THE IDLE AMERICAN: Challenges of childhood

Published 6:48 am Saturday, January 6, 2018

Commentary by Dr. Don Newbury


Childhood illnesses in the mid-20th Century were rarely treated by physicians who practiced medicine. Instead, mothers practiced home remedies with abandon.

Many among us can remember times when the treatment was worse than the illness, as well as accompanying psychological damage that won’t let go.

Youngsters cringed at hearing parental diagnoses. What now is regularly called an “upper respiratory infection” was then a chest cold, “crud,” croup, or sometimes “epizootis.” Perhaps what moms depended upon most often was castor oil (or black draught) for tummy disorders and Vicks VapoRub for what we called “bad colds.”

Both treatments were bad news for youngsters. The elixirs tasted indescribably bad, akin to stagnant swamp water. And the VapoRub invariably caused embarrassment.

After chests were slathered liberally with the ointment, cloths were slapped on, theoretically to prevent greasy stains on outer clothing. Even worse, the cloths–never staying in place–were actually old diapers. They commonly slipped out between shirt buttons or drooped from shirttails. School friends quickly saw edges of tattered diapers and/or got whiffs of the potent ointment.

“Your mamma didn’t get your diaper on tight this morning,” someone would always yammer. There may have been far more psychological damage than caused by illnesses.

Grandparents conversing with grandchildren do so at their own peril. Perhaps it has always been that way. A suggestion is to “hang loose,” because wild–and sometimes “off the wall” responses–are inevitable.

During the holidays, Rev. Scott Sharman of Burleson asked grandson, Paxton, where he was going to live when he grows up. The 6-year-old, son of Killeen ISD teachers LaRon and Amanda Slay, answered in wide-eyed innocence. “I’m gonna live with Momma and Dad, and when they die, I’ll take over their house.”

“Won’t that make you sad?” Granddad asked. “It’s no problem. I’ll hang up pictures of them.”

A friend who has held down many jobs said his most unpleasant chore occurred in the family’s old clapboard farm house when he was only eight years of age.

“It was miserable,” he moans. “I had to get up every day at 5 a.m. during the winter time to fetch some wood so I could start a fire in the cook stove to heat water in the tea kettle.

“Then, I’d pour the boiling water through cracks in the floor to get the hogs out from under the house.”

It’s difficult for me to think of a farm house without recalling a depression-era joke the late Bob Murphey included in almost all of his talks. Hosts frequently reminded him to “tell the story about what you fed your hound dogs during the Depression.” (Murphey, an all-time best story teller, never had to worry about others stealing his material. It was his East Texas drawl that made him unique, and others simply fell short if they attempted to mimic his speaking delivery.)

“I was talking to a fellow on the next farm the other day, and he feared having to sell his hound dogs, simply because he couldn’t afford to continue feeding them.” Murphey said he urged the friend to feed them turnip greens. “My dogs won’t eat turnip greens,” the farmer responded. “Mine wouldn’t either for the first three weeks,” Murphey joked.

A platform favorite, he made thousands of talks throughout Texas and beyond. He said his hometown, Nacogdoches, Texas, was “the birth place of the zip code. None of us could spell it, so we decided to number it.”

My Uncle Mort is foregoing New Year’s resolutions for 2018, but hopes he can become “less opinionated.”

Folks who know him best consider such a comment only after a liberal salting.

“Last year, I had eaten so much “crow” by September that I had developed a taste for it,” the 105-year-old said.


Dr. Newbury is a speaker in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. Inquiries/comments to: Phone: 817-447-3872. Web site: Twitter: @donnewbury. Facebook, Don Newbury.