My grandma was a practical soul. Aside from her decades-long addiction to the soap opera, As The World Turns, Grandma was a product of the early part of the 20th century, when life was simple and when people learned to “make-do” as she’d always say.
In addition to her incomparable strawberry jam and the tiny pancakes she made just for me, Grandma always had a remedy when something hurt.
These days, we know the long-term damage overexposure to the sun can do, so hopefully and our kids aren’t getting sunburned at all and we’re using natural sunscreens. But we also know that stuff happens and once in a while, we’ll get a sunburn.
In my childhood, those long lazy summer afternoons at the pool or beach inevitably led to sunburn. Who ever heard of sunscreen back then? Grandma was always ready with her remedy: A nice cool bath with a cup or two of apple cider vinegar to take out the sting and the redness. Ahhh. Then we’d stand in the breezy bathroom and air dry –since a scrub with scratchy a line-dried towel would be too much. Her final kindness would be a soothing application of moisturizing lotion she always kept in the refrigerator.
That peppermint plant that spread across Grandma’s backyard was her favorite remedy for mosquito bites. She’d just pluck a handful of pungent leaves, crush them up a bit to release their oils and rub them on the afflicted area.
Grandma also kept a large purple flowering comfrey plant in the back garden that I now know was part of her summertime medicinal stash. A spider bite would inspire her to make a quick trip to garden to pluck one large leaf. She’d carry it right into the kitchen and dip into a pot of boiling water for a few seconds, scoop it out, blow on it and slap it right onto the offending spot. On top of it, she’d put a big piece of plastic wrap, leave it on overnight and by morning, there wouldn’t even be a trace of the bite.
Poison ivy cause a weepy rash that can make summer miserable for weeks on end. It seems to endlessly spread, especially if you scratch it.
Grandma had a plan for the inevitable poison ivy outbreak, too. It involved a big metal dishpan with a full box of baking soda, enough water to make a paste and her turkey basting brush.
We kids would be required up morning and evening, naked like small soldiers at sick call. Grandma travelled up and down the line painting our oozing rashes with the simple paste. Usually the rash would dry up and disappear in a day or two, but I remember one particularly bad exposure that left my hands swaddled in diapers borrowed from a younger sibling in a mostly fruitless effort to keep me from scratching and spreading the rash.
Grandma’s baking soda paste also worked like a charm on chigger bites.