The railroad furnished living quarters for its employees; well built houses that were kept in good condition, except for some reason, they did not install screens on the windows. Therefore flies and mosquitoes, as well as other flying insects had free access to our living quarters. This was very aggravating and my mother fought them with a passion. Every day before she put supper on the table, she handed me and my brothers a towel and told us to run the flies out of the house. We went from room to room, swinging those towels by one corner to chase the pesky flies out the doors, but it did not do that much good for they just flew right back inside.
Then a contraption called a fly spray gun came on the market. It was a pump with a handle attached to a container that was filled with Gulf fly spray liquid. To operate it, one had only to push in the pump handle that forced the liquid out in a spray form that killed flies and other flying insects upon contact. This contraption replaced the towel swinging chore.
ONE DAY, however, I rather overdid it. When my mother told me to spray the house, I closed all windows and doors and made sure that the fly spray gun was full before I started. I hated those flies and was enjoying using it, then watching them fall dead upon the floor, however I was over zealous and quite forgot that the spray was to be used in a well ventilated space. Soon my head began to feel funny and I was having trouble breathing, but I kept on spraying until I finished the job. When I opened the back door to go outside, I fainted dead away and fell out onto the back porch. My frightened mother rushed to pick me up and after a bit in the fresh air, I revived. That taught me a lesson and I was more careful the next time I used that spray gun.
There was another apparatus that I hated. It was a long tacky (sticky) contraption that one hung to the ceiling and flies lighting on it would become stuck and unable to get free. Gradually the apparatus would become black with dead flies and have to be replaced. The reason I did not like this apparatus was that if one bumped into it, their hair would become stuck along with many dead flies.
I DON’T RECALL us ever having roaches; the kind we have now that were later called “Yankee bugs.” When the South began to become infested with them, the Southern people blamed the Yankees for bringing them to us during the Civil War. However we had another pest that was hard, if not impossible to get rid of — bed bugs. They infested the homes of the rich and the poor alike and people fought them with a passion. For years it was thought that they were caused by babies and small children wetting their beds, however that has been proven to be untrue. In the last few years, we have seen a reinfestion of these pests that are still very hard to get rid of. It is now believed that they hide in luggage and packages from all over the world and since they are so tiny, not easily noticed until they have infested homes, businesses and buildings all over the world. They can be found in the most posh hotels, as well as the most humble homes.
Medical science has made great strides in the prevention and treatment of many diseases, but some of the treatments have actually caused some diseases to build up an immunity to the drugs created to cure them.
WHEN I WAS growing up, a person who came down with pneumonia, for instance, often died. This was before the modern drugs that doctors have access to today and people had to resort to mostly home remedies to break up the congestion. My mother’s remedy was to apply a flannel or woolen cloth poultice that was smeared with camphorated oil, turpentine, pneumonia salve (Vicks Vaporub) and other smelly things to the lung area and cover the patient carefully so that the poultice contents would penetrate. At other times she would fry out red onions and put onions and grease onto a flannel cloth poultice. I recall having pleurisy one time and my mother put an onion poultice on my side. It did the work, but she said that I cried and told her that I smelled like chicken dressing.
In those days schools were full of the very contagious affliction, scabies (which was called the Itch). The home remedy for that was a mixture of sulfur and grease smeared on liberally. That too, smelled to high heaven. Also school children of the rich and the poor alike caught head lice and brought them home. The treatment to get rid of these little pests was to wash the hair with kerosene to kill the live ones and then comb the nits (eggs) out carefully with a fine tooth comb.
THERE WAS a saying back then that it was not a disgrace to catch these highly contagious afflictions, but a disgrace to keep them.
Before the development of preventive medications, children had diphtheria, whooping cough, measles and chicken pox. Nowadays, babies are routinely given shots to prevent these childhood diseases. And before it was eradicated by the Salk vaccine, polio was a dreaded disease that left young and older adults crippled if they survived. Even our beloved late President Roosevelt was a survivor of this dreaded disease.
We pray that Medical Science will eventually come up with preventative medications that will wipe out AIDS and all types of cancer and other dreaded diseases.
However we are still living in the slow lane as far as some are concerned, but we thank
God for every bit of progress that is being made daily.
Bernice Couey Bishop Anderson is a Floyd County native and a freelance writer.