Grandmother's remedies almost always worked

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John Stanger

My grandmother had many remedies for illnesses at her disposal, and they generally worked, making it unnecessary for me to visit Dr. Grissom — except for cases where a remedy would fail.

That didn't happen very often.

For colds and coughs, she would make a honey and lemon syrup that was a mixture of the juice of one lemon and a half cup of honey. I took a tablespoon at a time four times a day.

Another cold remedy was the toddy, which consisted of a teaspoon of whiskey or brandy and a teaspoon of honey mixed in a cup of water. This one always made me feel better within a minute or two. I believe, though, that the best cure for colds and congestion was ginger tea. She made it by mixing two pinches of ginger and two pinches of cinnamon in a cup of water. This really cleaned out the sinuses and the bronchi.

Lineament was another favorite remedy. Every sore muscle, twisted ankle or minor sprain was doused with a liberal amount of lineament, which smelled like pine mixed with camphor. The one time it didn't work was when I was in the sixth grade and seriously sprained my ankle playing touch football.

The shampoo of choice was tar soap. My grandmother told me I would never have dandruff or dry scalp if I shampooed with it every day. It worked, but the aroma was overpowering. I discovered that if I shampooed first with the tar soap and then with Prell, people wouldn't be repulsed when I was near them (at least not for that reason).

The worst-tasting cure she had in her repertoire was syrup of pepsin. This was the ultimate cure for constipation. It was a very thick, bitter syrup that was administered by the tablespoonful and went down smoothly only if I followed the dose with a cup of water chaser. It worked very well, but I'm wondering if it hasn't been banned by the FDA.

If I happened to get sunburned, which is commonplace for a fair-skinned person, she would make a paste of baking soda and water and apply it to the burn. This reduced the redness, pain and blistering.

One of the most unusual cures given to me was onion juice. I needed the drops treatment once. It was when I was 11 on Christmas Eve, 1951, and I had the only earache I have ever had. My grandmother squeezed the juice out of an onion, warmed it and suctioned it into a dropper. She placed four drops in my ear and covered the ear canal with a wad of cotton. Within a short time, I was pain free.

The second time I received an onion treatment was when I was in high school and I had an infection as the result of a cut on my right thumb. My grandmother told me to tape a small piece of onion on my thumb at the site of the infection. In less than two hours, the pain was gone and so was the swelling.

These remedies may appear to be rather strange and quite old-fashioned, but I can vouch for the fact that they worked more often than not in curing my childhood maladies.

John Stanger is a lifelong resident of Oak Park, a 1957 graduate of OPRF High School, married with three grown children and five grandchildren, and an English professor at Elmhurst College. Living two miles from where he grew up, he hasn't gotten far in 71 years.

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