The Pretty Blue Bottle



Pamela Perry Blaine

© October 2005


This time of year the weather changes and many people begin to complain

of colds and sniffles.  The children are in school and bring home germs

that their parents and younger siblings catch from them.  Some people put up

 with it for a time, trying over-the-counter remedies while

others rush off to the local doctor’s office. 


When I was growing up, a doctor was not called unless it was absolutely

 necessary and at that time many local doctors, at least in rural areas,

still made house calls.  Although I suppose that is a thing of the past,

it seems at least that it kept contagious illnesses from being

 passed around through crowded doctor’s offices.


In our family, Momma always tried her home remedies first and if that

didn’t work then the doctor was called.  Many people used home remedies

 and various “cures” that were passed down from previous generations. 


I learned early on not to complain too much or I was in for some of

Momma’s home remedies.  However, Mommas have a way of knowing

if you are sick even if you don’t say anything about it.


Momma had many home remedies including the well known, chicken broth

but the home remedy that I remember most was the one Momma used

for a cold, sore throat, or congestion.  It was called “a greasing”. 


At the first sign of a cold Momma would call to us at bedtime, saying,

“Before you go to bed, come on in here by the stove first and

let me give you a greasing.” 


A greasing meant that Momma was going to get out “the cloth”.  The cloth

was kept in a drawer where it was placed after Momma washed it after

the last time we got “a greasing”.  It was just a piece of thick flannel that

 had been cut from an old worn out flannel nightgown or flannel sheet.

 It was cut to fit on the chest from shoulder to shoulder and

extend down to about the waist.


After she got out “the cloth”, the greasing began.  Momma would get

 out that familiar pretty blue bottle of Vicks VapoRub and smear that

smelly stuff all over our throats and chests.  After we were properly

greased, she would hold the cloth up to the heating stove for a few

moments to allow it to get good and hot.  When it was just the right

temperature, Momma  fastened it around our necks with safety pins.

The cloth so very warm and comforting.  In my mind I can still feel the

warmth of that old stove and hear the soft popping and clicking sounds

 it made as I stood there basking in it’s warmth while Momma rubbed me

down with Vicks VapoRub.   We would put our warm flannel pajamas

on over the warm cloth and then we were tucked into bed with lots

of cozy blankets.  The pungent fumes from the Vicks VapoRub did help

to open up our stuffy noses but whether or not it cured us, we

 sure felt like we had been “doctored up” good.


The next morning Momma would insist that the Vicks VapoRub be

 washed off completely because we couldn’t go outside with it all

over us.  Vicks VapoRub was a strong menthol-like salve and it felt cool

 when the air hit it.  Momma probably thought it would make us sick if we

 left it on but for some reason I got the idea that I would surely freeze

to death if I didn’t wash it off and the coroner’s report would

 read “Cause of death: Vicks VapoRub”.


Sometimes if one of us had really bad congestion, Momma worried that

we might get pneumonia so she would put a blob of Vicks VapoRub in

a pot of hot water and we had to lean over the pan with a towel on our

heads and breathe the fumes.  Thus, the first redneck vaporizer came to be.


Momma often told about the time that my brother got into the Vicks VapoRub

when he was just a toddler.  The pretty blue bottle was just so attractive to

 him and somehow he managed to get the jar opened.  Momma found him

sitting on the floor with most of the Vicks Vapo Rub smeared all over himself.

 He was taking deep breaths that sounded like Darth Vadar with a terrible cold. 

He was breathing with his mouth wide open because the strong fumes were

taking his breath away.  Momma quickly bathed him  and he was none the

worse for the experience but Momma was more careful not to leave the

Vicks VapoRub where he could get to it after that.


We thought that Vicks VapoRub smelled powerfully strong but we

got used to it.  Momma often told us how fortunate we were to have a

medicine that smelled so good because as a child she had to wear

something called an asafetida bag that was worn like a necklace around

the neck.  Momma said asafetida was some kind of plant resin that smelled

something like a skunk and was sometimes mixed with sulfur, garlic,

pine tar, camphor, and no telling what else.  She said that children wore

this bag at night while they slept and some children were even sent to

school with the asafetida bag dangling from around their necks. 

It was thought that this would keep children from catching diseases. 

It was probably true because no self-respecting germ would want

to go near them.  According to Momma, it would be difficult to catch

anything at all since there wasn’t a soul who wanted to be downwind

from a person wearing the odorous asafetida bag.


After I had children of my own, Momma gave them “a greasing” too if

 they happened to be at her house when a bad cold struck.  I guess

these home remedies do get passed down because I used Vicks

VapoRub on my children too and they are all still living.  I don’t know if

it was the Vicks VapoRub, the chicken broth, the warm cloth, or the

extra love and attention that made us feel better but recover we did!


My children would be the first to tell you to “watch out for Momma” because

there is still a pretty blue bottle of Vicks VapoRub in my medicine

cabinet and “the cloth” is still around here somewhere. 



“There are some remedies worse than the disease”

Publilius Syrus




Pamela Perry Blaine

© October 2005