When I first thought on this concept I ALMOST felt cheated. I was a child of the ‘50’s in a NY State suburb. My raised-on-a-farm-in-Texas mother was most intent on embracing the role of Modern HouseWife and if she knew any ‘old home remedies’ she was seriously busy rejecting them in favor of things from the drugstore shelf.

Being sick was an oddly special time as a kid – OK, except for that SERIOUSLY special chapter I only heard about in family stories when all three of us came down with chicken pox during our move from one house to another. But once we got through that, although my mother had something of a battle cry of “You have to be dead or dying before I’ll let you miss school”…..once we were genuinely sick, it was off to bed with Mom’s full focus.

No laptops, no TV’s in our rooms, nothing to do but lie there and read books, and later on, to listen to AM radio. But even that was cool. A whole day (or six) to just read books. Or color. Memories emerge of hard-cover Mary Poppins books and the smell of crayons and the feel of the pulpy coloring book paper.

But when I thought of MY Remembered Remedies, they may not have been the plant-based wonders I offered my own child, but they had something to them. I soon realized that I have crystal clear memories of a St Joseph’s Baby Aspirin crushed and mixed with (oh horrors) Karo Syrup, but ALWAYS in that same little pyrex dessert bowl. It was a funny little ritual that never happened at any other time.

If respiratory horrors really got out of hand, OUT came the Vicks Vaporub – on the chest, on the neck, and even sometimes in the mouth – yeccch. For years, we all used Vicks as a lip balm. But again, crystal clear recall of the little blue glass jar, with the light blue top and the smell of it.

The big gun was the large, strange-looking space ship of a vaporizer that Mom would put some weird brown STUFF into and with a soft, constant hiss, the whole room would smell like benzoin.

Now see? I don’t even remember being given any tea to drink. I didn’t discover even mint tea until I was in high school, although as kids we called regular black tea with too much milk ‘baby tea’, so we must have gotten some of that. I do remember SOUP when I was sick, but too often it was BEEF soup that was just too rich when you’re feeling wretched.

But the point being, it wasn’t the actual ‘healing substance’ that brings back intense memories, it was the HOW. The special little rituals that only came out when we were sick enough to stay home.

One I really hated was having Mom bring in that METAL WASTEBASKET and put it beside your bed. Uh-oh. She KNOWS that you’re going to throw up. Just the sight of that dreaded wastebasket was enough to MAKE us puke. Mom knew. My sister had absolute horrors over barfing (and probably still does) While I can’t say it was my FAVORITE pastime, it didn’t send me out a window and somehow I managed to pass that on to my own daughter who would quietly come into my room at all of four years old and calmly announce “Mommy, I have to go BLAH.” (ok, go) and she’d go ralph into the toilet. No biggie. I like to think I gave her some more colorful remedies to stick to HER childhood memories, although I suspect the trips into the landlady’s bathroom to run a hot shower for her croup attacks will upstage much of that.

But my own Grand Finale was an Academy Award Winning case of the MEASLES timed JUST perfectly to coincide with a rare visit from Grandmother-From-Texas and Grampa Johnny (her second husband, but he was THE Grampa I got to know, kinda). Wow, was I sick. Fever, skin all broken out and missing out on everything INCLUDING the big family trip to….. FREEDOMLAND. I probably don’t need to explain here who DID get to go……

1960 - my miserable measly self, my VERY smugly pleased kid brother Nick, and Grandmother Vera


Mom stayed home with me and  EVERYbody else got to go. Was I ever miserable. I was still confined to bed when Grandmother and Grampa Johnny were ready to leave. I stood at my bedroom window watching them get into the car, all teary because Grampa Johnny hadn’t said goodbye to me. Suddenly he snapped his fingers and came running up to my room. I dove back into bed and he awkwardly gave me……. a dollar. Even to my 8 year old self, I knew he was doing the best he could. Most grampas don’t know what to do with sick little kids. But I was really glad he came back up, for as it turns out, that would be the last time I ever saw him.

That siege of measles kept me in bed for weeks, and my mother braided my long hair to keep me from going completely mad. I vividly remember when she took down the braids to FINALLY wash my hair and we were both surprised to see that the ends of my hair were all the way down to my waist. And to this day, that FIRST SHOWER after long times of being sick is one of life’s GREAT pleasures.

But along with the coloring and reading, I remember so well that being sick was time to ‘read your quilt’. Grandmother had made each of us classic patchwork quilts and even though the pattern of squares and triangles was consistent, the choice of fabrics was ENDLESS. For hours on end I would just LOOK at it, poke my feet up so I could see the parts at the end, and wonder what pieces of clothing these all came from. SO many pieces of fabric. I’d look at all her hand-stitching and feel very cared for.

My sister has kept up that tradition, and the quilt she made for me for my sixtieth year has taken up that role – arriving right before a huge surgery whose recovering has landed me in the bedroom for longer than all my childhood illnesses put together. And although I do look at it around my ever-present laptop, I still spend time ‘reading’ it – letting my eyes wordlessly trace all the colors and shapes and stitch patterns. And I feel cared for.

2012 my 60th year quilt by sister Bonny

So, I wasn’t so ‘cheated’ after all. I’m a product of my time.

And remedies are remedies………