Rexona, Epsom Salts and Sulphur
Simple remedies fix everything.
Peter, you know how my father was said to have had a nervous breakdown? Did that sort of thing run in the family. There was some talk of your mother having a few issues.
Well Dad and Mum didn’t get along, and Dad had his opinion of her state of mind, but as far as we were concerned there was only one health thing about her that worried us.
There was a nurse once, and when I spoke to her about my mother she said to me, ‘Peter, your mother’s a bit of a hypochondriac.’
We’d noticed that. She had a daily routine, and spent most of her life with bandages wrapped around her legs. She complained of varicose veins, and she’d seen her own mother confined to a wheelchair with rheumatics, so Mum believed she had to look after herself. So there was this daily ritual, like an exercise, as if to prove to herself, and the world, there was something wrong and she was doing something about it.
It was very real to her — no doubt about it — special ointments — quite a how-do-you-do about the whole routine.
My opinion is that fundamentally Mother was quite okay. She had a doctor, but I can’t recall his name.’
Was it Dr Deane?
No, not Deane, but this doctor was a well known bloke as well — and I spoke to him one day, to get the story straight, what with Mum and her bandages.
And this doctor, he said, ‘Peter, as a doctor I’ve been looking after your mother for years and years, and what do you know, I can’t find ANYTHING wrong with her. She’s just worried about her health.’
So, there we are. That doctor ruined it all for her. ‘There’s no damn reason to worry.’ But she didn’t change.
We lived with her, on and off, in Campbell Street. Number 22. And she was all deadly serious about the bandages and ointment.
Of course, in those days you could get an ointment that ‘cured everything and anything’. It was a miracle cure. You could buy it everywhere. All the mothers had it in the cupboard to treat the families. And our mother relied on it. REXONA. They made an ointment, and also a soap.
The soap made you beautiful?
Oh yes. No doubt about that. But as well as Rexona there were other things. There was Epsom Salts. Every mother had a jar of Epsom Salts in the house. Regular as clockwork they gave the family a spoonful — to keep them as ‘regular as clockwork’. It was a real home remedy. If anyone was constipated, out would come the Epsom Salts. That’d fix things.
I remember you telling me — I think it was when you were about 95 — that you enjoyed shocking people who persisted in asking after your health, by telling them what they didn’t need to know. ‘Oh, I’m doing quite well for an old man. My bowels are as regular now as they were when I was a young man.’
Did I say that!
You sure did! I wrote it down. I can send you the evidence. 5 years ago.
Well, it’s probably due to porridge.
There was one thing I learned when I was youngish — I knew how common Epsom Salts were. It was even used as fertiliser. And once I got a job at the Palmerston North Hospital as a kind of errand boy — a porter. I got all around the place — in the wards — out the back.
Out the back there was a storeroom, part of the official chemist’s shop that was part of the establishment. A pharmacy. And I was nosing around and I saw this large jar of white stuff with a label on it. Magnesium Sulphate.
‘What’s Magnesium Sulphate?’ I asked the bloke in charge.
‘That’s Epsom Salts,’ he said.
Well, that sort of floored me. The same common stuff that everyone used at home was also in the hospital, but just with a fancy name!
Home remedies and Patent Medicines were pretty popular. I remember my mother’s father, Bob Mechen, saying to me once, ‘John, I think the Lord is calling me home’. He didn’t want his wife to know in case it upset her, but he took me to the end of the garden and shared the news with me! I was shocked and saddened and was sworn to secrecy.
‘The Lord is calling me home.’
I was only about 10. I asked 'Why, what's wrong?'
He explained. 'I’m all bound up something dreadful’.
So I stood there and watched and waited for him to go up to heaven. But he went inside and mixed a few teaspoons of sulphur into some molasses. It made a horrible looking paste. He spooned it down.
Did it do the trick?
Sure did. And it might have made the Lord have second thoughts. Grandad started farting . You know that sulphurous Rotorua odour?
I know about that mixture! Sulphur was miserable stuff to take. Constipation was a common complaint and the molasses and sulphur mix was the answer.
Mix it up. Spoon it out. No half measures either. A BIG spoonful.
It would move an elephant!
How on earth did we get onto this subject? We sound like teenagers!
Well, talking of elephants has reminded me of something. We can change tack a bit ...