I remember spending summer vacations at my grandparents’ farm. It was quite an experience for a city girl to become a country mouse for a couple months. I recall going shopping in the big grocery store in the nearest town and having grandma hand over almost a hundred dollars for her purchase. I couldn’t fathom spending that much money in one place, but I didn’t realize that grandma was buying supplies for a month. Those supplies often included great amounts of flour, sugar and non-perishable items that would feed all the farmhands and remaining couple of sons in the family. Things like eggs, meat and milk were readily available, but all those other things were necessary purchases. Grandma would often re-supply her medicine cabinet at the same time. There were things like Carter’s Little Liver Pills, hydrogen peroxide, alcohol, dry mustard, eye of newt (just kidding.) Her medicine cabinet was actually a piece of furniture which sat right next to the indoor bathroom, for easy access.
There were things in that cabinet for various kinds of rashes, hives, bug bites and other itchy ailments. There were items which would soothe an upset stomach – clean out your gut – bandages of all size and shapes – things to clear up a sore throat, your complexion and even ease aching muscles. She would make poultices out of dried mustard, or a plaster made of fried onions. I often thought, if only she put a hamburger in that cabinet, I’d have access to a fast-food meal.
Grandma grew up on the prairie of Montana. She was a true pioneer woman who would gather animal dung to start a fire. Her pioneer spirit carried her through much of her life and home remedies were part of that ritual. When she married a farmer, she had to use what was at hand to fix people up – including herself. I remember her cutting her toe on the lawn mower and sticking that toe in a can of turpentine. I can’t imagine how that felt, but it seemed to do the trick.
Thankfully modern medicine has made things much easier, except for us older fogies who still revert to some of those old remedies to get us through an emergency situation. Now we struggle with medicine bottles which are not only childproof, but elder proof as well. We have boxes to sort those pills and remember which pills we need to take and those we’ve already taken. Filling the boxes isn’t an easy task, however. Sometimes I wonder if some of those old ways of doing things wasn’t better for us in the long run.
I have fond memories of grandma’s medicine cabinet. I knew that there was something there that would cure what ailed anyone. There was even a bottle which held some kind of alcoholic beverage too. Maybe that was there for Grandpa’s benefit.