresheners went, Grandma had her own methods. Lavender, rosemary, pine needles and cloves placed under the carpet or behind the sofa gave each room of her house the fresh smell of herbs and spices. As for hair-care products, a touch of olive oil and a good brushing with a boar bristle brush were all that she needed to sustain healthy hair. On special occasions, when Grandma wanted to comb her hair in a stylish finger wave, she boiled arrowroot and water to a thick gel. She called this mixture "stay back," and it kept her every wave in place.

    During the epidemic of whooping cough and trench mouth in the mid-'40s, Grandma had each of her grandchildren gargle daily with a solution of water and hearty red wine. Grandma believed the pungent wine could prevent infection. Whether she was right, I couldn't say, but none of her grandchildren ever contracted either disease. We did, however, in later years, develop a profound liking for cabernet sauvignon.


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