As a child, whenever I became sick, Dr. Velma, as Mom referred to herself, came to the rescue. She’d never attended any recognized medical school. She’d just survived growing up with my grandmother, who we grandchildren affectionately called “Mama Bea.”
Under Mama Bea’s care, Little Velma, the youngest child, drank sugary beer slushies so she’d have an appetite to gain weight. The sugar was added because Little Velma didn’t like the taste of beer. When Dr. Velma told me about this childhood weight-gain home remedy, I pointed out that’s why she’d been addicted to those sugary slushies sold at gas stations. Weird thing was the only time Dr. Velma craved those slushies was when she was traveling on long-distance trips. Just as abruptly as her addiction arose in her 40s, it ended for some reason in her 60s.
I was also underweight as a child, but Dr. Velma didn’t make me any sugary beer slushies. She’d secretly mix a raw egg in my hot chocolate since I wouldn’t eat much breakfast, but I had a sweet tooth just like her. A few years later, she gave me Flintstone vitamins.
When Little Velma had a cold, Mama Bea gave her moonshine. Mama Bea boiled the moonshine, added a little sugar, then when the sugar had just about dissolved, lit it on fire and had Little Velma drink it hot like a cup of coffee. Little Velma would drink this just before going to bed and sweat out the cold as she slept. She’d wake up the next morning and no longer have a cold.
For a mere itchy throat Mama Bea gave Little Velma a small dollop of Vicks vapor rub to swallow. Dr. Velma still does this right before going to bed, especially after she’s been around someone who was coughing and sneezing. Or “snottin’ and snarlin’,” as she calls it!
Dr. Velma also recommends using garlic shots for a cold. One of my sisters peels and crushes a clove of garlic in a tablespoon and adds a little orange juice for her three kids and anyone else who feels as if a cold coming on. I personally don’t need such fancy adornments my garlic shots. I just peel and cut up a clove of garlic and swallow the pieces just like pills.
One time Little Velma cut her ankle on broken glass. Her grandfather put soot from the chimney on it to stop the bleeding. To this day, Dr. Velma can show you where that soot is still on her ankle. Although Dr. Velma says you can use cobwebs to stop a bleeding wound, she’s never tried it herself. Of course, I just stick to Band-Aids!
My earliest recollection of Dr. Velma’s treatments was for a stomachache. I suffered from digestive problems as a child. So, Dr. Velma would mix liniment with milk and sugar. I’d drink that like a good little patient until I read the small, red bold print on the bottle, which stated that liniment was for external use only. Oh, you should’ve heard me roar about how she was trying to kill me, disregarding the fact that I’d survived the liniment treatment several times prior.
Lucky for my older sisters and me, Dr. Velma drank ginger ale for an upset stomach while she was pregnant with each of us.
While working as a bank teller in the basement of a hospital, Dr. Velma had a case of the hiccups. A customer told her to put a little sugar under her tongue. She claims that’s worked for her hiccups ever since.
In the 80s, Dr. Velma took pain medications that caused constipation. She recalled years earlier when Mama Bea told her this home remedy: dissolve a teaspoon of baking soda in water followed by a vinegar chaser. Remember all those elementary school volcano simulations? Well, it also moves bowels!
Dr. Velma has been married to Dad for over 50 years. Once, she tried his home remedy for constipation. Dad drinks a mixture of prune juice and orange juice just before bed and has a bowel movement early the next morning. When Dr. Velma tried it, she became so gassy, she couldn’t sleep for fear of having an accident. Now, she only uses Dad’s constipation treatment in the morning.
My two older sisters and I inherited our oily skin from our mother. The first of Dr. Velma’s two favorite oily skin and acne treatments is swabbing original Listerine on her face with a cotton pad, followed by facial lotion. The second remedy is using milk of magnesia as a facial mask, which she washes off after about 30 minutes, unless it’s an overnight treatment. One of Dr. Velma’s nieces suggested using first morning pee as acne treatment. As far as Dr. Velma’s concerned, there’s only one place pee goes and that’s not on her face.
As a younger woman, Dr. Velma had heard about boiling a pinecone and drinking the tea from it to relieve arthritis. By the time Dr. Velma was old enough to suffer from arthritis, she didn’t bother with pinecone tea. She just sprayed WD40 on her joints. Now in her seventies, Dr. Velma eats nine gin-soaked golden raisins to treat the arthritis in her knee. I’ve often teased her that that home remedy only works because she keeps her knee drunk.
To treat the arthritis in her hip, Dr. Velma places a banana peel in a jar of red sports rubbing alcohol. She takes a cotton pad and rubs that alcohol on her hip. Even when the banana peel turns black, Dr. Velma doesn’t worry because the treatment still works! She only uses it at night because of the smell, plus her hip doesn’t hurt during the day.
Lastly every morning, Dr. Velma cuts up fresh ginger, boils it and mixes in a little orange juice and drinks it for general good health. This comes after her daily breakfast smoothie, which usually contains an apple, an orange, spinach or kale, a banana, a celery stalk, a carrot, pineapple or strawberries, a nice squirt of agava to sweeten it, four tablespoons of oatmeal, a wee bit of orange juice and a tray of ice cubes.
Given the rising costs of just stepping into a clinic or hospital and the fact that I’m middle-aged, I’ve stopped laughing at Dr. Velma’s old-timey, inexpensive solutions to medical inconveniences. I may not have access to moonshine and don’t buy liniment, but I’ve found tequila works just as well in a hot toddy or for digestive problems. I love eating fresh food, seasoned with garlic and red peppers and/or red hot sauce and occasionally fresh ginger—all of which heat up the body and make it more challenging for germs. I may never reach unofficial doctor status for my home remedies, but I can at least be the family historian.