Appalachian Medicine

Childhood Aliments

Martins Creek School - Pap's school photo

Martins Creek Elementary 1945 – Pap is the first boy in the second row on the left 

This school year has been especially hard on students in our area, there has been much sickness. It started back before Christmas and seems to still be making its way back and forth across the county. There was confirmed cases of flu, pink-eye, strep-throat, and a mean strain of stomach virus going on so fast and thick that three local schools shut down for a few days to let the germs settle and the students and staff get better.

There’s almost always an outbreak or two of lice in schools each year. I remember being in the 6th grade when the health department came around to check. I always wore my hair in a pony-tail, but hadn’t quite mastered the technique of putting it up myself. The lady took my hair down to look at my head. She never offered to help me put it back and of course Granny wasn’t there to do it for me. I was mortified.

Another illness or condition that was often talked about back in those days was the itch. I never knew anyone that had the itch, but every year it seemed there was a rumor about some poor kid having it.

The only scratching I ever seen was done by folks who had been eat up by chiggers or caught poison oak from playing outside in the brushy areas.

I suppose folks who truly had the itch actually suffered from scabies, which is an aggravating skin aliment caused by mites.

The cures for the itch back in the days before modern medicine took over included:

  • boiling poke roots and adding the brewed tea to your bathwater
  • slathering the body with lard and in some cases sulfur was added to the lard
  • rubbing the body with kerosene

I’ve read accounts from folks who took the poke bath remedy, they said it felt like they’d been set on fire. I’m sure the kerosene method would feel the same. After submitting to any of the remedies mentioned it was customary to wear long handles afterwards to hold the medicine close to the skin.

I started writing this post about about the illnesses our local schools have endured this year and somehow went down the road of lice, scabies, and my own elementary days of going to school in the same big brick building Pap did.

The old building isn’t there anymore, it burned to the ground a good 20 years ago, but the children who walked the creaky hallways and went outside to use the restrooms that were always cold still live in my mind.

I can never hear about lice or the itch that I don’t think of a girl from those days.

The girl was from a poor family, a family of kids who were often accused of having some contagious aliment. She was a good 4 years older than me if not more. One evening as we stood in the bus line she looked down at me and said “I know you’re a witch cause your eyebrows are growed together.” I didn’t take offense to what she said, even then I knew well and good I had been blessed with Pap’s thick eyebrows and I knew he certainly wasn’t a witch. I think she regretted telling me about my eyebrows because she quickly added “Don’t worry mine are growed together too.”

If I could go back to that day I’d ask her who told her about eyebrows and witches and I ask her if they told her any other old sayings? And if I could go back, I hope I’d have the gumption to go out of my way to be nice to her and her siblings, because from this vantage point I can clearly see they lived in a drought when it came to showers of kindness.



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  • Reply
    Ron Seals
    May 6, 2019 at 10:10 am

    My mother, From Fork Ridge, Tenn., was a big believer in worms. I was a sickly child, and she blamed almost everything I had on worms. Too many colds, a rash, stomach aches, it was all because of worms.

  • Reply
    Elaine V. Medley
    April 6, 2017 at 9:57 pm

    When I was little, my dad went off to work and bunked with a bunch of men. He came back and gave the entire family the “itch”. I do know we had to put sulphur powder on our bodies. I never knew they were scabies. As a teacher (retired), I have actually caught lice twice from students. Not fun!

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    April 6, 2017 at 7:19 pm

    I’ve seen burnt motor oil used on hogs and dogs to cure the mange. The blacker the better. I’ve seen tow sacks rolled up and soaked in burnt motor oil, then hung up for the hogs to rub on. Mange is just the canine and porcine version of scabies in humans. I’ve seen people look down on other people because they got the itch (scabies) but if they saw it on a hog it still looked like bacon.
    I got a few spots on my hands that I thought might be scabies. I thought about going to the doctor to get a prescription to get rid of it but when I found out it cost a right smart, I decided to try my own remedy. I put Clorox on a q-tip and stuck it on the spots. The itching stopped immediately but the stinging lasted for hours. However, when the little burns healed the eeching was gone and it didn’t cost hardly nothing. I think if there was any of them little demons anywhere else on my body, they smelled the Clorox and heard their little friends screaming in pain and decided it was time to abandon ship.
    Now, I’m not saying that my Clorox treatment is right for anybody else, especially if you have scabies all over, but it might be a consideration if it is just a few spots on your hands.

