Crow’s-Feet Chronicles: Hacking season is upon us
By Cindy Baker Burnett
Jan 29, 2018
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Once again, I skipped my annual flu shot since the flu vaccine has been in short supply, except for at-risk groups such as stockbrokers and professional baseball players. And what is the flu, anyway?   Is it where your head is full of partially-set Jell-O and your chest full of pea gravel? Or is it when you’ll lie on the sofa and watch an entire hour of “Championship Wrestling” because your body aches too much to crawl across the floor and get the remote? And what does, “It settled in my chest,” really mean?   Does “it” behave like Metamucil sediment in the bottom of a glass of orange juice?

Since I have had so few sick days in my adult life, I’ve pulled from my childhood memories to recall the tried and true remedies for my recent chest cold. My grandmother felt that any remedy that made me perspire was good. In fact, she didn’t think I could possibly get well until I perspired. “Try and perspire, Cindy,” she would order. There was hardly a remedy that did NOT make me perspire: sugar and kerosene; a salty herring wrapped around my neck; a steaming teakettle next to my head that even made the wallpaper perspire; hot goose-fat rubdowns; salt water-and-vinegar gargles. Hot chicken soup was the panacea for all illnesses. My grandmother raised chickens, but one day she discovered that one of her chickens was sick. No problem. She killed a healthy chicken, made chicken soup, and fed it to the sick chicken. And, she’d put a few drops of camphor oil in a steam iron to cure a cough. Afterwards, she’d iron a pillow case, to make sure she didn’t waste any valuable camphor steam.

I envied my older cousins who were administered Nanaw’s “Cure Ya or Kill Ya” recipe when they got sick. “When you’re older,” she’d insist, each time I faked a cough and asked if I could have a swallow. She died before I became of age, but I found the handwritten recipe tucked inside her Fanny Farmer cookbook. It called for a mixture of one quart of ethanol, ¼-pound box of crushed horehound candy, and the juice of two lemons. She used to wink and say the ethanol was ‘shine from Bourbon County, Kansas.      

A few days ago I bought some NyQuil, which was enclosed in a package that required an AK-47 weapon to open. By the time I had wrestled through two birthdays squeezing the lid while simultaneously depressing it and twisting it towards my left earring, my cough had grown worse. Ah, but the child is safe.    

When I was a kid, being sick could be very lucrative. I was never as wealthy as when I was unhealthy. My mother could be blackmailed into a payoff if I put up a large enough fuss about taking medicine, especially since I knew how to draw the blood away from my face by pressing my buttocks together, rolling my eyes convulsively, and gasping, “I won’t take that poison for any money in the world.” “Money” was the first clue. If Mama didn’t go for the bribe, I continued with “I’d rather die first.” “Die” was the second clue. I knew she wouldn’t let me die. “Here’s a quarter. Take your medicine.” I could figure out how sick I was by how high Mama would go. I was once so sick she let me hold a dollar in my hand for half an hour. It brought my temperature down immediately.

I’m skeptical of my brother’s recent suggested remedy of drinking a cup of mineral oil, though. “It’s guaranteed to cure your cough,” he said.

 “...or else.”