By Joe Rector
Everywhere I go this winter, I run into folks who are wheezing and sniffing and sneezing and coughing. This year seems to have brought with it plenty of snow, frigid temperatures, and COLDS. The television is bursting with advertisements for medicines that will knock that cold out quick. I remember some of the things my parents used to battle our colds and pains that came with them.
Any Baby Boomer remembers the treatment for a chest cold. Vicks Vapor Rub sold millions of jars to families throughout the 1950’s and 60’s. I remember feeling punk from those types of colds. The wheezing was audible, as were the rattles from the congestion. Mother would come into my room at bedtime with the Vicks. She’d open up my pajama top and cover my chest with a gooey coating of the stuff. Then she’d button up my top. For good measure, she’d swipe below my nose with a generous portion of the goop. My night was spent in fitful sleep as the clothing stuck to my skin. The next morning, I did feel better but dreaded the coming night when the nasty stuff would be applied again.
When ear aches accompanied colds, we boys would be up all night with piercing pain. When wash cloths heated in water failed to stem the ache, our parents would have us stand close to them. They’d take a long, deep pull from a cigarette and gently blow the smoke into the hurting ear. A cotton ball kept the smoke in the ear, and immediate relief allowed children and adults to catch a few hours of sleep.
Mother made a cough remedy that her parents had used years before. She took a jar of honey and added lemon and horehound candy. The concoction was heated in a sauce pan until it blended into a thick syrup. She’d come to our room with a tablespoon and pour two helpings of if down our throats. It did help, but the memory of the taste of the horehound candy still turns my stomach.
Nothing is much worse to me than a stuffed-up nose. As a kid, I’d stick a finger-full of Vicks in my nose. At other times, I’d get a wad of toilet paper, wet it, and stuff it up my nose for a couple of minutes. For serious colds, Mother sometimes would put drops in my nose, something that first brought on tickles and then choking. All I wanted was enough relief to fall asleep. Then I could become a “mouth breather.”
For those hacking coughs, Daddy stepped in. He’d leave the house for a few minutes at night. After he returned, I could hear him opening the silverware drawer in the kitchen. His heavy footsteps echoed down the hall until he reached the bedroom. Daddy flipped the light switch and came to my bedside. He’d say “Open up.” I’d obey, and he’d pour a generous spoonful of whiskey into my mouth. When I swallowed, he turned and left. The stuff burned like the fires of hell down my throat, but miraculously, the coughing subsided enough for me to rest. When I had those coughs, my first move was to cover my head with blankets and cough into my pillow; I’d try anything to keep from having to take a shot of whiskey for a cough. These days, I’m much quicker to give the remedy a try, whether a cold is raging or if I feel one might possibly be on the way in the next week or so.
These days, modern medicine has given cold sufferer shelves of remedies. The products are promoted through million dollar ad campaigns. Some products promise “sleep-at-night” results while others declare they can help folks with a cold get through the day with little discomfort. I don’t know about others, but I never had a cold with “cute” mucus in my head, nose, or chest. In fact, any time the color green is used in a discussion of colds, the words “infections” and “antibiotics” follow closely. We can take one of the old remedies or spend a bundle on medicines from the store; however, the fact is that with or without them, a cold will last 7-10 days. Cold medicines are there only to offer a bit of comfort while they run their courses.