  • Reply
    April 6, 2017 at 5:43 pm

    Well chiggers – whew. I was a preacher’s grandson and spent lots of summertime with Pa and Granny. As sure as cows in Texas I’d play outside and get ‘infested’. What an awful itch and what an awful fate for a preacher’s grandson. Those little red dots would show up on Friday or Saturday, migrate awfully high, I talking clean out of leg-land and in to forbidden territory, and by Sunday morning they’d be chewing to beat the band and I’d be parked on the front pew in full view of the chior. Preacher’s grandkids ain’t supposed to scratch, especially not there, and certainly not in Church. Ain’t supposed to squirm, neither. It sure added a level of realism Pa’s sermon about Job’s sufferings. And I reckon it built character cause I sure am one now. Oh yeah, Granny’s cure was bacon grease. Fortunately there weren’t many bears in that part of the country.

  • Reply
    Ron Banks
    April 6, 2017 at 5:05 pm

    I remember the head lice checks and hearing of the itch too. I also remember the kids who were picked on and how it must have hurt them tremendously. I don’t why but I could never stand to see someone being picked on and every fight I ever got into was because I would take up for the one being bullied. I might not hang out with them but it infuriated me to see that happen. There were two brothers who lived down the road from us and the younger one had a very bad speech impediment. They would come over sometimes and the older brother was awful at picking on the younger one about his speech. The younger one was as good a kid as you would ever meet but suffered at the words and hands of the older one. One day I snapped and started pounding the older one and had him on the ground crying when my mother came out and pulled me off him.
    I was so mad that I was crying. The younger one went on to make a career in the Navy and the older one went to and died in prison for murder. I still think of them and it still makes me sad that he never overcame being a bully.

  • Reply
    Lee Mears
    April 6, 2017 at 3:29 pm

    My Grandmother told me about always checking her girls, my Mother was youngest, for lice and ‘the old yellar (yellow) itch’ everyday when they arrived home from school. If they ever caught any of them, she didn’t say and I certainly never saw any of those things but we did hear of them.. So sad.
    I had lots poison oak, mosquito bites & chicken pox and sure don’t want to itch any worse than that!!.

  • Reply
    Mike McLain
    April 6, 2017 at 1:47 pm

    A lot of stuff going around here, also. I have had 4 brushes with colds/flu since Thanksgiving, even though I had the senior super-strength flu shot. Strangest was 4 days when I felt out of sorts, temperature fluctuating between 98.6 and 101. No other symptoms, no sneezing, coughing, runny nose, or sore throat. Just felt bad. Never experienced anything like that in almost 69 years in this life.

  • Reply
    April 6, 2017 at 1:41 pm

    Donna Lynn played “Cabin by the Side of the Road” by Ray and Pap this evening and that’s one of my very Favorites. So I called to thank her and she said “I’ve been waiting for your call, what can I play for you?” I told her I’d like to hear “Angels Rock me to Sleep” by Chitter and Chatter. She said she found “Precious Memories” and a whole bunch of Pressley Girls music and she’d bookmarked them. Then she played “Precious Memories” by Chitter and Chatter.
    At the Martin’s Creek thing last Friday, Chitter and Chatter, one at a time came to my table and I told them that I planned to order stuff from their ETSY Store, but things kept coming up. Little Chatter made me feel real good by saying “when you get ready, we’ll give you the Family Discount.” ha

  • Reply
    April 6, 2017 at 11:48 am

    Kids can be so cruel, either they ain’t had no raisin’ or were just too dumb to realize they could hurt one’s feelings. Anyway, I think the girls in your family with them full eyebrows is what makes you all so gorgeous.
    When my oldest nephew was just a little thing, he stayed with us in the summertime. He always wore those little shorts and one day the chiggers ate him up. That night he whinned and scratched a lot until daddy took him outside and layed the kerosene to him. It took care of the itching but the kerosene musta had some gas mixed in it and he got blistered. Mama lathered him down in lard and pretty soon he was ready again. …Ken

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    April 6, 2017 at 11:21 am

    I am a voracious reader of The Blind Pig but I wooshed I hadn’t read today’s post. I think I caught something. Ever since I read it, I have been eeching all over. “Do you think it could be scabies?” “Well, it mite.”

