©2017 By Bob Litton. All Rights Reserved.
¶Yeah, I know “Mothers’ Day” is still more than three months away, but I might abandon this blog before May 14 and there are still a few things about my mother that I want to record.
¶Mama was in some ways acutely alert to health matters and in other ways indifferent to them. I remember when I was hardly more than a toddler she took me to be examined by Dr. Fred S. Brooksaler (1901-73), a Dallas pediatrician who later became a professor of pediatrics at Southwestern Medical School in that city and who is still remembered there by an endowed professorship in his name .
¶Once, Dr. Brooksaler performed an in-office operation on my neck just below one ear, but what he removed I do not recall, if indeed I ever heard him say. I liked him a lot because he gave me a little toy every time I visited him.
¶One of the medicines Dr. Brooksaler prescribed for some forgotten ailment was a roll of flat, circular, chewable lozenges that tasted like candy. I liked the flavor, naturally, but Mama said I could take one only after a meal. I had a very broad concept of “meal” in those days, so one day while Mama was away I ate a couple of saltine crackers and then chewed one of the “medicinal candies”. Then I repeated the process from saltines to medicine two or three more times. Later, as I was walking down a sidewalk a few blocks from our apartment, I became violently ill. Fortunately, a lady sitting on her porch across the street noticed me and came over to take me to her porch, where she provided whatever aid she could, not knowing what was wrong. Obviously, I survived.
¶Mama also had me examined and fitted for eyeglasses, although she probably did so at the elementary school’s bidding. They were wire-rimmed glasses, which I hated. (That was back in the days before the Beatles, when “granny glasses” weren’t yet “cool”.) I refused to wear them one spring while I was staying with an uncle down in the Rio Grande Valley. After I got sick at school one day, the nurse concluded it was because I hadn’t been wearing my lenses, so I had to dig them out of the sandy loam of the grapefruit orchard where I had buried them and don them from then on.
¶I don’t recall Mama ever taking me to a dentist’s office, and now I don’t understand that. Dentists are, in my experience, the least expensive of health care providers. How my teeth managed to stay in good condition until age thirty-five (when I underwent a periodontal operation) I’ll never understand. I sure miss those three gold-crowned molars I gave up last year because of all the suckers I used to poke into my mouth.
¶Now to the medicines I started out to discuss.
¶First, there was the Campho-Phenique which was a regular staple in Mama’s medicine cabinet. I often enough required its application because I spent hours on end running around barefoot in the neighborhood lawns, which were the chiggers’ habitat. I haven’t had a chigger bite since I was little, yet, in my earlier adult years, I used to stroll or sit on friends’ lawns or in area parks where the grass was plentiful enough. Nary a bite! Are chiggers extinct? I just can’t believe that!
¶Also in Mama’s cabinet one could find a jar of Mentholatum or VaporRub. These salves were developed in the 1890s and are still used today to aid breathing while a person has a cold or cough. Recent research has indicated that the salve doesn’t actually improve breathing but that its camphor aroma fools the brain into thinking that it does. (What’s the difference?) It ordinarily is applied to the chest and the back. The ill person inhales the cool camphor smell, which has an odor that I like. However, since the positive effect is supposed to be derived from breathing, I fail to understand how applying the salve to one’s back is going to be effective. Anyway, when I was a child Mama applied it to my chest many a time.
¶Another antique medicine was Dr. Caldwell’s Syrup Pepsin. Many benefits from its intake were claimed back in late 19th century when it was developed, as can be seen from this quote from a 1904 ad in the “St. Louis Republic”: “The manufacturers claim that the remedy will relieve any case of Indigestion; cure any case of Constipation; remove the cause of Headache, Biliousness, Dizziness, Foul Breath, Sour Stomach and Flatulency; and dispel Colds, Fevers, and Ills caused by bad digestion, torpid liver, and sluggish bowels.”
¶In 1906, Congress created the Food and Drug Administration to investigate exaggerated and fraudulent claims by patent medicine makers, including Caldwell’s company. Digger Odell’s website Bottlebooks.com, reports that, despite the federal government’s actions, “Dr. Caldwell’s Medicine was still misleading the public about the worthiness of its product. This no doubt was accomplished by well-placed donations and lobbying. With the owners making millions each year they would have been a formidable opponent for the government lawyers. So much so that the product was made continuously from 1889 until 1985.” So, about all that is left of Dr. Caldwell’s Syrup Pepsin are collectible antique bottles and ads. Oh well, I sure did like the taste of that stuff, containing as it did pepsin, one of the ingredients that now goes into Pepsi-Ćola.
¶That pretty much concludes my inventory of Mama’s medicine cabinet. She remained a devotee of patent nostrums, although she used doctors and hospitals whenever she figured they were needed. She even enrolled in a night course once to become a licensed vocational nurse but never completed it. However, she did occasionally tend to bed-ridden folks. When her final days came she complained about spending them away from home — in a hospital. “Bobby,” she said to me then, “why are they doing this to me? They’re going against nature.”