All of us, no matter how healthy, can expect a dreaded visit from that miserable old man, "Mr. Sick," at least once in our lifetime. Unfortunately, he popped up at least once a year at our house, and with so many of us kids one was almost always sick, especially during those long, cold, winter months. So, "Dr. Mom" stayed on the ready with some kind of medicine to remedy our frequent childhood illnesses. My mother didn't believe in going to the doctors' office, so when we got sick, whatever grew out in the fields gave her the herbs that she used for medicine and healing.
Like clockwork, we kids came down with some kind of malady during inclement weather. Now, this may sound morbid, but I looked forward to sickness more than I looked forward to going to work — sickness was the lesser of the two "evils." And whenever I think about it, it seems like childhood illnesses weren't as taxing on the body as grown-up ailments. That could be because, with the passing of time, I've simply forgotten what it was like to be sick.
When we caught a cold, that unmerciful demon brought along his hated cousins: chills, fevers, coughs, sore throats, stuffy heads, blocked sinuses, and runny noses. We inhaled camphor for decongestion. We ate Vick's Vapor rub and saturated our little, flat chests with it as well as with hot tallow (cow grease) to help break up the mucus and clear our lungs. But no matter what medicines we took, these unwelcome intruders hung around until they outlived their usefulness. It was as though colds had a time frame, and if the cold's time wasn't up, it didn't leave. The medicine simply eased the symptoms.
Since we kids came down with a cold every winter, Mother was always ahead of the game. With the herbs that she gathered from the woods, she concocted her favorite homemade remedies. One of those bitter, weird-tasting, stomach-gagging concoctions that she forced down our throats for colds was called a "Hot Toddy." The ingredients are a little strange; nevertheless, they were brewed together into a nice, soothing, hot tea that scared away colds and anything else that was tormenting us.
Mom's get-well formulas worked like this: When it was time for that unsavory, slow-pouring castor oil to be administered, the drama began. That liquid had to be force-fed. Mother literally stood over us in a threatening manner before we'd finally "gag" it down.
Then it came to the "Hot Toddy;" we drank that strong, strange-tasting tea just before turning in, with a verbal warning that no matter how hot and sweaty we got (and believe me, we got summertime-hot under a pile thick, heavy quilts) not to kick the covers off. To do so would expose our body to the room's contrasting cold night air and thus defeat the cure's purpose. If we removed the covers, the "toddy" wouldn't work as well as it should have.
While we sweated in our hot sauna, all of that hot stuff swirling around inside, our system attacked and fought off those tormenting cold germs. In the morning, when we awoke, all the cold came out one way or another. Although we were okay, we still took it easy for a couple of days until our strength returned. Then after that, we were cold-free and good to go.
Dr. Mom's homemade medicines may be a little hard to swallow, but they're what we reluctantly ingested, and they catapulted us back into the healthy zone. That's why I'm still here to tell you about it.
Photo by Fotolia/Liv Friis-larsen