MOTHER’S REMEDIES

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MOTHER’S REMEDIES

 

Another great tale from Audrey Sanderson – our East Leeds lass in Australia

 

 

Some people I’ve recently met are into alternative life style living.  Not being a person very interested in reading information on packets, boxes or cans on every single item on the supermarket shelves I wasn’t very interested listening to them inform everyone why we should grow everything we ate and self medicate ourselves by using weeds, bark off certain trees and gathering seaweed off the beach.  I don’t gather mushrooms that grow in a field because I’m not certain which are nice or nasty.  Eat the wrong type and you don’t get a second chance.  I’m not one for following trends dictated by magazines either.  Years since rice and pasta were a big no, no.  Now we’re supposed to eat it with everything.  Eggs were another item that was limited to one a week.  Now it’s eat enough of them to almost make you grow feathers.  Where I live lots of people have veggie patches and fruit trees in their backyards and plenty of shops selling fresh fruit and veggies for those not inclined to grow their own.

        When these people started telling everyone about self medication, meditation and burning leaves and things to purify the air I wondered if they drove cars or walked everywhere they wanted to go.  Did they have a telephone, T.V.   Did they weave their own cloth for making clothes and how did they earn a living if they did all this stuff.  Pioneers did a great job of surviving on what little resources they had but not many survived to a ripe old age. 

The self medication worried me a lot.  People move around a lot more freely than they did in the 1700-1800s infections and diseases spread quickly if not arrested by modern medicines.  Mosquitoes are one of the worst for spreading all sorts of diseases and no matter how much protection you wear to ward them off there’s always one who will manage to bite you.

When I arrived back home I started thinking of what it must have been like for those brave pioneers and all the hardships they faced.  It wasn’t long before I started remembering my mother’s attempts at playing doctor.  She had a remedy for everything. She believed anything that anyone told her and along with her superstitions it’s a wonder my brothers and I lived to tell the tale.

  How many little kids went around smelling like a chip shop because they’d had their chest smothered in goose fat?  Liniment?  Could be anything concocted from ground nutmeg, raw onion, camphor, sulphur mixed with castor oil and bound onto whatever part of your body had a pain or an ache.  Mrs. Somebody or Mrs. Somebody else in the next street had used it on her Fred, George, Arthur or whoever and it had worked miracles on him and he was back at work in no time.   Without his arm or leg was falling off I’ll bet he’d rather put up with the aches and pains than smelling like a swamp.  Don’t bother taking the kids to the doctor when they have a death rattle of a cough.  Smother their chest with goose fat and brown paper and they’ll get over it.    God knows who told my mother onions were good for getting rid of whooping cough when my younger brother and I came down with it.  I was about 8 and he was 5 and boy were we sick and sorry for ourselves.   We still had the old black fireplace with the space above the oven where the teapot usually sat.  Whichever “” Old Wife “” had told my mother about the cure all onion medication instructed her to chop them finely, put them in a dish with sugar, place a cover over it and leave it on top of the oven until it was done.  Not clear on instruction either.  What was it supposed to look like when it was ‘ Done ‘  It must have stewed away for quite some time because mum had sent my older brother to the back street chemist to find out how she had to administer this potion to her two youngest children.  When the time came we were propped up by cushions and told to drink the juice from the teaspoon.  With a sore throat, headache and coughing ’til we almost choked onions and sugar did nothing to help ease our misery.  We were both crying and mum said we had to persevere as Mrs. ??? Said it would cure us.   The crying made us cough and mum started yelling.  Looking back years later Mum was scared.  She was scared even more when Dad came home from work and asked if the doctor had been to see both Norman and me.  She told him Mrs.???? Said the onions and sugar would make us better, no need to call the doctor.    Dad never shouted at mum, very rare he lost his temper at all but he shook his fist and said he was going to get the doctor before she and the old witch killed the pair of us.  Mum started crying it wasn’t her fault.  I remember the doctor bouncing into the house and telling mum how stupid she was for not calling him as soon as we started coughing.  He didn’t mince words when he called her stupid.  He was a big Irish man and I don’t think many doctors had heard of a bedside manner in those days.  We survived of course and we also survived the measles and chickenpox as all the other kids who lived near us did.  I didn’t stop mother practicing medieval lotions and potions or daft superstitious rubbish at every opportunity.   We had to wear camphor bags round our necks under our clothes in the winter.  You nearly choked from the fumes while sat at a school desk.  No one made fun of you because most of the other kids had to wear them too.  Mum had no idea what it was supposed to do she thought it was like a good luck talisman.  Anybody complain of rheumatism she’d pop a nutmeg in their pocket.  Castor oil was her favourite from curing dandruff to broken legs.  She told new mothers to cover their new burns with it.  Nervous enough bathing a baby for the first time without having it greased up and it slip out of your arms.  I was subjected to a heap of remedies using the stuff when I became pregnant with my first baby.  It would prevent stretch marks if I rubbed it on my stomach, also prevent cracked nipples when breast feeding.  The midwife said the baby would starve if I used the latter.  However it didn’t stop her from producing a two once bottle of the oily stuff to induce labour when my son didn’t seem to want to face the world.  I told her the smell of it made me want to throw up.  She patted my arm ” Never mind dear.  If you throw up I have plenty more bottles.”  It was a great effort but I managed to only have to drink one bottle of the stuff.  In later years large doses of castor oil was found to bring on appendicitis.  Wouldn’t that have been terrific, the latter stages of labour and your appendix burst? 

