September 28, 2008
Trying to remember things that I was told when I was at an age that I was not really interested, can be very frustrating. I wish I had paid more attention to some of the stories my dad and my mom told me. Sometimes what I remember can be triggered by what I hear someone else say or what I read.
The other day I was reading about a family that came across Kansas on a cattle drive back in the early 1800’s and the family was struck by typhoid fever. Many of the family members died. Well, that triggered my memory of my dad telling me that Uncle Benny, (my dad’s older brother) who was about 6 years old, died of what some family members or friends thought was diphtheria. I called Aunt Roe (Robena Watts, my dad’s sister) to be sure and she said she was sure it was, because her mom (my grandma) talked about it all the time. She said that “Pa” was playing the fiddle tune called “Bonaparte’s Retreat” and Uncle Benny started jigging (dancing). After a short time he started choking and couldn’t breathe and died (October 15, 1913) later that night. Aunt Roe said that “Ma”, her mom, said that he had licked an envelope and believed that was where he got the diphtheria. Other diseases common to the area at that time were typhoid fever, scarlet fever, small pox and malaria, sometimes called Swamp fever (Arkansas had a lot of swamps). Back then, there was not a doctor within hundreds of miles, so families had to take care of their loved ones using home remedies.
Home remedies were using what the families had available to them. Here are some examples; whooping cough – whiskey and honey, consumption – turpentine, if no Ben-gay, with a hot cloth laid over the chest. I remember using that when I was sick. My mom would put Ben-gay on my chest and lay a hot cloth on top of it when I was a kid and I had to sleep with that on my chest. It sure did burn. I guess I felt better the next day. Daddy would also give me a teaspoon of sugar with a few drops of turpentine when I had the croup. Another home remedy families would use at that time was pouring hot water in a wash pan and put a towel over their heads so they could breathe in the steam to loosen up the congestion in the lungs.
They also wore a garlic sack around their necks to ward off colds. My mom and dad told us about them having to take castor oil when they were sick. Many of these home remedies didn’t work, but at least it was something for them to try. Many of them died; some were lucky enough to survive. My dad was one of the lucky ones.
When my dad was a small child living in McAdoo, Texas, he came down with smallpox. Smallpox is a deadly disease that causes very high fevers and sores. Many people died. Families were at the mercy of their own remedies. Today we have a vaccine against diphtheria and smallpox. My grandma had already lost Uncle Benny, and she was determined not to lose another child. I’m sure she sat up many nights taking care of my dad. She probably used everything she could think of. What she used finally worked or maybe it was just because of the grace of God. “Ma” believed in God tremendously. She prayed for her children all the time. She read her Bible and prayed everyday. She also loved to sing; I remember hearing her sing “Precious Memories” and “Jesus Loves Me” when I was a young girl. She also wrote a poem about her children. It is a beautiful poem and it shows how much she loved them. I didn’t even know she had written one until many years later after she died. I retyped it and have it hanging on my wall.
My grandma loved her Bible and couldn’t bear to burn it. One of the things families had to do back then when a family member was struck with a deadly disease was to burn everything. They had to burn clothes, mattresses, blankets and whatever else they thought was contaminated. And since they thought Uncle Benny died from diphtheria they had to burn everything they could. “Ma” didn’t have the heart to burn her Bible, so she wrapped it up in newspaper and tied a cowhide around it and buried it. It was buried for 2 years. Grandma and Grandpa were living in Arkansas at the time. But when they moved to Texas, “Ma” couldn’t leave her Bible behind. She dug it up and brought it to Texas with her. The outside cover was damaged, but thankfully the pages inside were found in good condition. “Ma” had written names in the Bible with birthdates and marriages and their dates.
So this Bible serves as a historical document left behind by my grandparents. The Bible is now in the care of my older brother who lives in California. So by now, you know that my dad survived smallpox with the scars it left. He grew up to be a hard worker and a family man. He was the best dad anyone could have ever had.