In rural Virginia in the 1940s and 50s, calling the doctor to come to your home or go to a hospital could be difficult. As a result, many parents used old-fashioned home remedies to manage their children’s ailments.
As part of our occasional Oral History series, Robbie Harris has this retrospective.
Jessica Taylor is an Assistant Professor of Oral and Public History at Virginia Tech. She sat down with people from Blacksburg, Virginia’s oldest families, from the Price Fork area. She asked them what the school was like back then and how the health system worked when they were at school.
“Well, there was always some kind of elixir somewhere and a lot of rest,” said Joyce Slusser.
Palmer Price recalls that his parents “put a drop of lamp oil on a spoonful of sugar” and swallowed it. “Remember it?”
“That was for a sore throat,” interferes Slusser. “And horehound candy and whiskey. My mother had a small glass of whiskey and a candy bar for horehound. It was really tough when it went down. If you cough, she gave you a teaspoonful of it and it was awful. ”
Price laughs, “I was an adult before I found out you can’t go to bed without Vicck’s volley rubbing your skin
That brought a knowing laugh from the group who came to tell their stories, including Ronnie Alls, who recalls his parents gave him mustard plasters for measles.
“As far as I know it was just a rag with mustard on it and they taped it right on the back and I have no idea why.” Joyce Slusser remembers that too. “I think there’s more to it than just mustard.”
“Yes, there was.” Says Palmer Price.
Nobody could remember what it was.
But Jessica Taylor says, “Parents from this era strongly supported the latest science on childhood diseases that they could not treat at home. Measles and polio vaccines were being distributed to schools at the time. Wythe County in southwest Virginia had the worst per capita outbreak in the US country. ”
Slusser recalls, “that he went to the health department in Christiansburg and got a polio vaccination.
“Was everyone there?
Some people nodded yes.
Phyllis Price recalls “standing in line with all the kids in this church. I went to first grade in that brick building across the street and they took us all over to this church and we went down to the basement and went through these lines and they gave us polio vaccine. ”
“Years later,” she adds, we went to Blacksburg High School, which they pulled down along with Main Street, and got sugar cubes with the polio shot.
And people seemed to know about the idea of ”herd immunity” when it came to infectious diseases. “Back then we had measles and mumps and chicken pox,” says Schlußer. “It wasn’t for a family to come into your house to expose their children and make it over on purpose.”
And again the call and the answer; “Remember it?” Followed by uh-huhs and nods of the head.
“Well, what kind of scar is that we all have? I mean, each of us has a scar on our left arm ”from those vaccinations.
Childhood vaccinations are strong memories for many people, and parents were determined to keep their children safe.
“They said we go here and you get this!”
And Ronnie Alls remembers the parents’ slogan. “You will not feel any pain!”
That was Joyce Slusser, Palmer Price, and Ronnie Alls and Phyliss Price reminiscing for the Virginia Tech Oral History Project.
VT Stories is a Virginia Tech project which has collected more than 200 oral traditions since its inception in 2016.
*** Editor’s note: Radio IQ is a Virginia Tech service.