Mum believed she could see into the future by looking into the glowing embers of the open fire.  I think it was another of her excuses not to do anything that resembled housework or cooking.  Formations of clouds were another of her premonitions for the future.  When we learnt at school the formations of clouds commonly called mare’s tails was caused by the change of wind patterns I couldn’t wait to tell her it was going to be windy the next day.  She said it was a waste of time sending me to school if that’s all they were going to teach me, no one can predict what the weather will be even the man on the wireless got it wrong.  I did continue going to school and learnt a lot.  I didn’t realise it at the time but the method of teaching used then drilled it into your brain so you never forgot.  It was all pretty basic but I learnt to adapt different methods as I grew older.  I always wanted to know how things worked so asked a lot of questions.  Mum didn’t want to learn anything new…..she knew she was right.  Dad always encouraged my brothers and I to never stop learning.  He said “You never know when your knowledge will come in handy.  Might not be today or tomorrow but one day it might come in useful.”   Dad had served in the army in France in WW1 and been through the horrors of war.  He never spoke of it only saying nothing on earth can prepare you for that but you have to plod on to survive.  Mum would never have survived on her own.  She was too busy finding out ways to ward off bad luck and encourage the good kind.  She was a sucker for buying good luck charms from gypsies who came knocking on the door.  We had more bunches of lucky heather than anyone I knew.  She drew the line at having her palm read.  Didn’t want to find out anything bad, so instead bought lucky black cat brooches, silver stars, let them put their hand on her head and chant something and spent the rest of the day in a happy mood.  Her sister Eva said she could read cards but mum wouldn’t have a pack of playing cards in the house, brought bad luck she said.  I don’t think Eva knew what she was doing either as you need tarot cards not playing cards to read fortunes.  I think the only thing my family was blessed with was a vivid imagination.

Mums remedies for curing travel sickness were bizarre.  She’d never take public transport, we had to walk everywhere.  The yearly holiday to Cleethorpes we travelled by steam train.  She got herself into a state weeks beforehand convinced she was going to throw up for the entire journey.  She never named the mysterious Somebody who had told her of yet another new cure it was always ” Somebody told me it cured them and they’d been a chronic suffer all their lives.”  The cures ranged from eating arrowroot biscuits, sucking on barley sugar, wearing a tight fitting corset, eating a hearty breakfast to not eating anything for 24 hours prior to departure.  Travelling with her back to the engine, travelling facing the engine.  The train journey seemed to take hours to us kids and we were not allowed any of the arrowroot biscuits or barley sugar when she was going through that phase.  We were told if she didn’t keep chomping she would get sick.  Didn’t take long before we said we were feeling sick so we could eat biscuits and sweets too.  We didn’t get too many as mum needed them.  None of these remedies worked because she had convinced herself she was going to throw up.  Motion sickness tablets became available for the chemist shop.  Nothing could cure mums ailment she was doomed to have it for the rest of her live she told everyone.  She did try the tablets ….once.  She took them hours before the train left the station, refused to eat or drink anything and threw up from Leeds Central train station until we got off at Cleethorpes.  That was a fun start to a week’s holiday.  I remember the two most bizarre remedies vividly.  Some idiot had told her sitting on a stack of newspapers was a sure cure.  We and Grandma saved the morning and evening papers for a week.  They were bundled up neatly and tied with string.  Guess who got the job of lugging them onto the train.  I was too young to say I wouldn’t do it and too young to notice the stares from other passengers.  Mum sat on her lofty throne and declared this cure was a winner.  O Joy of joys I was going to get muscles like Charles Atlas carrying bundles of used newspapers.  The cure that really took the honours of the weirdest of them all was blotting paper.  Remember blotting paper?  You could buy it in large sheets from news agencies.  By then I was about 12-13 and the only girl so I had to help ensconce mum into this cocoon of thick white blotting paper.  The instruction she’d been told was that the blotting paper had to be next to her skin.  The only blotting paper I’d handled was those 6 inch squares we got at school.  This stuff mum had bought was about a yard square and industrial thickness.  Not pliable at all.  It would be too embarrassing to describe here what I had to do to shove, squash and fasten her into her corset while she held onto the non pliable sheet.  The front bit was bad enough but the back even harder.  I had to do it on my own as of course mum wasn’t a contortionist and couldn’t fold her arms round her back.  As usual mum didn’t do anything quietly, she shouted I was pinching her skin, tearing the blotting paper, fastened the corset too tight.  Wasn’t she lucky I didn’t have long fingernails at that age.

