12-28-17 Tri-City Area History Page

Peoples Savings Association (year unknown)

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From the photo collection at the North Berrien Historical Museum

300 Coloma Avenue, Coloma

The Paw Paw River Journal


Patent medicines

 Just recently in our family we were talking about remedies people take to get healthy, stay healthy, get strong, virile, beautiful, or whatever.  And it set my mind on some pathways in the past.

I know about patent medicines; because when I was a little kid, my sister and I were dosed regularly by our mom.  I don’t know if she thought we looked a little peaked, or if we just needed a spring tonic tune up.  But she usually had some remedy she was trying out on us.

One I remember we called “Red Medicine.”  It came in a huge bottle and was ruby red in color.  It tasted all right, so we didn’t mind taking a teaspoon every morning.  Probably something touted to tone up the system and make us bright eyed and bushy tailed!

Then there was “Scott’s Emulsion.”  This was purely and simply cod liver oil.  It had a milky color and did not taste bad, so we didn’t mind a daily dose.  The bottle came in a cardboard box with a picture of a fisherman in oil skins, and he was carrying on his shoulder a huge cod fish.   When that bottle came out, I never made a fuss… as I sometimes did if it was more vile tasting stuff.

Undoubtedly the coute le vec of tonics was a little flask labeled “Seven Barks.”  At lunch time our Mom would bring out that little bottle and uncork it.  A sharp medicinal smell filled the air, and she gave us each a teaspoon… bitter tasting.  When we saw the bottle coming out we would pretend we were dogs and bark seven times… I suppose just to see if it would irritate her. But it never did.  And I’m sure it was somebody’s idea that the bark of seven different trees or bushes, when emulsified, would have a most desirable effect on little kids.

Undoubtedly the worst remedy of all was castor oil.  Sometimes when the alimentary canal gets blocked, and it occasionally will, nature needs a little help.  Our mom always monitored our digestive condition, and when traffic got too slow, out would come the castor oil. She wanted to make it as easy as possible on us, so she would dissolve a teaspoon in a small glass of orange juice.  I can still see in my mind’s eye, the little globules of oil floating on the surface.

I can also see most clearly… there I was sitting at the kitchen table… in front of me a juice glass filled with orange juice. And floating around on top, the little drops of oil.  I shuddered, looked at it again, and my mom said, “All right… just drink it down and you will not even taste it!”  And I did… got it down… and it must have had the desired effect, because I cannot remember having to repeat the performance.  But it put me off orange juice for years.  I can enjoy it now, but occasionally still look in the glass, and remember those little beads of oil floating around.

If I had a cough and chest congestion, out came the Vicks VapoRub.  When I went to bed, my mom would rub my chest with it, and tuck me in.  Then I drifted off to sleep with the fumes rising about me… and it did help the cough.

One home remedy I never got to know was Lydia Pinkham’s.  It came in a flask and was in the medicine cabinet with the rest of the home remedies.  When I was small, I wondered what it was for, and I think on occasion my mom took a hit from the bottle.  Later on I came to understand that it was for “female complaints.”  And