in my day, mothers were the doctors in the house, treating colds
and coughs in the early stages and trying their best to prevent
anything major from developing.
Whenever I started to get a cold, Dr. Mom would squeeze a lemon,
heat a cup of water almost to the boiling point and add a dash of
baking soda to the mix. Then she would tell me to drink the fizzler
as fast as possible.
I don't know if it was the hot water, soda or lemon -- or maybe
something psychological - but it seemed to work.
A bad cough with a cold called for more drastic measures, namely
a Vicks vapor rub over my chest. Afterward, smelling like a menthol
machine, I would bundle up for a good night's sleep. The day after,
I was in recovery. For a sore throat, I got swabbed. Mother called
it "mopping" the throat.
She used a long, medicated cotton swab to glide gently down my throat
-- knowing just when to "stop the mop." I hated it, but it usually
Also, I must mention the most unpleasant, so-called cure-all in
the medicine cabinet: castor oil. Yuk. Ugh. Only thing worse would
be mineral oil.
Trained in first aid by Red Cross instructors during World
War II, most mothers how to take care of minor injuries, scrapes,
insect bites, etc. If it bled, mom led, armed with gauze, tape and
stinging methylate. And even if we weren't hurt, moms would practice
first-aid skills on their captive patients, wrapping and taping
the way they would if ever they had to attend to the war wounded.
For years I kept my mother's first-aid books as a kind of wartime
In the 1940s, vaccinations targeted two diseases, diphtheria and
smallpox. Like a badge of honor, elementary school kids showed that
dotted ring on their arms to prove they were safe from small pox.
Diphtheria shots came first, being a requirement for entering school.
The vaccination venue was the Humble Oil & Refining Co. Community
House where a public health nurse needled every fearful one of us.
As for the usual childhood plagues like chickenpox, measles, mumps
and whooping cough, we roughed it. Sorry, no vaccine available yet.
Polio ranked as the most dreaded disease of that era pre-dating
Salk and Sabin vaccines.
We called polio "infantile paralysis," a misnomer because the disease
hit all ages, most notably our president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
One of the worst polio epidemics in the nation's history occurred
in the summer after I graduated from high school in 1952. Among
fatalities in my hometown, Baytown,
were a hairdresser and a college professor.
Growing up, we always harbored a vague, uneasy fear of polio, but
our parents were paranoid. During the long hot summers, they tried
to keep us away from crowds, and when polio reached an epidemic
stage, many children were not allowed to go swimming or to the movies.
Whenever our legs ached, moms would panic and reach for a bottle
of alcohol to rub our legs, vigorously, desperately, fearfully.
Pneumonia, known long ago as lung fever, was something else to fear.
One of the few times I saw our family doctor was when I had whooping
cough in the first grade and pneumonia in high school. The bout
with pneumonia sent me to the hospital for a week.
© Wanda Orton
Baytown Sun Columnist
1, 2017 column