Home Remedies

Original Airdate: July 26 (2011)

This is Living Stories, featuring voices from the collections of the Baylor University Institute for Oral History. I'm Kim Patterson.

Home remedies have been around for thousands of years, passed down from one generation to the next and utilizing common products to treat illnesses. In early 1900s Waco, these treatments abounded.

Mary Sendón recalls home remedies her family used:

"They would use coal oil and rock candy. It was supposed to be for coughs and chest colds. Then they used mustard plasters for chest pains and pneumonia. My—that's what they used on my grandfather in pneumonia. And this is a funny story about that: my grandfather really was a—they thought he was dying. He was having what they call sinking spells; you know, he'd just get so weak. It was during the Prohibition days, and the doctor could order whiskey from a drugstore with a prescription. Well, the doctor ordered a bottle of whiskey from Old Corner Drug Store.

"And he told my—all of my aunts—everybody came together to help—and he said, ‘Get him an eggnog every thirty minutes.' And he told them how to do it: put a tablespoon of whiskey in a glass and fill it with egg beaten up real stiff. Said, ‘Every thirty minutes, see that he gets one.' Well, he set out the whiskey. And, you know, all night long, they were beating eggs, and they beat them by hand; they didn't have any kind of eggbeaters. The next morning he was improving, and he recovered. The egg gave him strength, and the alcohol was accelerating the cure; it was accelerating the killing of the germ. That's the way he put it."

Sendón explains other treatments:

"They used turpentine. Turpentine was a good cure. I remember going after the milk one day for my neighbor's house, and I stepped on a nail. And, oh, everybody just got so excited because the nail was so dangerous. And that was a rusty nail. Well, they got coal oil and just poured it over my foot and kept pouring it over my foot. And that cured—that stopped the infection. Coal oil."

Woodrow Carlile tells how he nursed his nemesis:

"My main problem was poison oak. Being light-skinned, my arms would get poison oak on them and crack open like a dry riverbed, just separate. And if we had calamine lotion we used that, but other than that, in the summer you just laid out on the ground and let the sun or whatever heal it."

Cathryn Carlile remembers a home remedy her family once performed on her:

"I went to the Waco-Temple high school football game, and it was so cold. And coming home, I could hardly breathe. When I got home, they put towels on my chest and ironed through the towels—the heat. As I remember, we were up practically all night. And early in the morning, my dad went to get the doctor. We didn't have a telephone. And he came and said that I had pneumonia but that all the heat that had been applied had broken it up and that I'd be fine."

Today, the rising cost of traditional health care and a growing interest in a more holistic approach to illness have boosted the popularity of home remedies. And the Internet has made them much easier to share.

Living Stories is heard every Tuesday on 103 point 3 FM, Waco's NPR. For program transcripts or more information about the Institute for Oral History, visit baylor.edu/livingstories.

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