Dog Days and Rusty Nails

One very hot summer, right in the middle of dog days, we had about 17 to cook for, they were all buzzing around like bees and it was my lot to fix lunch or as we called it then dinner.

We only had foot fans and sometimes we would set them in windows for more cooling.

I was busy making a four layer chocolate cake and my nerves were running thin from the heat and the people. Mama was outside with a bunch of them walking around and stepped on a rusty nail.

My brother-n-law came running in and said “Your Mother stepped on a nail and we can’t persuade her to go to the doctor.” I said “Wait a few more seconds and I’ll have my cake iced and I’ll be out there.”

So I went and she began her song and dance that she wasn’t going to no doctor.  I said “I don’t have the time to stand here and watch you take lock jaw you do know it’s dog days?” Boy up she came and went straight into the house to change her dress for the trip. Some of the others took her for a tetanus shot while I finished my dinner and fed 17.

—Mary Lou McKillip 


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  • Reply
    Billy Hugh Campbell jr
    September 23, 2020 at 9:31 pm

    Glad to hear the mid day meal called dinner. Lunch or luncheon was used my the northern rich. Here in Northeast Tennessee it was always dinner and supper, we never thought of calling it anything else.

  • Reply
    Glenda Beall
    September 19, 2020 at 8:25 pm

    My mother doctored all our cuts and minor illnesses with her home remedies. The only one she could not cure was my brother’s appendicitis. She saved my sister’s life when the doctors had given up on her. Mother wrapped the baby in flannel coated with “tar and tallow” and I don’t know exactly what that was, but my sister’s fever broke and she lived. Mother believed in Iodine for almost any injury and it burned like crazy. Many times when I was old enough, I would rather Mother not know of my injuries, nails in my feet, gash on my leg , etc. because her treatments were often too painful for me. I do remember having a tetanus shot one time.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    September 19, 2020 at 8:09 pm

    When I was at the doctor a couple of weeks ago to get my head sewed up Carol, his nurse, asked me when I had gotten a tetanus shot last. I had to think for a few moments before I could tell her. “The last one I can remember was about 25 years ago.” She looked surprised and said “I think you need a tetanus shot!” “Why?” I said, “I didn’t step on a nail!” Directly she came back with a tray. “It’s the smallest needle they make. It’ll just be a little sting.” “Come on, I’m into pain,” I replied, “go back and get me the biggest thing you’ve got!” It didn’t hurt at all.

  • Reply
    September 19, 2020 at 3:28 pm

    Just 5-6 years ago I was using an electric screwdriver when the screw “leaned over”‘ and the bit went through my thumb. I had to have a tetanus shot then. I had several as a child and youth because I was always getting my bare feet cut or punctured somehow. The worst one in my opinion was when I was chasing my rabbit and stepped on a broken jar of spoiled mayonnaise. The sour mayonnaise and blood mixture to my 5 year old mind was the worst thing I had ever seen and smelled. I still don’t care for mayonnaise. My grandmother used sugar and turpentine for many cuts and punctures. Once She was out of turpentine and used “coal oil” or kerosene on my hand. She sewed up cuts on men without anesthetics but sent children to the town doctor so he could deaden it before beginning to sew.

  • Reply
    Kat Swanson
    September 19, 2020 at 1:39 pm

    The feral kids of Wise Co. Va. rarely saw a doctor, no matter the injury or illness . We were doctored with turpentine and moonshine, for cuts and colds.
    Many years ago , I started telling my storytelling audiences, that if you had a scar….then you had a story to tell.
    I have surely enjoyed your stories today on this sad day that America has counted 200,000 covid deaths and mourns the amazing Ruth Bader GINSBURG .

  • Reply
    September 19, 2020 at 12:53 pm

    As a child, I step on a nail and split my heel open. Didnt go to the doctor. Daddy put kerosene on it. We didnt get took to the doctor. My oldest daughter step on a nail and it was pretty bad. I put kerosene on it but I also to her to the ER. She really went through some pain. They had to stick a needle in there and flush it out just in case there was any rust in there. She was on crutches for awhile.

  • Reply
    Wanda Devers
    September 19, 2020 at 11:16 am

    We were all warned of the lockjaw–it was right up there with mad dogs in stuff that terrified us. Mama & Daddy believed in epson salts or fat bacon to cure most stuff. I remember a risin (boil or abscess) on my chin that was treated with fatback. I got hit in the chin at school by a makeshift see saw. Busted the risin and I still remember how bad it hurt. They would put epson salts in a clean cloth & bind it to the wound. Kept it damp and sometimes put a heating pad on top of it–almost guaranteed healing if you could stand the pain from the heat. This even healed a wound my brother got from hitting someones tooth during a fight. His hand looked horrible–swollen and painful but the epson salts cured it overnight!

  • Reply
    Edna Earl
    September 19, 2020 at 10:38 am

    I am 73, and back in the day, lived in the country, along with my parents and 8 younger siblings. One hot summer Saturday, my 12 year old brother fell off a fence onto property used by a neighbor for his hogs, and landed on a broken glass jar which was buried in a pig-wallow. The broken glass slashed the underside of his foot severely. I remember the wide cut standing open and fleshy, with blood gushing. In my 13 year old superior manner (read “know it all”), I demanded my father bundle him up and take him to the doctor. Instead, Daddy sent me to the shed where the winter stove was stored for a handful of soot from the stove pipe and some spider webs. While I was gone, Daddy soaked brother’s foot in coal-oil and when I got back, he packed that awful
    wound with soot and spider web, wrapped it with a clean rag and left brother on the porch swing. You know, that wound healed in about a week and hardly left a scar!
    By the way, this same daddy took care of his sore throats by sleeping with dirty soaks pinned around his neck. His sore throats never lasted more than 24 hours.

