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Curing Colds
by Newt Harlan

A family is a unit composed not only of children but of
men, women, an occasional animal, and the common cold.
~ Ogden Nash, US humorist & poet (1902 - 1971)

I woke up the other morning all stuffed up. It was a problem to breathe through my nose, as one nostril or the other was completely closed for most of the day. On top of that, my eyes were watering and I was sneezing. Either I had come down with a cold or allergy season had come on in full bloom. In spite of feeling miserable, I chuckled as I recalled my daddy’s reaction to these symptoms when my sisters and I were growing up.

My daddy had a propensity to use Milk of Magnesia as a cure-all for whatever health problem that befell his children. Measles, no problem; just take a dose of Milk of Magnesia, stay in a dark room, and don't read. Chicken Pox? Take a dose now and two tomorrow -- we've got to get those pox out of your system. Stomach trouble or belly ache as it was commonly called back then? A dose of Milk of Magnesia would have you good as new by morning. Dr. Daddy’s remedy worked just as well or better than the high priced prescriptions more often than not.

Doctoring a cold was a little bit different animal. Of course, there was always the requisite dosage of Milk of Magnesia; however, even that wonderful panacea sometimes needed supplementing with additional remedies. Treatment methods depended on Daddy’s diagnosis; a teaspoon of warm vinegar might be in order for congestion or a throat swab with Mercurochrome on a Q-tip, if there were evidence of a sore throat.

Dr. Daddy often decided the ailment called for a dose of my favorite medication, a hot-toddy. At our house, this was a shot of whiskey, a half cup of water, a tablespoon of honey, a teaspoon of sugar and the juice of two lemons, all slowly warmed to lukewarm and then drunk like tea. This was followed by a rubdown front and back with Vaporub, donning an old sweat shirt and retiring to a bed covered with several blankets, not to rise till morning. This treatment usually resulted in a fitful, sweaty sleep, but upon awakening in the morning, the cold was generally gone.

Playing organized sports in junior high school inevitably led to bumps and bruises, and I was soon introduced to the athlete’s friend, analgesic balm. This soothing ointment contains several ingredients, that when rubbed into the affected area become very warm; in fact, you might call the sensation hot. This heating effect encourages blood flow which in turn encourages healing . . . the more balm applied, the more heat.

The first time I walked into the house after therapy using analgesic balm, Daddy sniffed the air and wanted to know who'd been messing with the horse liniment. I told him about the balm, which shares the wintergreen smell with liniment, and just as soon as I could get some home, it went right into his cold-curing bag of tricks. Daddy didn’t bother trying to differentiate between head colds, sore throats, chest colds or allergies. A cold was a cold, and what started out in one spot was just as likely to end up in another, especially if it wasn’t promptly and properly treated.

In short, anyone around our house exhibiting cold or sore throat symptoms was assured of the requisite dose of Milk of Magnesia, followed by either chicken soup or a hot toddy, or both. This treatment could be followed up with one or more of several procedures, but usually always included a rubdown with Vaporub on the chest and throat, and analgesic balm on the back, followed by wrapping in a sweatshirt and put to bed for the night.

I don’t know where he got his information, but Daddy always swore my sisters’ and my colds, when treated by the Dr. Daddy method, were less severe and of shorter duration than those of the other kids in our classes. Supposedly, this also held true for those of our friends who made the mistake of sniffling or coughing when Dr. Daddy was around and received the usual prescribed treatment.

My sisters and I never questioned Daddy’s treatment. If we felt we were coming down with a cold and needed to take something to get rid of it fast, this was our treatment of choice. In our opinion, it worked better than prescriptions, and we were positive it tasted much better than the doses of coal oil and/or turpentine some of our friends’ parents often used to treat their ailments.

Later in my life, when my own children came down with colds, it was not surprising that I often used some of Daddy’s tried and true remedies such as hot toddies and Vaporub; however, my version never included Milk of Magnesia. Believe it or not, even without what was formerly considered a key ingredient, the hot toddies and Vaporub seemed to work their magic and usually cured my daughters’ colds.

Now that my kids are grown and have kids of their own, their “tried and true” remedies unfortunately tend to be prescriptions and over the counter medications like Nyquil and stuff. Personally, I still prefer to use the old-time Dr. Daddy method . . . especially the toddies.


Newt tells us about himself:

I was born, raised and educated in Texas. With the exception of a few brief sojourns and the 4 years during the Vietnam Era that I spent riding around on airplanes courtesy of the U.S. Air Force, I've spent the more than 65 years of my life within spittin’ distance of the place where I grew up. I managed to cram a four-year college degree into nine years and by virtue of that remarkable feat, I am a former student of six different schools, which sure helps the odds of rooting for a winner in sporting events. The academic standards committee had a moment of weakness and I was the fortunate recipient of a degree from Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas.

I'm Southern to the bone. The sound of “Dixie” being played gives me goose bumps and I stand and remove my hat. My yard dog, B.J., controls the squirrels, cats, meter readers and peddlers around my place. I’ve picked cotton by hand, plowed behind a mule, churned butter, shelled back-eyed peas, and for the first 12 years of my life, went without shoes from April until October. Several of my friends regularly hold conversations with mules, but as of yet I can’t get the danged mules to answer me. I think grits are as much a part of breakfast as bacon, eggs and cathead biscuits. I think ain’t is a perfectly good word and don’t plan to quit using it just because some damnyankee dictionary writer arbitrarily thinks it ain’t.

I've been married for 30-some odd years and have beaucoup kids and grandkids. I'm now retired after having spent the better part of the past 37 years traveling around Texas, Louisiana, and the Gulf Coast areas of Mississippi and Alabama, trying to sell steel products. My hobbies, in no particular order, include writing, grandkids, hunting, fishing and visiting the local watering hole to swap honest lies and research material for stories.

E-mail Newt at: Newt281@embarqmail.com

Want to read more of Newt’s stories at USADEEPSOUTH? Click these links:
Ol’ Red and the Armadillo
Telephones and memories
Tastes like chicken
Railroad Money
Southern Words
Humble, Texas
The Day the Hogs Ate My Little Brother
Basura Blanca News
Juicing Bovines
Railroad Fireman
Belly Waddin' Lunch


Read many more great stories listed on our USADS Articles pages.



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