The Best Medicine©

Saturday Reprise

Averyell A. Kessler

The TV is blaring and it’s time for the evening news. I wonder which new miracle drug will be advertised tonight. As always, it will feature the final three letters of the alphabet, as well a few Q’s and V’s tossed in. During the first commercial break, it occurs. A robust young woman, who’s an exercise fanatic, feasts on twigs and seeds, and has never been sick, is earnestly touting the benefits of Knynzia (pronounced Canine-zia) as a cure for type 2 something.  Then in rapid, double time announcer-speak  I hear  “Knynzia may result in simultaneous heart, liver, lung, and gallbladder failure, instant loss of one or more kidneys, broken legs, sudden onset projectile vomiting, hairy palms, athlete’s foot, furry spots on the neck and face, or loss of the ability to stand upright. Call you doctor immediately if you enjoy having your ears scratched, pant or howl uncontrollably, or show signs of developing a tail. You may want to check with a vet too. No thanks, Knynzia. I’ll take my chances.

My family’s long-ago remedies were simple; they were cheap, effective, and fit easily inside the mirrored medicine chest hanging over the bathroom sink in our Laurel Street home.   Prime among them was good ole Dr. Tichenor’s, best antiseptic in town. Mama used it frequently on scraped knees, bruised heels, and a variety of insect bites. It was violently yellow, had a strong peppermint aroma and stung like fire ants. When a roller-skating accident occurred, the cure was often worse than the injury. It was also my grandfather WG’s mouthwash of choice as well as his favorite aftershave. I remember him vigorously patting it on his freshly shaven face. There was a sharp intake of air before his face turned fire truck red and he leaped around the room in voluminous undershorts.

Next came Iodex, a sticky, tar black salve good for bee stings and drawing poison from boils and pimples.  Unfortunately, it smelled bad and stained clothing, but WG swore by it and bought a dozen jars at a time.  We stored it next to a tin of band-aids, baby aspirin, and a bottle of Campho-Phenique, perfect for cold sores and chiggers.  A fresh bottle of calamine lotion was required once school let out, as was Coppertone (not really a medicine, but extremely important at Riverside pool.)  We had Noxzema for sunburn too.

One entire shelf of the medicine chest was devoted to upset stomachs and sneezing. We stocked Smith Brothers Cough Drops, Alka-Seltzer, Milk of Magnesia, and an indispensable jar of Vicks VapoRub. Mama rubbed it on my chest before she lowered a cotton undershirt over my head, and I spent the night wrapped up like a mummy in a mentholated haze. If the tooth fairy tried to squeeze under my pillow, she would have passed out from the fumes.

The bottom shelf, of course, was dedicated to childhood injuries. Summer months brought bee stings, ant bites, swimming pool earaches, and an assortment of cuts and bruises. Power School mothers were divided into two groups, Mecuricome users, and those dedicated to Merthiolate. Although the FDA eventually banned both, a semi-permanent red stain was a childhood badge of honor, especially if it oozed from under a bandage and drifted up a sore heel. The advent of painless Bactine relieved us of red spots, yelling, and a second round of tears.  

Finally, there was another WG special which I have endured only once in my life, Pluto Water straight from the mineral springs of French Lick Indiana. This little honey was Fletcher’s Castoria on steroids! It came in a small green bottle with a picture of a red devil on the label as well as the assurance that, “When nature won’t, Pluto will.” It smelled like unadulterated sulfur, tasted like rotten eggs, and was the equivalent of Drano for the human body.  I don’t think anyone else in Jackson knew about this gem. Sadly, I did. All I can say is, it works…………….and works…………….and works again. But there was something worse. Citrus of magnesia, the medicinal equivalent of a pneumatic drill. WG knew all about it too, because he was still touting the benefits of an asafetida bag and paregoric.  A caveat – never try citrus of magnesia if you are more than ten steps away from a bathroom. It is disaster masquerading as normality.

One childhood terror remains. Shots. They were a troubling trauma that cherry lollypops wouldn’t cure.  Although Mama explained why a booster shot was important, I always arrived at Dr. Ward’s office with a churning stomach and thundering heart. The aroma of alcohol was overpowering. I squirmed on a hardwood chair until my name was called and a curtain of dread opened. There was no escape.  Happily, it ended quickly, and I left smiling because I didn’t cry.  When the polio vaccine arrived, my parents rejoiced. The heavy mantel of a fearsome disease had been ripped from our shoulders, and the specter of braces, crutches and iron lungs would disappear.  Another shot was in order, but this time I understood. Polio was the enemy; the vaccine was my own personal superman coming to the rescue. No one complained when my Power School classmates lined up on the auditorium stage, held out our arms, and endured a shot. The “don’t cry” mantra echoed in my brain and I survived without a tear. We all did. We survived for the long haul too because polio has all but vanished in America.

Now another vaccine has appeared, and I’m grateful. Many months ago, I eagerly held out my arm for the first and second dose. Yes, I know there are questions. And no, I don’t have the answers. I also understand that some folks are skeptical. But when superman comes calling, I’ll open the door. Many he’ll bring lollypops too.

“There is a superhero in all of us, we just need the courage to put on the cape……………Superman.”

2 thoughts on “The Best Medicine©

  1. Great article and I remember those items well. I wondered if WG was a user of Sal Hepatica? One of our family favorites.

    By the way, by now deceased wife, was Linda Goudelock. She was the daughter of Frances and Dawson Goudelock. Dawson was a longtime employee of Avery Body Company acting as the hardwood lumber buyer. In our dating years we met Mr. Avery, your mom and dad on several occasions.

    My entire family read and enjoy your reminiscing articles very much.

    Billy Hunter
    Cell 832-724-5583


  2. Nailed it, all of it!! I guess there were only 2 Doctors in Jackson that treated all kids of during our years, Dr Smithson and Dr. Ward!! The First Aid and chronic medicines you named were mostly used too which was incentive to not complain when we felt sick. Often I felt the cure was worse than the complaint. Thanks for the memories.


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