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Old cold cures worked, even with the hocus pocus
Harris Blackwood
Harris Blackwood

When we lived in Atlanta, our doctor was named Cleve Ward. I thought he was very old. He had a head full of gray hair and a mustache that was yellowed from cigarette smoke.

He had a demeanor that reminds me of Eeyore, the donkey in the Winnie the Pooh stories.

When he would examine me, he would start out with a singsong command of “and breathe.” The subsequent breaths just followed a grunting “mmm-hmmm.”

I don’t think we paid more than $10 to go to the doctor. When we had a cold, he gave us an envelope of white pills that seem to do the trick.

If we didn’t go to the doctor, my mama would try a few home remedies. If there were a cough, Mama would make up a concoction of bourbon whiskey, honey and lemon juice. She would have never made it as a bartender. Of course, she was a teetotaler and her cough formula was never in balance. There was either too much honey, which made it hard to swallow; too much lemon juice that made it way too tangy or too much hooch, which made it burn like fire.

I don’t know what it is about the medicinal qualities of liquor. In cowboy movies, the old town doc would give a guy a slug of booze and have him bite down on a bullet as he cut out a gunshot wound.

Folks have been using demon alcohol for similar purposes for centuries.

In his 1772 book, Domestic Medicine, William Buchan offers this cold remedy:

“Go to bed, hang your hat on the foot of the bed and continue to drink until you can see two hats.” It might not cure you, but you should sleep through the night.

When a cold had settled in your chest, Mama would pull out that old standby, Vick’s Vapo-Rub or as we called it Vick’s Salve.

She would coat your chest with this stuff and then put a towel on top of it. This goes back to the days when folks would coat a piece of flannel with turpentine to open up your sinus passages.

I remember one year when a neighbor had pneumonia. We went to a lady’s house and she made him a mustard plaster. As I remember, it was made with a piece of cheesecloth and was coated with dry mustard and some other ingredients. Even with it wrapped between two pieces of aluminum foil, it still smelled to high heavens.

You can ‘t argue with success, in a few days he was up and around.

There are folks who have old family remedies that include various spices, such as oregano and cinnamon. Before that, you might be taken to a barber and bled, using a leech.

In the 1960s, there were a number of country music shows in TV syndication on Saturday afternoons. Regional patent medicine companies that offered an assortment of creams and tonics that purported to make you feel better were their sponsors. During cold and flu season, they advertised all sorts of things that would make your cold go away. I don’t know if they worked, but they seemed to sell a lot of them.

For years, we stood by the old tried and true white pills in an envelope. I’d give you $10 for some today.

Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns appear on the Sunday Life page and on