Quite some time ago while reading an old column by Blackie Sherrod, a one time sports writer for the Dallas Morning News, my recall button was hit with his opinion that “You qualify as a graybeard if you remember when the approved child abuse was castor oil.”
That statement carried me back to those near “dear dead days beyond recall” when we kids would rather be beaten with a stick than take a dose of castor oil. Gad folks, I’m telling you that stuff was terrible back in those days for no method had been discovered by man to overcome that horrible taste until sometime in the 1930’s.(See Footnote). But brother let me tell you.that back in the 1920’s mama shoved that stuff down us by mixing it with orange or lemon juice which was darn near as bad as taking it straight out of the bottle. I will have to admit that while the taste was detestable the desired results of this laxative rarely ever failed-and if one dose didn’t do the work another one would.
I will say at this point that kids of today have no idea as to what I am referring for two simple reasons:first, parents probably do not give their children castor oil and second the makers of that vile stuff have removed the terrible taste that I remember.
Jogging back through memory land and those bygone days I have a faint recall of Mama’s arsenal of old time remedies. She had no medical diploma for doctoring but she cured many of our ailments with those remedies and at the same time warded off many of those terrible two dollar doctor visits.
Her medicine chest contained such items as:Castor Oil,Epsom Salts, Black Draught,Carter’s Little Liver Pills, Watkins Liniment (good for horse or human),a bottle of turpentine, a jar of Vicks Salve and another of Mentholatum, a box of Calomel Tablets,a bottle of throat mop prescribed by Dr. Granville and obtained from the Trigg Drug Store, some cotton for swabs,a bottle of iodine, a bar of Carbolic Soap and nearly always a can of Cloverine Salve (left over from the cans I could not sell on my first venture into door to door selling at the age of 10).
Of course along with the memories of the medications Mama would use to abuse us came the recollection of how we kids dreaded the appearance of spring. We knew that each and every spring we had to have a through of calomel (being careful not to eat foods with acid—to avoid being salivated) this was then followed by a dose of castor oil to cleanse out the side effects of the calomel.
NOTE:In my youth I never learned what”salivate” meant. I just knew it was a scary word and according to Mama it could cause your teeth to rot out.
Then came the yearly cleansing of our systems with doses of sulphur and molasses, and lordy lordy how can I ever forget those enemas she gave us to help in the cleansing process. And not to be overlooked were those occasional doses of Epsom salts or Black Draught which nearly gagged us as we tried to drink the nasty stuff. The taking of pills was not so bad because they were always hidden in a spoonfull of clabber.
In those olden days when we stepped on a rusty nail Mama would make us soak our foot in kerosene (the penicillin of yesteryear), then she would put a slice of fat meat (off of a hog we killed that winter) over the wound , tied a rag aroung the foot to keep the fat bacon in place, then we were ready to go play again.
The procedure was the same when we stepped on a thorn or got a splinter in our foot. This time however we had to go through that painful process of digging the object out with one of Mama’s needles (if she wasn’t successful then Papa worked on us with his pocket knife). If all of the object couldn’t be removed then the wound was cleansed with kerosene and a piece of fat meat was tied over the wound, this time to draw the remains of the sticker out of the foot.
Mama washed all of our cuts and scratches with Carbolic Soap then covered the wound with iodine. She doctored our chapped hands with Mentholatum and when we had colds she swabbed our chests with Vicks, put a hot cloth over our chest, made us put some Vicks up our nose and sent us to bed with a hot iron covered with a towel.
Although there were times we thought Mama was killing us with a lot of her doctoring, she must have done a pretty good job for out of six kids, four lived in to their seventies, sis died at age 94 and I am still kicking at 97.
While on the subject of castor oil I must tell of an incident occurring somewhere around 1936 while I was working at the Central Drug Store:
A friend called me at the drug store one night and said “Bill, I need to give my daughter Ila Mae a dose of castor oil, can you fix it up in some drink so that she will not be able to taste it?” I told him that I would do my best and for him to order her a root beer when they got to the drug store. I then got a root beer glass, poured in a dose of castor oil and set it aside.
Upon their arrival they sat down on the bar stools at the soda fountain. My friend said “Bill, I want a cherry coke and Ila Mae wants a root beer.”
“I’ll fix her the best root beer she ever had,” I said as I grabbed the glass with the castor oil in it. I pumped in two large squirts of root beer syrup, pitched in some ice, put the glass under the carbonated water faucet, turned on the hard stream and fizzed the contents of that glass all the way to the top. Then, holdings my breath I passed her the glass and as I prepared her dad’s coke she took a straw and started drinking her root beer.
I stood frozen with horror, thinking of the days when Mama had to give me two or three doses before I was able to hold one of them down, and there that sweet little five year old child was looking at me with those trusting eyes and sipping that awful stuff as if it was a real root beer. She sipped every drop and told me it was the best drink she ever had.
A piece of my heart went out to her that night and she has had it ever since. I still call her my little sweetheart and that lucky husband of hers, never resented it.
When I called her to verify this ancient story she said, “Bill, you left out one thing — you forgot to say that I thought so much of you I would have drunk it even if you had put in poison.” Now do you see why I still love her? She may be a grandmother to some people but to me she is still that loveable little girl who could drink a root beer with castor oil in it and think it was good just because I made it for her and now, bless her heart, she tells me that she is getting along just fine with her two new knees.