Thursday, December 2, 2010

Sick Day

It's been a while since I've had a real, honest-to-goodness head cold. Today I'm home from work, still in my flannel nightgown, drinking hot tea and lazing by the fire with Miss Charley, the cat who is not supposed to be in the house. (She has never understood or agreed with that rule, and manages to slide in at every opportunity. The rule was made for two reasons: I have allergies, and she peed on the couch--several times--last winter. If you have ever tried to get rid of cat pee scent, you know how aggravated I was. Now Clyde, our other kitty, will not come in for any reason; he's a true outside cat. Charley apparently thinks she is too good to hang out with him outside. So. She is now on the couch, stretching her orange-and-white body ever closer to the flames.)

As for the cold, this is not fun. I've had lots of good advice on Facebook--everything from chicken noodle soup to possum grease and hot-and-sour soup. My neighbor Belva once told me that skunk grease mixed with turpentine and smeared on your chest was a great cure for congestion. I just took her word for it. I have found, however, that this is actually a well-known remedy. An article in the Fredericksbug, Virginia newspaper in 2001 gave instructions for making your own (roadkill, they advise, is fine for this purpose). In his book Signs, Cures and Witchery, author Gerald Milnes notes that the use of skunk grease was a remedy common among the German settlers of the Allegheny mountains of West Virginia. (By the way, the DVD companion to this book is well worth watching. It's a fascinating look into old-world superstitions and culture of this region.)

The remedy also seems to have found its way west. An article on the Wisconsin Historical Society's website shows a picture of a bottle of skunk grease found in the museum and provides more instructions and even the historical background of that particular bottle. And would you believe, the article even says that people drank skunk oil as a remedy? One side benefit of this remedy that might have been lost on the early settlers: it certainly would have prevented the spread of a cold or other ailments because no one would want to be near the sufferer!


My mother's standard cold remedies included hot tea with sugar but no cream for children and for adults hot tea with lemon and brandy added, or lemon juice, hot water, honey and brandy, depending on what she had on hand. The brandy added heat that went right down inside and spread a comforting warmth slowly out to your very fingertips. She was a believer in Vick's VapoRub and a vaporizer too, and I can still remember the smell of the vaporizer as it steamed  and hissed beside our bed when we were children. Toast, scrambled eggs, tomato soup and chicken noodle soup were also on her list of remedies for sick children. I still want those same things today when I have a cold, and I've added orange juice as a must-have as well.

My father recalled using the Vapo-Cresolene lamp as a child in New Orleans. I found this one for him online and bought it as a surprise gift. It returned to me after he passed away. There is a full bottle of Cresolene in the box on the right, and the smell is incredibly strong. I don't know if this is safe to use, but just a whiff will clear your head. I might go in there and take a sniff, actually! This image will be used in an upcoming medical book; the publisher found the image on my blog and requested permission to use it. You can read my article about this lamp on the Two-Lane Livin' website.

Sally Squires wrote an interesting article about her quest for a cold remedy for the Washington Post. Mustard plasters, skunk oil, pear congee, raw honey, cherry bark extract, elderberries and more were recommended to her as possible "cures." Her final bit of advice is what we all know, however: "Treat a cold and it will last for seven days; don't treat it and it will be gone in a week."

I wish I had this book in hand right now. Surely with a title like that there has to be some fascinating reading inside: Country Folk Medicine: Tales of Skunk Oil, Sassafras Tea and Other Old-Time Remedies.

Back to the tissues, and a cup of hot tea on this cold snowy day. Maybe I will get that pile of receipts sorted--if I can do it on the couch.

6 comments:

Rowan said...

Hope you feel better soon, elderflower cordial or hot lemon and honey are my favourite remedies for colds. Hope Miss Charley behaves herself too:)

Mama-Bug said...

Sorry you're under the weather Sue, hope you feel better real soon. Sending lots of hugs your way too!

Country Whispers said...

Head colds are the worst!
Hope you get to feeling better soon!

Granny Sue said...

I'm feeling a lot better this evening. I bought one of those Netti pots; it's an odd thing to use but I've heard so much good about them I thought I'd give it a try. The head congestion was relieved almost immediately.

Thank you all for your good wishes. I am sure those had an impact too!

Nance said...

ah Sue, hope your 7 days and/or 1 week go by real quick!

I've heard good things about the netti pots.

Granny Sue said...

I am so much better tonight it's unreal, Nance. I give the credit to the netti pot, I really do. It's amazing.

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