Childhood Illnesses

Reader Contribution by Arkansas Girl
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I always wonder why children get sick, and that’s probably because I was one sickly little girl. Seems like every germ, virus, bacteria, or parasite that came along, they apparently saw my poor, frail body as a likely camping site … and camped, they did.

Now, what ailed me as a child? Just about everything, but these in particular. Tape worms: My mother made some kind of weird concoction with a taste that I can’t describe and with ingredients that I have no earthly idea what they were. However, to make a long story short, whatever was eating my food, this medicine finally poisoned them. Thanks, Mom, for the “whatever” medicine.

I have to make a confession here. I’m not sure that I believed that any kind of food-eating worms ever lived in my intestines, but I know that a lot of Southern kids, especially in poor, rural areas were plagued by these parasites. Supposedly, they eat your food and as a result, the child is always hungry and malnourished. Of course, I was always starved anyway, but to say that I believe I had worms, I’m not sure. I do know that I was always sick in my stomach with something, so, perhaps they were tape worms after all.

Then, there were ring worms. Seems like we’re in the “worms camp” on this blog. It’s a strange-sounding ailment, but they aren’t actual worms like fishing worms. They are round patches of white, flaky, irritated skin that form in a round-ring shape on the scalp. Have no idea what causes it, but at one time, my head was full of them. And, again, Doctor Mom made up some kind of scalp salve or perhaps she bought something or used something that she got from Lucky Heart Cosmetics. Wherever she got her “medicine,” its continual use eventually cleared up my scalp.

I’ve already written about winter sickness such as colds and their accompanying nuisances such as sore throats and runny, stuffy noses,

My tonsils got infected more than I’d like to remember. Have no idea why they did, but there was no remedy for that. I just had to keep my dirty fingers out of my mouth, keep my bald head covered and dry during the winter, and just live with it.


At school, we were given a series of shots. Seems like every time we turned around our teacher told us that the nurse was coming to vaccinate us. I don’t think any of us kids looked forward to that. Such an announcement was almost like saying we were going to get the whipping of a lifetime. Actually, the way some of those kids screamed, you would think they were being beaten to death. We called those scaredy cats the “big cry-babies.”

On the other hand, I couldn’t figure out why that sweet, gentle nurse, Mrs. Turner, had to stick us with so many needles, but I guess she knew what she was doing. Nevertheless, regardless of how many times she stuck us, she didn’t prevent those dreaded yearly colds and other ailments from visiting our house. So I don’t suppose there’s a “stick” for those illnesses. (I’m being facetious; I know those shots were for polio, diphtheria, and whatever national or international plagues were going around that we children were vulnerable to.)

In addition to those unwanted and unplanned colds, seems as though winter’s inclement weather lowered our immune systems and dumped other illnesses on us such as mumps, chicken pox, measles, earaches, and the whooping cough. Normally when we were sick it was during the cooler season when we had to stay inside anyway, so rest, relaxation, and being sheltered helped us stay well.

For earaches, Mother poured warm, sweet oil into our ears. For measles and chicken pox, she oiled our bodies with hot tallow or some other kind of grease so our skin wouldn’t itch so badly and instructed us not to scratch so the healed sores wouldn’t leave “craters” on our skin. With those afflictions, we also couldn’t get wet until we were well. Fortunately, none of us have any visible signs of our childhood diseases. I don’t remember that we had smallpox … We may have, but I’m unaware of that disease attacking us.

For mumps, we ate sardines, then rubbed the oil on our swollen throats. For colds, in addition to other medicines, Dad bought 666 from the drug store. Remember that? Usually, though, we also drank homemade herbal tea made with lemons, peppermint candy, mullein, pine needles, and any weeds from the wild that wouldn’t kill us. For other illnesses, Grandmother made jimsonweed and sassafras teas. Mother also bought Syrup of Black Draught to clean out our clogged, irritated intestines, and boy, did it do a first-class job.

The year I had the whooping cough, Dad bought me some strange-tasting medicine, but eventually I stopped coughing. We used a lots of medicines for our childhood sicknesses, and they came in handy for whatever ailed us. So there you have the history of our sickly little clan.

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