  • Reply
    September 19, 2020 at 9:45 am

    When I think of the endless injuries growing up, I just think the Good Lord must look out after fools, drunks, and yep kids. We endured the fear of Polio, and it seemed Tetanus “lock jaw” was feared even more. Our bare feet were always tangling with briers, rusty nails, or broken glass. Much like Miss Cindy I had my second toe almost cut in half from a piece of sharp glass in the creek. Flipped a makeshift bridge over puncturing my leg with a rusty nail–same creek. Dad had to be called home from the tipple. He gave me a gentle lecture all the way to Dr. Bennett’s office, where Doc Bennett proceeded to put two large clamps in the wound with no anesthesia. Then, as if I had not endured enough, the old Company Doctor topped it off with a painful Tetanus shot. I suppose that might have been when Dad relayed the story of his first cousin, Mary, who survived “lock jaw.” Never fear, Dr. Bennett was my lasting hero ever since he came to my rescue late one night with his magic pills and oil to stop my earache. That adventuresome and sometimes reckless child has turned into a very cautious old lady, except I still climb ladders and mess around in high weeds where I have no business.

  • Reply
    September 19, 2020 at 9:44 am

    All mothers of the distant past must have been given the same book on child rearing worries. From an early age I remember my mother always warning me of rusty nails. How many I encountered are too numerous to count, my attention never seemed to be where I was walking as a child. A tetanus shot every few years and bottle of hydrogen peroxide were common in my youth.

  • Reply
    September 19, 2020 at 9:29 am

    The fear of lockjaw from the evil rusty nail kept us from being as adventurous as we would liked to have been. I dreaded daddy’s spanking worse than the lockjaw when I got a bad cut while wading in the creek after I was told not to, so I fibbed. I told them I got the cut in the backyard. My parents were too scared to go investigate and hauled me off to the hospital for stitches and a big doctor bill they surely couldn’t afford. If the cut hadn’t been so bad Mom would have brought out the sugar and turpentine and followed up with iodine, methylate (ma-thylate) or mercurochrome.

  • Reply
    September 19, 2020 at 9:22 am

    My husband and I both have had tetanus shots in times past when it seemed wise to, ”just to be on the safe side” as my mama would say many times. 🙂 or ” better to be safe than sorry” :). What I had ever been told about lockjaw growing up inclined me to want to take a shot any day than have it.

  • Reply
    September 19, 2020 at 8:44 am

    When we were kids we rambled everywhere Barefooted and it was not unusual for one of us to get cut or run a nail in our foot. Grandma never saw the need for a doctor, but would take a slice of fatback or potato and tie it o the wound. She said it would draw the poison out. It must have worked. We would leave it on til the next morning and by then we were good to go. We had a neighbor who used kerosene for wounds like that. I remember one time when she was helping butcher a hog, and stuck a butcher knife all the way through her hand. She just grabbed the kerosene jug and poured her hand full and let it run through. She said her hand never did get so sore that she couldn’t use it.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    September 19, 2020 at 7:59 am

    My Mom always worried about us kids getting cut on rusty metal and getting tetanus. I don’t recall her ever saying but as a nurse she may have encountered it. Beyond a certain point nothing could be done. I thought about that a few weeks ago when I got several punctures from old barbed wire. It’s a wonder country kids ever grow up doing the dangerous things we did and in a risky environment besides. Still I had a good childhood and by grace I never broke a bone. If it hasn’t faded completely away I have a scar on my ankle from swinging my foot against a jagged jar top when I was barefoot in tall weeds and grass.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    September 19, 2020 at 7:18 am

    I can remember when a cut or stick from a rusty nail or can lid was great cause for excitement. I don’t think I ever really knew what lock jaw was but it sure scared people.
    Once I ripped my heel open, it was a really bad cut, playing bare foot in the creek at my cousins house. I saw what cut me, it was a curved piece of glass from a canning jar. My cousin helped me out of the creek and up to the house and we cleaned it up and put medicine on it and a bandage to stop the bleeding. Then we went back to our playing.
    I went back to my Grandmothers house that evening and she asked what was wrong with my foot. She said ” Lord, child we’ve got to get you a tetanus shot before you get the lockjaw!” My grand mother was near 6 feet tall and accustomed to being obeyed. I kept telling her it was just glass I cut it on not rusty tin. I finally convinced her or it was more like stubborn against stubborn, but I won and didn’t go to the doctor. It took quite a while for that bad gash in my heel to heal. If I had that kind of cut now I’d go to the doctor, not from fear of lockjaw but to get it stitched up!

  • Reply
    September 19, 2020 at 7:14 am

    When I was a child, I stepped on a nail which punctured through my foot. We lived in the country (somewhat remote), my dad drove the only car to his job about 45 minutes away, we had no phone. My mother kept all 7 children busy on our small farm and was practiced in caring for us. She poured Lysol from a small brown bottle into a pan of hot water- to soak my foot. After that she wrapped my foot in clean white cloths (ripped up sheets). My foot healed from her care! My mother loved us but I am amazed that was my only first aid.

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