Memories of our county – Diseases and cures from the past

Nannie Maude Reynolds
Shares memories and thoughts about Winston County’s past.

I cannot remember the first time I ever went to the doctor. All of us were born at home with a doctor who made house calls. Granny or Mama always had the remedy for whatever ailed us. Have you ever worn a poultice around your neck at night which smelled of turpentine, Vicks salve, bacon grease and whatever else someone told Mama might help our coughs? Before bedtime we were rubbed down with Vicks salve, front and back and Daddy always said, “Don’t forget the feet, you got that cold from wading in the mud puddles with bare feet so it makes sense to rub the cure on the feet too.” So our feet got Vicks too.

Remember, no baths before going to school the next morning, so you can imagine the smell in the classroom if all parents were like ours. These poultices were kept from one night to the next until we got over the cold. Mama made them on the old treadle sewing machine to last. We had Measles, Mumps, Whooping cough, and some of the children had Chicken Pox and Diphtheria. We had Scabies, (we called it “itch”) head lice, colicky babies and every summer we had Impetigo. This began with mosquito bites. We had remedies, of some kind or another, for all of these diseases. I cannot remember my Daddy ever taking a drink of whiskey, but some appeared at our house and we drank a sip with peppermint candy dissolved in it for our cough. I never had to wear an Asafetida bag around my neck, but I heard a lot about them. They were supposed to ward off all manner of childhood diseases. (I had to look it up on the internet to find how to spell it and found that it can still be bought on My mama probably did not know where to get one or we would have had one. I guess we would have died if any one of us had been allergic to wasp or bee stings.

My cousin, Alman Butler, was bitten by a snake down in the pasture under the chinquapin trees. His foot swelled up and he walked on crutches for a few days. He says he does not remember what Granny did for his snake bite, but he remembers that she put snuff from her mouth on his wasp stings when he got stung while fishing at Choctaw Lake. (I am sure she poured Kerosene on the wound where the snake bit him to draw out the poison. That was a common cure.)

Dot burned her hand very badly with scalding water. There was a scab which covered the whole back of her hand. We were playing and ran in the house at Granny’s and slammed the screen door on her hand. She screamed in pain. It was rumored that one of our neighbors could “talk” the fire out of a burn. Mama took Dot to see him and her hand was healed.

Now, you know, we thought that he healed it, but looking back, I am sure the slamming of the door was the best thing that could have happened to that hand. Debridement is the treatment of choice today in severe burns. The turpentine was good for soaking a cut or scrape to prevent ‘blood poisoning’. Mr. Flemming had not, as yet, discovered Penicillin and we were unaware of germs. No one knew that new mothers should keep moving to prevent blood clots and therefore, ‘milk leg’ was seen often. After all, new mothers should stay in bed for at least nine days post postpartum and they must not go outside for 30 days. They must not wash their hair for a month and baths in a tub were forbidden. Looking back, one might wonder what kept us from dying from infectious diseases, injuries, lockjaw, and many other maladies common to ‘poor folks’ because we definitely walked “in the valley of the Shadow.” It was because we had a companion who held our hand and a lifeguard who walked on water.

Nannie Maude Dewease Reynolds