|George Buster Singleton|
(For decades, local historian and paranormal investigator George “Buster” Singleton published a weekly newspaper column called “Somewhere in Time.” The column below, which was titled “Foul-smelling, nasty-tasting tonics made good home remedies” was originally published in the April 21, 1994 edition of The Monroe Journal in Monroeville, Ala.)
However you think about it, we are living in a totally changed world.
There was a time when the coming of spring meant a time of being brought into the kitchen that sat behind the house and administered doses of the usual spring tonic. A child of today knows absolutely nothing about the spring tonics and having your system cleaned out in preparation for the coming summer months.
They would look at you in total disbelief if you were to mention about a dose of red oak bark tea to ward off chills and fever in the summer months ahead. Probably, they would think you crazy if you suggested that they drink a glass of warm sassafras tea each day for the next few days to condition your system for the many meals of green vegetables ahead.
What happened to the doses of quinine that were a must in the early spring? This dreadful-tasting stuff was supposed to be a sure remedy for chills and fever and the telltale signs of malaria that rode the warm winds of the coming spring.
A nasty-tasting dose of chill tonic was in order each night just before bed time. This, too, was to ward off malaria. A new bottle of chill tonic had been purchased earlier during the month of March from the Raleigh man or the Watkins salesman, so that there would be no danger of running out during the month of April.
Another item purchased from the Raleigh or Watkins salesman was a large tin box of ugly black salve. This salve was a known cure for anything that ailed you – a stumped toe, a mashed finger, an insect bite, or even a knot on the head. This evil-smelling salve was the remedy for them all.
Along with this salve was kept a small bottle of coal oil. The wounded toe or other ailment was always wiped clean with the coal oil before applying the black salve.
Frequent trips were made to a nearby sulfur well, and containers were filled with the bad-tasting water. This was brought home and lowered down into the well to keep cool until such time Aunt Lelia, the home-remedy expert, thought it necessary the small children should have a healthy drink of the foul-tasting water.
Sulfur water was good for the skin and regulated your perspiration during the hot summer days. By drinking this sulfur water, you would not get too hot and faint from exposure to the sun’s rays.
Pod of boiled okra
In the event you had to take a pill or a capsule of some kind of store-bought medicine, a small pod of boiled okra was helpful in getting the medicine down. The pill or capsule would be placed in the pod of boiled okra; the slick pod of okra would slip down your throat with little or no effort. An early spring planted okra patch was almost a necessity in a country family that had small children.
The boiled okra not only helped in the swallowing of the pills or capsules, but it, too, was supposed to be good for the system. A small child, when cutting teeth, always had to wear a nutmeg fastened on a string around his neck. This kept the baby’s gums from being sore, and the new teeth would break through their gums with little or no pain.
I never could see just how this could help in the growing of teeth, but no one dared question Aunt Lelia’s home remedies or her methods of doctoring.
Between the evil-smelling black salve and an okra bloom, boils were almost eliminated; that is, most times. I never will forget this friend of mine who came to play one day. On the top of his head, he had a large, swollen, red boil. His mother had shaved the hair from around the boil and had greased the boil quite well with the ugly black salve. Then she had placed a large okra bloom atop the swollen boil.
My friend was an unusual sight with his head shaved around the top and that large okra bloom turned down over the boil right in the middle of his head. To hold the bloom in place, four short pieces of tape were stuck to the bald spot on his head.
I almost got a spanking for laughing at my friend’s head. I thought that this was one of the funniest sights that I had ever seen.
Bracelets made of copper wire were used by the older folks for the relief of rheumatism or arthritis. If this ailment was only in the finger, a copper ring would be worn on the ailing finger. If it was in the hand or arm, a copper bracelet was worn around the wrist. There are those even today who say that this home remedy works. Once in a great while, I spot a copper bracelet being worn by one who suffers from the above ailments.
And then, there was the blackberry wine cure for almost any kind of ailment. Once or twice a week, the small kids were lined up and each was given a couple of large spoonfuls of blackberry wine. This kept their systems in order and was supposed to be good for blood pressure and the clearness of vision. This was probably the only home remedy that I didn’t dread to have to take. Since I was Aunt Lelia’s favorite, many times I was slipped an extra spoonful of the wonderful-tasting liquid. And, when no wine was available, blackberry juice was substituted.
Faded from scene
Many of the old home remedies have long since faded from the scene. With the passing of the old herb doctors, many of the so-called country cures have been forgotten.
In our modern world of computers and our desire for perfection, our way of life has changed. Home remedies that once served the needs of the country folk are unheard of today.
Don’t misunderstand me; modern medicine has its place in our society. But the family and community togetherness that once abounded when the home remedies were applied to the youth of the farm communities is gone forever.
Can we say that our society has advanced with all this technology that we have acquired? I think not; there was once love and concern four our neighbor. The youth of a community once would band together to assist the elderly in their hour of need, but this has faded. Crime and disease now flow across the land. The winds of tomorrow are not blowing at all in our favor.
(Singleton, the author of the 1991 book “Of Foxfire and Phantom Soldiers,” passed away at the age of 79 on July 19, 2007. A longtime resident of Monroeville, he was born on Dec. 14, 1927 in Marengo County, graduated from Sweet Water High School, served in the Korean War, moved to Monroe County in 1961 and served as the administrator of the Monroeville National Guard unit from 1964 to 1987. For years, Singleton’s column “Somewhere in Time” appeared in The Monroe Journal, and he wrote a lengthy series of articles about Monroe County that appeared in Alabama Life magazine. He is buried in Pineville Cemetery in Monroeville. The column above and all of Singleton’s other columns are available to the public through the microfilm records at the Monroe County Public Library in Monroeville. Singleton’s columns are presented here each week for research and scholarship purposes and as part of an effort to keep his work and memory alive.)