Monday, February 23, 2015

Home Remedy Saved My Sister's Life - Happy Birthday, Gay

Gay Council 
   Mother's Miracle Home Remedy
Glenda Beall

I felt as tall as a tree riding on the shoulders of my brother Max that twenty third day of February. I had spent the entire day at Mrs. Womble's house and when my brothers arrived home from school they were sent to retrieve me.  As we all approached our weathered grey farm house, another neighbor lady came out and stood on the long back porch.  She called out to us with a big smile.
"You kids have a brand new baby sister."
The boys were excited and couldn't wait to see her.  My mother had gained weight and lost her girlish figure after birthing six children. She had hidden this pregnancy until the last few weeks.  I suppose my brothers knew she was expecting, but I was too little to understand. 

Rex, the youngest brother was five years older than me.  Hal was ten and Max was thirteen.  The oldest brother, Ray was sixteen.  My big sister, June, was away at college.  I was delighted to have a baby sister to play with, but to my disappointment, she was so small that I wasn't allowed to hold her.  I still loved her.  She was so pretty with a head full of dark curls.  Even though she took my coveted place as the baby in the family, I was not jealous. Mother named her Manita Gay, a name she found in a book she read, and I have always thought it was just beautiful.

The year before Gay was born, Daddy applied for a FHA loan to buy a one hundred twenty five acre farm in the eastern part of the county. The family moved into a run down house with no running water and no indoor plumbing.
Christmas Tree farming Gay and Glenda

When Gay was less than a year old she became seriously ill with double pneumonia.  I'm sure all of us were sick that dreary winter.  Our only heat other than the wood stove in the kitchen was a fireplace.  At night our beds were piled high with quilts my mother had inherited from my grandmother.

Even though money was very scarce, when Mother had tried all of her home remedies to know avail, she took my baby sister to a doctor.Antibiotics were on the horizon but not used in our town at that time. The doctor knew very little to do for such a serious illness. After a few visits it became obvious his medicine was not working.

He shook his head sadly and said, "Mrs. Council, there is nothing else I can do for her."

Mother cried as she sat before the fire cradling her infant daughter in her arms.  The child was burning with fever and so weak she couldn't nurse.Word spread among the neighboring farms that the Council baby was dying.  Mrs. DeBarry and Mrs. Womble came to sit with my mother. They took turns holding little Gay.

I clung to my mother, knowing something was wrong but not understanding how wrong. The women talked softly trying to keep Mother's mind occupied and off the terrible scene that was unfolding in that room. When the fire burned low, one of them threw on another log. The sparks flew, looking like shooting stars against a black sky, and a puff of smoke billowed out into the room. It burned my eyes. I buried my face against my mother. She smelled good like the bacon she had fried that morning for breakfast. I climbed into her lap. She held me but hardly noticed me.

"There must be something else we can try," Mrs. DeBarry said, as she took Gay from Mrs. Womble's arms.

"I've never done it before, but I heard my mother talk about making a tar and tallow plaster one time and curing somebody of a real bad cold," Mother said, "Maybe I should try that."
"Well, it sure won't hurt," Mrs. Womble said.
"I'll get everything together." Mother said.

 First she rendered hard beef fat until she had a quantity of tallow. Next she went to her rag bag and found a soft piece of flannel. She ripped it into two strips. On one strip she spread a thick coating of pine tar and covered that with a coating of the beef tallow.  The poultice was warmed by the fire and placed flannel side toward the skin, on the sick baby.  The other strip of flannel was wrapped around the baby and the plaster to hold it on.

Then the women sat down again to wait, each one praying that the home remedy would work.  Hours passed and it grew dark.  Mother lit the kerosene lamp. It spread a warm glow over the room and created dark shadows on the drab walls.  Daddy and the boys came in from doing farm chores.  Daddy helped us with supper and Mother put me to bed in the same room where the women held their vigil.  Daddy sat in his rocking chair, rolled his Bull Durham cigarettes and smoked silently.

Mrs. DeBarry, a large, kindly woman and my mother's best friend, cradled Gay.  She placed her plump cheek against the baby's face and said, "I believe she is a little cooler feeling."

A few minutes later Gay opened her eyes and moved her little arms.  She reached up and touched the concerned face of the woman who held her.

"Miz Council," Mrs. DeBarry said in her slow drawl, "I believe this child's fever has broke."
She was right. Gay's temperature dropped to normal and soon she was able to nurse again. It took several weeks for the baby to completely recover, but soon she was a happy toddler, and we were all enjoying her just as though she had never been ill.

Her recovery was a turning point in my life because she and I are as close as twins. The day I was told I had a baby sister no one told me that she would be my best friend always, my confidant, and my biggest supporter in all that I do. Whenever there are problems in my life she is there to share them, and we have found that together we can weather any storm. My life growing up on the farm would have been extremely lonely without her, and I don't believe that I would be the same person I am today without Gay in my life.

First published in: Moonshine and Blind Mules and other Western North Carolina Tales, 2006  (anthology)


DJan said...

What a wonderful, inspiring story. I believe that prayer and love were both instrumental, along with the home remedy, in saving Gay's life. Thank you so much for sharing this. :-)

Glenda Beall said...

DJan, I'm sure prayer and love were a big, big part of the cure. There was plenty of both going on in that room.

Abbie Taylor said...

Glenda, what a sweet story. I'm glad you and your baby sister had such a wonderful relationship.

Glenda Beall said...

Thanks, Abbie. I appreciate your reading my blog and taking time to comment.

Brenda Kay Ledford said...

Wow! This story kept me on the edge of my chair. I'm so glad Gay recovered. My grandparents used poultices to put on the chests of their children. It's great this old-time home remedy worked with your sister.
I'm so glad you have such a wonderful relationship.