Olk Klaverack Santaa

Whittling Away: In Bag Balm we trust


By Dick Brooks

For Capital Region Independent Media

Headshot of a man named Dick Brooks.

By the time you read this, I will be the proud possessor of a shiny new left knee. 

I tried WD-40 on the old one, but it just doesn’t work. I don’t walk well anymore so the ponder sessions in my recliner are now 24-hour ones. I’m about pondered out but I’m going to share the latest since it deals with the medicine I faced in my childhood.

One of the surest signs that winter is truly upon us just raised its ugly head. I noticed that my hands are taking on their seasonal hue of angry red. Every year about this time they get dry, rough and chapped. Cuticles crack and split, causing much discomfort; we’re not talking about merely messing up your manicure, this hurts! 

There was only one thing to be done. I went to my shop and removed my tin of “Bag Balm” from its hiding place and smeared it liberally over my aching hands. I sat on the stool and kept rubbing, knowing full well that if I didn’t rub it into my skin, I was going to drop anything I tried to pick up for the next three days.

While I was trying to get my skin to absorb this wonder goo, my mind, or what passes for it these days, wandered back to my North Country boyhood days when I first started my study of self-medication.

The doctor in town was a really nice man named Dr. Hastings. We went to school with his kids.  We went to see him professionally only on special occasions such as having torn a limb off or having an organ hanging out somewhere. For less than fatal illnesses and injuries, we had the medicine chest. 

It was well stocked and waiting to take care of any ordinary emergency. It contained, to the best of my recollection: 1) A large box of Band-Aids in assorted sizes. 2) A bottle of peroxide  (which went on cuts and scrapes, if they weren’t the result of something you did that was dumb, because it didn’t hurt). 3) A bottle of iodine (which went on a cut or scrape you got from doing something dumb, it usually took an hour or two to coax a child, who had had it applied liberally, down off the ceiling). 4) A tin of “Bag Balm,” which was good for anything scraped, chaffed, or rough and red; if it worked that well on a bovine udder, it was good enough for any kid. 5) A small bottle of “Save the Baby,” which would help with any croup or cough that came along. 6)  A large bottle of horse liniment that my father got from somewhere, probably the GLF in Malone where he got many of his medical supplies. It went on anything that ached. 7) My mother had a fondness for “Mother Gray’s Worm Powder,” which she doused us with a couple of times a year.  Just thinking about it makes my taste buds quiver and sends chills down my spine; no wonder it did such a good job on any worm silly enough to crawl into an intestine in our house. 8) Sore throats brought out the little box of “Aspir-gum.” It was my personal favorite and I developed a taste for it. It came in one flavor — orange — and I loved its tart taste. This might explain my present-day addiction to Sweet Tarts. 9) Rounding out the contents of the medicine chest was a 12-pound glass jar of “Vick’s Vapor Rub.” If nothing else worked, Mom would rub a handful of this aromatic cure-all on the nearest exposed portion of your anatomy and send you out the door for a dose of something she knew could cure anything — fresh air.

We all grew to adulthood, tall, strong and straight limbed. Maybe it was the contents of the medicine chest or maybe it was the love with which those contents were administered. Anyway, I still keep a tin of “Bag Balm” around just for old time’s sake.

Thought for the week — “Many of us spend half our time wishing for things we could have if we didn’t spend half our time wishing.” ~ Alexander Woolcott

Until next week, may you and yours be happy and well. If you have any spare kind thoughts or prayers, I’d appreciate them. I am very attached to my knee.

Reach columnist Dick Brooks at Whittle12124@yahoo.com.

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