Harry Forbes Remembers #10 Remedies #2

(This time it’s Harry’s sister, Helen that remembers; in brackets it’s remedies Jen remembers.)

Home Remedies #2

The home nurse, in the form of Mother, had an arsenal of cures and remedies. Colds were prevalent. The houses were not insulated and there was no central heating. In our home the chimney ran up through one bedroom lending some heat there. The others had to receive their warmth through a 10 x 12 inch hole in the floor which allowed the rising heat from the lower rooms to enter the bedrooms. Then, too, clothing was neither as good nor as weatherproof nor as plentiful as today’s clothing.

A glass of hot lemonade or ginger tea at bedtime helped to sweat out a cold. Goose grease or Watkins medicated ointment were applied to the chest and back and then covered with a cloth. The throat was treated likewise, but in this case a woolen sock was used as a wrap and pinned in place. It was claimed that a dirty sock brought the best results. If the cold had settled in the lungs, a plaster made of dry mustard, flour and water to make a paste was spread on a cloth and placed on the back or chest, cloth side to the skin and covered with another cloth. These had to be carefully watched as burning could occur. (To ‘burn out’ a sore throat a teaspoon of whisky was another remedy. To sweat it out, Mom would make a relatively airtight tent with blankets over chairs and place Vicks in hot water inside. Breathing in the mediciated steam and sweating was the cure.)

A cloth dampened in warm water to which a few drops of turpentine had been added and placed on the bottom of the feet did much to treat bronchitis; or slices of onion placed there and held in place with socks or a wrapping.

Mom sliced onions, added brown sugar and allowed the mixture to simmer on the back of the stove until is was syrupy and brown. Then the onions were removed. The syrup was an effective cough syrup. A few drops of coal oil on a spoonful of sugar had the same effect, or a few drops of eucalyptus oil would quickly invade your sinuses and almost make your hair stand on end. A gargle of table salt in water helped relieve a sore throat.

Onions were used in various ways. A slice of one wrapped in a cloth and held against an aching ear with a toque or wrap would bring relief. Drops of warm oil in the ear as well as the hot water bottle helped to ease the pain.

We had no paste for brushing our teeth but used salt or soda or a mixture of both on our brush. Now there is the wonder, new exciting discovery of adding soda to toothpaste to whiten the teeth. (Brushing your teeth with no tooth paste is a good option as well. I (Jen)  haven’t used tooth paste for years now.)

Vasoline was the only hand lotion we had; it was also used on the lips. I believe men, when they were in the field, used axle grease for the same purpose. (My mom used Noxema on her face. She claims that’s why she hardly had any wrinkles when she died at age 88 even though she spent alot of time working outdoors in her growing-up years and as a farm wife. She was very careful to wear long sleeves, gloves and a hat to shield her skin from the sun to protect it. No tanning in the sun for her.)

One of my brothers used to suffer from boils, mostly on his neck. They would be very painful, but eventually ripened to the point where they needed to be opened and the core removed. Brother lanced his boils by putting a glass bottle in water on the stove until it was hot. He would then place the mouth of the bottle over the boil. The vacuum of the hot bottle broke the top of the boil and drew the core and infection out. It was a very painful treatment but you did what you had to do.

In our area there were several single men who did not have their own homes. They would have work and accommodations in the summer but winter found them roaming the neighbourhood, spending a few days at one home, then a few at another one. No one turned them away. There were no bathrooms equipped with bathtubs of running water, so their hygiene was not what it should have been. Inevitably one of them would pick up body lice, which were transmitted to the boys in our family because the men slept in the boys bunkhouse. The lice congregated in the seams of clothing and around the neck, waistline, back, chest and sleeve cuffs and caused a very distressing itch which was treated with a rub-on preparation of sulphur and lard. When this infestation occurred it called for a major cleanup for Mom. Clothing and bedding had to be washed and boiled and a bath taken by people every day for several days to get rid of the pests.

There was another scourge that sometimes cropped up because of the same transients. The old wood frame houses could be a haven for bed bugs if they gained entrance on the men’s clothing. A bite by one of these could cause a very serious fever, though that seldom happened (but welts showed where bites had occured). To combat the pests, the legs of the beds were set into tins of coal oil which was also used with a brush to paint the seams of the mattresses as well as the button depressions. Again the bedding had to be thoroughly washed. These bugs did not live on the body, but crept into any crack or hiding place in the wooden walls of the building, then came out at night. To get rid of them, a container of cyanogas was placed in the house or it may have been sprayed onto the building (I’m not sure which). The windows and doors were all closed tight and left for some hours. The place had to be opened up and thoroughly aired before anyone could enter it. The gas was lethal if inhaled. (In some communities sulphur was burned and the house fumigated the same way.)

If the family had suffered from an infectious disease, the house had to be fumigated afterward. This was done by burning sulphur. It may have been done by sprinkling it directly on the top of the wood-burning stove or in a cast iron frying pan. Again the house had to be well aired before the family could return inside.

There was no such thing as band-aids, adhesive tape or ready-made bandage supplies. Mom kept the worn white cotton sheets. A portion was torn off to suit the size of the wound and placed over it after the wound had been dressed with Ozonal or Watkins or Raleigh’s salves. It was kept in place with safety pins or store string. (Never was coloured or dyed cloth put on a open sore; it was said to cause infection.)

Mom used to heat oats or salt in a pan on the stove or in the oven and then pour it hot into a cotton bag to use in place of a hot water bottle. For some things it worked better than the hot water bottle. Recently someone started making grain bags, a “new discovery” and they are on the market for twenty dollars each. They are called Magic Bags. Mom used this ‘magic’ ninety years ago and her mother probably used it ninety years before that. A Biblical philosopher once claimed, “What has been will be again; what has been done will be done again. There is nothing new under the sun.” ECC Ch. 9. V1

We are a family of eleven who, throughout our childhood had our illness and injuries treated with these home remedies, only rarely seeing a doctor. We’ve all been relatively healthy for our age. My oldest brother, Harry, weighed only three pounds at birth, (danced the polkas and Highland dances well past eighty and is still writing books at age 104.)

Watch for Harry’s story next month: “No Emergency Service – Call 911”

Compiled by Jen Zollner

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