Every night Mom would force us kids to swallow a dose of cod-liver oil. She would hold our nose, or we would once we quit fighting the daily routine, and force us to swallow that rotten fishy liquid. After, she would put the bottle high up on a shelf, tuck it behind other unmentionable liquids, probably thinking that we couldn’t reach it and hide it, or dump the contents in the slop bucket. Besides the pigs would have the runs, and that would have resulted in trots at market.
It would not have done any good to fight the good fight, for Mom was a fanatic about keeping us healthy. Vicks Vapor Rub, the least sign of a cold or sore throat, under our nose on rubbed on our neck and chest. At times we would be forced to swallow Mentholatum, as if we were cats with hair balls. Mustard plasters on our chest, but no hair shirt. On the Paxton place, Mom heated bricks in the cast-iron stove and wrapped them in towels. They not only rested on floorboards in Fords as we headed to town, one kept me warm at night. Mom would tuck it between the sheets at the foot of the bed, and pile quilt on top of quilt on top. Of course with the lack of insulation in these old farm houses, waking up with frost on the covers often occurred in winter. And if we were really sick, running a fever of 101 or so, and possibly delirious, the extent of Mom’s fear was palatable. One could see it hovering in the air as if a spector from a deceased ancestor guarded us while she cooked and baked and cleaned, and fed the chickens when we couldn’t.
In the summer time, cold well water, not ice for a fever, for no ice could be had. With the heel of a spoon, Mom grounded aspirins to powder and mixed it in water for us to drink. We gargled with salt water the first sign of a sore throat. And there were many of those we had as children.
Then there were hot toddys–whiskey and sugar and hot water but no tea–that we craved to sooth a throat or calm tickles in the throat. They dumbed us to sleep with a warm buzz.
Besides the cod-liver oil regimen, Mom believed that children must be de-wormed once a year as are all farm animals. Something must have warned her about the pests that could be housed in our bowels. Only once for me at age 5. Hives erupted inside and out, and breaths became difficult to catch and hold. I remember Mom pacing back and forth in what could be called the only room capable of communal living on the Paxton place, a space in front of the folks’ bed that contained a table and chairs in front of the east window, a player piano that Dad eventually chopped into firewood on the north, a wood stove on the south wall, some chairs scattered here and there.
Dad must have gone to town to fetch the doctor, or went over to a neighbor’s house to phone, for Mom didn’t usher Dr. Hennessey into the room. He strode in as if announced by bugles and ordered Mom to fill a bowl full of egg yolks. Dr. forced them down my throat. Needless to say, anything and everything that was in my stomach followed the yolks as I threw them up. More and more until my breathing became somewhat normal. After which I slept.
Mom told everyone it was strawberries that caused a reaction, and I suppose it could have been, for it was that time of year; but I know, and so did she that is was worm medicine. I found out a few years later when I bit into Grandpa Snyder’s plug of tobacco and hickupped myself almost to death that chaw also keeps worms at bay.