Below is a further chapter from A Kerridge Childhood written by Enid Simpson. For a full introduction and index to all the stories please see the head page.
As well as being the unofficial nurse to the neighbourhood, Mother had lots of remedies which she used on us and gave away to the needy.
She was the lady who everybody sent for in sickness, to sit with the dying, prepare the body (‘laying it out’) for burial, the unofficial midwife, and for most emergencies. Her strength, physically and mentally was unbelievable.
The home medicines practised by Mother were simple but efficacious. Belief in prevention being better than cure, she dosed us on cod liver oil and malt, and Scotts Emulsion – another fishy product. We had a cat at this time and when Mother was spooning out the oil and malt – he would be clawing at her skirts, telling her that he wanted his share too! He was allowed to lick the spoons and made a good job of it too. Turkey Rhubarb was another standby – it was an evil smelling concoction, but we had it so often we almost came to like it. As I have said before, Mother was a superb con artist and could talk us into anything.
We all wore a small square of camphor stitched (in a silk bag) and stitched to our liberty bodices and wore these throughout. the winter. Camphor was supposed to ward off the germs prevalent at that time. The smell, when the camphor was fresh, was awful, but it diminished as the camphor wore away, until a new square was applied. Another preventive medicine was half an onion attached (don’t remember how) to the clothes rack which was hauled up and down by a pulley and rope to the ceiling. Burns and stings were dabbed with the ‘dolly blue’ bag used for the laundering of clothes. Whatever the blue contained, it did the trick.
Burps and falls always had a good smearing of butter – and a good lump was dished out for the patient to eat. Nose bleeds were controlled by application of the door key, a cumbersome piece of ironmongery about six inches long (which, of course, was never used for locking the door!). The patient lay on the couch and the cold iron key was thrust down the back between skin and clothes – maybe the feeling of the cold metal provided the shock needed to stop the bleeding.
A jug of camomile flowers always stood on the range and a similar jug of barley water (for Dad) kept it company. I never knew what the camomile flowers were for, but the barley water was for Dad’s kidneys – an inheritance from his army days.
Because of chest weakness, I had to inhale Friar’s Balsam. I recall this as a powder burning in a metal tray and when the fumes began to smoke, I had to bend over, my head covered in a towel, to inhale this. Another disgusting thing to which I was subject, was the application of a goose grease poultice. To sheets of brown paper were used, one smeared with goose grease and the other stitched over it, making a sandwich. I think Mother stitched tapes to the top and sides making a sort of jumper to keep it in place, and I wore it next to my skin. The smell of rancid grease when by body gave off warmth was revolting and I squirmed and protested violently, but it had to stay on and I learnt to be patient.
As we got older, another remedy became part of our lives – ‘chest rub’. This was a mixture of camphor, mustard, amber oils and one other I can’t remember, it was used to rub our chests, back and front, for coughs and chesty ailments. We would inhale the fumes, and they would help the decongestion.
Boracic powder was dissolved in warm water to cure sore and inflamed eyes, a drop of warm olive oil was dropped into ears which ached and a stocking wrapped around the throat for sore throats – I’m not sure if it was a clean one or not!
Mother’s greatest triumph, though, was ‘The Magic Scarf’, a piece of soft cashmere, held together by holes, was the ultimate cure-all. This she brought out when the aches and pains grew too much for the patient to bear and would lovingly wrap it round the tooth aching side of the face, or the aching ear, secure it with a pin and let the love and comforting hands do the rest. She told us that the scarf had magic proportions and so good was she at this that we always believed her – it always worked and we were always cured.
She was a wonderful and loving Mother.
© 1985 Enid Simpson