Doctors and Healers
Recollections from My Childhood
(by Thelma Credle Fulford - Oct. 20, 2002)
How very different our lives are lived now in the year 2002 than they used to be when I was a little girl. I am approaching my ninetieth birthday this month, and I remember those days ...back when. I was born in 1912 and grew up in the tiny community of Rose Bay in Hyde County, North Carolina. There were no paved roads, no cars, no electricity, and certainly no telephones, televisions, or computers back then.
If you were sick, somebody generally rode a horse or drove a buckboard to the doctor’s home in Swan Quarter, some five miles away, and the doctor drove his buggy or rode his horse and came to your house to see to you. He treated you out of his little black bag. That little black bag always contained a few pills or Grove’s Chill Tonic among other things, but somehow I always managed to get quinine and a big dose of Castor oil with three drops of turpentine in it nearly every time he had to come to our house.
I think that I must have discovered malaria fever, for while everyone else enjoyed the months of July, August, and September, I had a vacation in bed with my second round of malaria. My first round each year always closed out our school term with me in bed with chills and fevers.
People from different families in the area always visited in homes where someone was sick. Often when they visited they would bring a new home remedy to try out on a sick family member that had worked in some way for them or someone else they knew or knew about. And the visitors would often stand by while you were given a dose of their special remedies. I guess the idea in mind was “if it didn’t make you sicker or kill you, it would probably cure you.”
My grandmama, Martha (Cartwright) Credle, was almost always called in the region whenever anyone was sick. Seems like she was the one to rely on, even if the doctor had been called before she was. And no matter who sent word for her to come, day or night, “Miss Martha” would pack her basket and leave for a day, two days, or however long it took to treat the sick person or family.
I can almost see her basket of medicines, for it was often the cause of me getting into trouble, one way or another. Where else was there ever a basket full of stuff like that one? Epsom salts, Duffy’s pills, castor oil, a bottle of turpentine, chill tonics, headache pills, and not to forget those homemade salves! Bottle after bottle of medicines she had mixed to use from plants around the homestead and in the woods. And even better, her medicines got results. She was called often on account of what was in her basket and the results of what her medicines and treatments did.
Grandmama made up a lot of her poultices herself, and I got to go several times with her into the woods nearby to collect the medications for her to mix into her poultices and oils. Because there were so many snakes and other scary things, a couple of the black ladies who lived close by--Belle and Florence Hardy--would also go with Grandmama and me. They were also seeking things they used for themselves and in their homes, too.
We would go in the early spring when sap was rising in the trees and bushes so there would be fresh peppermint, sweet gum wax, pine residue to refine into turpentine, and wormwood bark that was ready to shed. This seemed to be her main collection of things that I can recall at this time.
Now I mentioned that Belle and Florence Hardy would also go with us. They wanted to hunt nice, tender joints of black gum bushes to dry out so they could chew them into “mops” or brushes to use for dipping snuff. Both women would get lots of twigs and chew up enough to last them until the next spring. Each of them always had a snuff brush out on their lips. I often wondered if they slept with the twigs in their mouths when they went to bed at night.
Grandmama was always busy after one of our trips into the woods, for she prepared the things she collected--drying some leaves or mosses, making others into salves, or mixing a batch of things together to make poultices. One of the most unusual poultices she used was collard leaves for women who were nursing their newborn babies. She would apply collard leaves to their breasts to keep the women’s nipples from getting infected.
People often came to stay with Grandmama Martha to have her treat their skin cancers, which she did and often had results that completely cured them. She did this for lots of years, until I was well into my teens. Grandmama Martha always said that she wanted me to have this remedy after she was gone, but it was not to be, for her secret died with her.
There was only one “Miss Marthey,” and even though she was not my mother but my grandmother, no two people were ever as close as my grandmama and me. If I had a model on this earth as how to live and be as an adult, she was it.
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