Would you believe she didn’t feel nauseous at all on the journey there or coming back home?  We went through that ritual for years.  Fine if it stopped her complaining and kicking up a fuss and at least I wasn’t having to tote stacks of newspapers around. 

Miraculously her malaise vanished after us 3 kids married and left home.  In the 60s it was a more affluent society and most people owned a car.  Lots of people volunteered to give mum and Dad a lift to appointments, shopping, a day at the coast.  No way would she have one of her ‘ funny turns ‘ or kick up a fuss in a neighbour’s car.  She never cured herself of the superstitious rubbish though.  Do you know what happens to babies of pregnant women when they hold clothes pegs in their mouth while hanging out wet clothes on the washing line?  Or what happens to unborn babies if mum-to-be eats beetroot while pregnant?  Surely Mrs Somebody would have told others beside my mum all these pearls of wisdom. 

 

 

 

 

 Well done Audrey – She’s great isn’t she? And she identified last month’s picture correctly. It was the Majestic (cinema and dance hall) of course.

How about this month’s pic? The last East Leeds school still standing, I believe?

East End Park School

                       

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5 Responses to “MOTHER’S REMEDIES”

  1. Eric Sanderson Says:

    Another great story told in your inimitable,humorous style.I guess we all remember our Mums having similar “old wive’s tale” remedies, my own having 3 basic ingredients – California syrup of Figs, Milk of Magnesia & something called(I think) Fenning’s Little Fever Cure – which was a small shotgun like pellet. On their own or in some combination was the cure for anything. I’d never heard of the blotting paper or stack of newspapers remedies before though Audrey. Our frienf Dave Carncross has written a similar story of his Mum’s patent cures which, if you haven’t done so, is a funny and complementary yarn.
    Re the pic, when we were young and (even more) foolish, , during the summer hols, we would often shin up the fallpipe and sunbathe on the south facing sloping roof overlooking East End Park , about level with the bowling greens.

  2. peterwwood Says:

    My mother fed me three horrendous remedies: The first was Doctor White’s Coimpo, you thought you’d got it down then the aftertaste ripped your throat out The second was Fenning’s Fever Cure which left a horrible coating on your teeth. Worst of all was ‘Liquifruta” which was a cough cure, when you’d had it your breath killed your school mates five rows of desks away. She also had these amazing warnings: don’t sit with your back to the fire, it will melt your backbone. Take your Wellington boots off, they will draw your eyes and make you squint, if you don’t eat your crusts your hair won’t curl and don’t see the new moon through glass for the first time – it’s bad luck. Did I believe her? Of courser I did she was my mam!

  3. Dave Carncross Says:

    As Eric said, I have very powerful memories of my Mam’s patent remedies. As a teenager, I suffered very badly from acne – too much testosterone I’m told. It seemed that the whole of Easy Road had a tried and trusted cure for spots. I did wonder ,if that was true, why were there so many youths like me with necks like the surface of the moon. I was prepared to try anything though and can confirm that none of them worked. Essentially, you had to wait until your hormones settled down which in my case was when I was about 20. The doctor prescribed a drying agent based ointment called Eskamel. It was “skin” coloured and when lathered on I used to sally forth looking like a very butch female impersonator. Oh happy days.

  4. Douglas Says:

    Thank you again Audrey for refreshing so many memories of home remedies, and to Eric and Peter for adding more. My Mam and Dad would sometimes arrive home from their Saturday afternoon outing at Leeds Market with a small tub of “Brimstone and Treacle” which was supposed to cleanse your blood and keep the nasties away. It was horrible stuff. Auntie used to iron Uncle Alf’s back with the hot flat iron over a sheet of brown wrapping paper. Maybe it worked to relieve his sore shoulders – I’m prepared to give that one some credibility. And vaguely, didn’t Jack and Jill of the famous pail of water do something similar with paper to alleviate the pain of poor Jack’s tumble. I can’t remember, maybe I should get the steam iron out and make a few passes across my temporal regions!

  5. aussiepom Says:

    I was unfortunate to spend a day housebound last week. The only thing on day time T.V. seems to be commercials. I have found where Mrs. Somebody’s descendants are. They’ve gone up market and now peddle remedies of miracle cures which result in instant relief of pains in all areas, overnight weight loss, beautiful shining hair and instant youth for ageing skins. Toothpaste that makes teeth dazzle, soap that softens skin and gives you a great social life, deodorants that will have people clamouring to be your friend. They don’t use castor oil or fever mixture anymore. They now use Hydrated Magnesium sulfate and letters and numbers MgSo .7H 2 O. The smiling man and woman on T.V. said their lives were so much better now they take this concoction.
    It must be better than the drink my Grandma gave us and told us we’d feel better as it would clear out everything that ailed us.. She called it Salts of Epsom.
    I hope everyone still has a sense of humour and doesn’t guzzle hydrated magnesium sulfate like soft drink.
    It does not give you a great social life.

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