  • Reply
    Crystal Richmond
    April 6, 2017 at 11:18 am

    I love reading these old memories. Looking at old photographs. We had a girl in my 3rd grade class. So pitiful. She rode the school bus with one of my best friends so when I spent the night with her I saw her house. It was a Shack on just dirt.
    That year my Mother ( who I just lost in Dec. and miss so much) made me doll clothes for my Barbie at Christmas. I will never forget she made the same things for this little girl in my class. She had heard me tell stories about her in the evening. My Mother worked hard all day as a cook in a restaurant and then came home to work hard again. But she found the time to make these doll clothes. To this day I can still see ” Mary’s” dark eyes sparkle when opened her package. There were several pieces but she was so amazed at the ” fur coat “. So was I .
    Crys in Arkansas

  • Reply
    Larry Griffith
    April 6, 2017 at 10:54 am

    Did you notice your Pap ,the boy beside him, and the girl on the end in the same row are the only children not smiling, I’ve always had a hard time smiling for pictures too.

  • Reply
    Larry Griffith
    April 6, 2017 at 10:54 am

    Did you notice your Pap ,the boy beside him, and the girl on the end in the same row are the only children not smiling, I’ve always had a hard time smiling for pictures too.

  • Reply
    Larry Griffith
    April 6, 2017 at 10:54 am

    Did you notice your Pap ,the boy beside him, and the girl on the end in the same row are the only children not smiling, I’ve always had a hard time smiling for pictures too.

  • Reply
    Larry Griffith
    April 6, 2017 at 10:54 am

    Did you notice your Pap ,the boy beside him, and the girl on the end in the same row are the only children not smiling, I’ve always had a hard time smiling for pictures too.

  • Reply
    April 6, 2017 at 10:33 am

    What a poignant phrase
    ” they lived in a drought when it comes to showers of kindness “.
    That one brought me up short and set me to thinking about how we live in a world that today is ” living in a drought when it comes to showers of kindness.” I have resolved to do my part to bring a ” shower of kindness” to someone each day. Thank you, Tipper , for that lovely pearl .

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    April 6, 2017 at 10:28 am

    In looking back, I heartily wish I had been a kinder child. But then, that pretty much applies to my whole life. Seems the most important key is to think of the other person first and ourselves last or not at all. About as far as I’ve gotten is to try and live the old adage about saying nothing if I can’t say anything good.
    Reminds me of a story. Seems there was a gentle soul who never had a harms word to say about anybody. Two women friends made it up to see just how far she might take it. So they visited her and started running down the Devil hard and fast. She didn’t say anything for so long they began to think that was as much as they were going to get. But finally she said, “Well, I hear he is a good whistler.”
    PS: I think dogwood winter is here in this neck of the woods.

  • Reply
    April 6, 2017 at 10:00 am

    I well remember the lice checks where we were paraded up to front of room to be checked. I recall two little brothers had lice. It seems the teacher was also stricter on these two boys. As usual I am remembering periods of time thought to be long forgotten.
    Much later in life myself and some other coworkers got scabies, but due to wearing gloves it did not present as usual. The doctors were doing slides, but nobody could diagnose, and we were all at the end of our rope. Dad came down and viewed my mass of sheets covering everything, and then he looked at my wrists which had the itching rash. He said, “Young’un you have the itch.” I wanted to know how my Dad was so smart. He said he recognized from being in service. He went up several steps on my hero list that day.

