May 10 – Another of Ma’s remedies that I never had any good words for was the “fried onion” routine. I always tried to stifle coughs and never complained of soreness in my chest during cold season, for I knew what Ma would do. Not being too successful at hiding my troubles, I
often went to bed with that greasy, messy onion poultice astride my chest. How was it made? Ma took a pile of onions and cut them in two or three parts, skins and all. She then fried them until they were boiling hot. Then they were wrapped in a cloth or in an old towel, not only to keep them together, but also to protect our delicate chest. Often the cloth did neither of these things!
While the onions were cooking a bit, Ma rubbed our chests vigorously with VapoRub or Musterole, giving our nose a last swipe with the pungent-selling rub. Then the onion pack was put on, always resulting in a scream of, “It’s too hot! It burns! Take it off!” Ma took it off, but only for a few seconds, tried it with her knuckles, and said, “That’s not too hot!” and it was slapped back in place, the steam escaping through the cloth.
Many a time I would wake in the morning with red areas on my chest where the onions truly had been too hot. But worse than that was the waking to feel the cold, greasy onions still sitting on my chest, some of them having escaped the towel pack and lying in bed with me. Ugh! How quickly I got rid of that mess, only to have the stuff reheated and refried and again applied to my protesting chest. But the treatment did work. I must give Ma credit for that. And it saved the precious pennies for something else instead of a doctor’s fee. Store-bought cough syrup was above Ma’s budget, so she developed her own, consisting of honey mixed with lemon or raw onions, and blended. Huge spoonfuls of these concoctions really did soothe our throats and lessened the coughing.
As a spring tonic (and I still question the supposed value and usefulness of it), Ma would line each of us up on the wooden plank walk by the rose bushes. Making an improvised funnel from a piece of newspaper, she would blow down our throats yellow powdered sulfur that tasted terrible and made us cough. I always wondered why she dusted those roses with sulfur. Surely they wouldn’t get a sore throat! – CHRIS