Family Stories

I Am Ill.

From the book Small Drops of Rain by Frances White.

“When I was about two months old and about the time my father arrived, I caught whooping cough and influenza from my Uncle Harry, who, being a young fellow, went everywhere, and who brought the disease home to the rest of the children. (The poor boy almost never lived it down or heard the last of it). At the same time mother had a serious case of pneumonia. My father hired a registered nurse to help care for us. I do not recall her name, but she probably worked with Dr. Holbrooke. My grandmother’s children were also ill, which made for a trying time for all. Mother said that the nurse made her drink lots of lemonade. As for me, I nearly died. My father said that he waked the floor with me, fed me onion tea and Castoria,
(a patent medication which old timers will recall, and is still very much around). Many times I coughed and lost my breath and everyone thought I was gone, but my father wouldn’t give up. He wrapped a clean cloth around his finger and rammed it down my throat to try to wipe the phlegm, which was strangling me. I lived.

The also put onion poultices on my chest, onions were cut up and fried in a little fat, and while they were still warm the were spread on a cloth and applied. This conglomeration was used for pneumonia, bronchitis, and other bronchial distress, as well for whooping cough.

People made small sacks of muslin or flour sacks and kept them for poultices of all kinds. They would fill one with onions , put it on the patient, and when it became cool, they would have another ready. The fumes from the hot onions were inhaled by the patient and seemed to act very much as the modern vaporizers do. The fumes were not too strong for the tiniest baby, and the child often slept well, relieved congestion. An adult would sit in a comfortable chair, preferably, a rocker, holding the baby to be sure it was kept well covered and not chilled. This is what my father did for me.

Onion tea was another standby for ailing babies, especially for colds. The onions were chopped then boiled, and the juice strained, to which was added sugar, or perhaps honey, and then the syrup was boiled for a few more minutes. It must be just right for a baby. If it were too thin, it might strangle him; if too thick, it would be difficult to swallow. Babies loved it; they smacked their lips, often fussing for more. Everyone thought it helped the child.

Castoria is still a family remedy in many houses. It is made form senna, an herb. Senna tea was also used frequently when I was young. We bought the leaves in a package at the store, and a pinch, brewed in very hot water and sweetened with sugar, if desired, made a dose. I was also used as a laxative. It was good, tasting like ordinary tea, but we soon learned not to take too much! It opened up the bowels and rid the body of accumulated wastes and poisons, as the ads proclaimed, and as the older generation believed.

I once saw a very sick baby come out of a bout with pneumonia, after having been given up by two doctors, when the mother and a friend sat up with the child all night, applying the poultices of hot onion and giving onion tea. The little one recovered, much to the delight of all concerned, including the doctors, who solemnly declared that the heroic efforts of the two ladies had pulled the child through.

There were no antibiotics or miracle drugs then; people made do with whatever they had. There were many superstitions and “magic: cures, which, when they did not work, were attributed to the “will of God”. I recovered from my illness because of, or in spite of, the remedies, and my parents stayed in Oklahoma, deciding to farm nearby, and never returned to Illinois.”

From Small Drops of Rain By Frances White.

This is another chapter from the book Frances White wrote. I love that I have wonderful stories about my family. I chose this chapter because it talks about my great grandfather Harry. Harry Ward Skipper, Uncle Harry to Frances. Harry was born 31 August 1893 in Mulhull, Oklahoma, just three weeks after his father ran in the Cherokee Strip Land Run. Harry married Minnie McCarta on 9 February 1915 in Louisiana and died on 2 February 1973 in Oklahoma City. He brought the disease to the house. I really love learning how they treated sickness and am amazed that without modern medicine they were able to get recover from serious illnesses. I cannot imagine using an onion to treat a cough. It makes me appreciate the things that I have today to make my life easier than my ancestors.

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