  • Reply
    Julie Hughes Moreno
    April 6, 2017 at 9:48 am

    My Granny used kenosine or fuel oil on everything. It does burn like fire! I went to a two room school for first through fourth grade. There was a very poor family that was accused of bringing lice to school. I told my Daddy about it and his advice was typical for him. Scripture and switches! He told me “God sees us all the same, sinners that need him; and if he ever heard tell of me making fun of her or blaming her we would hunt for my switch!” Needless to say I never made fun of her or joined in. One of the girls sat by me in class from then on. No nobility on my part. I knew what hunting for my switch meant and I knew Daddy would make good on his promise.

  • Reply
    April 6, 2017 at 9:31 am

    The poor girl you remember reminds me of a girl and her siblings I went to school with. She was gorgeous with her beautiful smile and natural curly hair. However, we were told not to play with her or get close to her and her brothers as they were dirty and almost always had head lice. Her lack of friends and low self esteem led to a bad choice of husbands. I heard she was beaten daily and eventually died by his hands. I, too, wish I could go back.
    I think I wrote and asked Granny and Pap if they ever heard of red parsiffany (?). My older cousin remembers folks using it for itch and lice. Mom never used it as far as I know. My daughters laugh every time I say itch. They remind me the spelling is with a t, not an n.

  • Reply
    Kathy Poteet Dubree
    April 6, 2017 at 8:52 am

    We’ve talked before you knew my Aunt Maggie Poteet Abernathy. I think she went to Martins Creek school and I know that as an adult she worked there for many years. She is close to Eighty now and still lives near the school. I love this blog as it reminds me of the fun times when I visited my grandparents

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    April 6, 2017 at 8:30 am

    A circus came to town when I was in the 3rd or 4th grade. A girl from the circus came to our vlass while they were there. Before she started iut teacher made sure to tell us about the danger of theft, catchy things and other things I don’t remember now. How horrible as we were all afraid to be nice to her. I get so sad when remembering this. l.p.

  • Reply
    Gayle Larson
    April 6, 2017 at 8:23 am

    I remember turpentine being the cure-all at our house. That along with Raleigh Salve and iodine took care of anything.
    The things I remember at that time in my life {I was 6 in 45} were the schedule we lived by.
    Monday was wash day and of course hang it all outside. Tuesday was ironing day using a soda bottle to sprinkle the clothes. Wednesday we cleaned the upstairs. Thursday we cleaned downstairs. Friday was on your hands and knees to scrub and wax the kitchen floor. Saturday Daddy drove us to market and the grocery store. Of course, Sunday was a day of rest. After church we went to visit relatives on the farm. I can’t ever remember deviating from this schedule until I was about ten. At that time my Mother took a part-time job helping a neighbor. Boy did things change then.

  • Reply
    April 6, 2017 at 8:19 am

    Brings back memories of grammar school class pictures. During my day, overalls and “knickers” were common attire…My grandmother tied rags soaked in kerosene around her ankles/wrists to keep the chiggers away when she went blackberry pickin.

  • Reply
    April 6, 2017 at 8:18 am

    Ode to the chigger:
    There was a little chigger and he weren’t no bigger than the very tiny point of a pin,
    But the bump that he raises just itches like the blazes and that’s when the scratching comes in.
    I was taught this ditty so far back I can’t remember who taught it to me.
    I bathed in poke root tea many times as a kid who couldn’t stay out of the poison oak and ivy.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    April 6, 2017 at 7:40 am

    All schools have kids like your witchie schoolmate. You might ask Paul to do a guest post on school kids back then compared to now. I’m sure he would have an interesting perspective.
    I remember kids having some of those very contagious childhood illnesses. Some of those remedies are/were ghastly!
    I manages to have all the common illnesses like measles, chicken pox, and mumps but few of the parasite based illnesses. I guess I can thank my mother for that, she was picky clean!

  • Reply
    Sandra Hangey
    April 6, 2017 at 7:13 am

    That class picture looks very much like my first grade class picture would have looked if I had one. I was one year old when that picture was taken. Now that you say that about looking back at that girl that needed Showers of kindness I remember there were those that needed it that I didn’t get it too because I had no idea what was going on. As children we are pretty much focused on ourselves. I have been the recipient of kerosene and it does burn like fire

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