Monday, May 07, 2007

The Itch

Another tidbit from the life of Mama Ruth--this one from the year 1924.
"Ruth! Stop that scratchin!" Crises usually started at the supper table. "You’ve been scratchin’ ever since I got home from work." Between bites of hot biscuits smothered with his favorite mixture of butter and sorghum molasses, Daddy looked sideways at me. And he frowned. "What’s the matter with you?"

"I ITCH, Daddy."

"I do too, Daddy," Arthur, my little brother chimed in. I was eight and he was six.

"Don’t see how they could get mosquito bites or chiggers in the wintertime," Mom handed Daddy another biscuit from the warm pan in the coal stove oven.

"Did you ever itch like this, Mommie?" I wasn’t only scratching, I was wiggling in my chair, too.

"Probably did when I was little, but I don't remember it." Mom passed me a biscuit too, and I passed it to Daddy because I wanted some of his butter and sorghum mixture. "Well, maybe you didn’t, but I can’t help it, Mommie. I just want to scratch all the time."

Daddy said, "Pearl, you don’t think they’ve got. . ."

Mom sighed a long sigh and shook her head. "Not impossible, Henry. I’ll look them both over after I get the supper dishes done.

She stood me up in front of the kitchen stove and helped me undress. She turned me around and around, and looked at me from head to feet. My little brother got the same examination.

"Henry, get the washtub in here. These kids’ve got ITCH! Get out the sulfur salve. They’ll have to have baths first, then put the salve on. Don’t know how long it’ll take to cure ’em. What a mess!"

Into the big round washtub of warm water I went, and Mom scrubbed me all over. Out I came and in Arthur went. Same water for same contagion-–water was scarce. After she dried us off, she smeared on the age-old remedy for scabies. If there is any medicine anywhere in the world that smells worse than sulfur salve, I’ve never met up with it. Sulfur is grayish-brownish color, thick and stinky. And now it was all over our bodies.

"Go in the front room and stand behind the stove so its heat can put that salve to work. Some of it will go inside your skin and kill the infection.."

"Mommie! Do we have to just stand there all naked?"

"Yes, you do for a while. Turn your backs to each other."

Anybody who’s ever had scabies will never forget it. And anybody who’s ever tried to scratch an itch inside long winter underwear knows what it’s like. Itch didn’t just last for a day or a week; we scratched nearly all winter. We had to do the bath and sulfur cure every night. And we had to stand at least ten minutes naked behind the heating stove every night. Mom always hung our home-sewn pajamas over a small line stretched behind the heating stove in winter. So when we put on those warm pajamas, they felt good even if we did scratch.

No doubt we caught scabies at school. It might have gone through every room. I have no idea about that, but lots of kids had it in my room. We scratched and scooted all over our seats. The teacher scraped her arms up and down, too.

Not long ago, my sister Irene and I flew to California to visit our brother, Art. And in our laughing about the "olden days" Art said, "Hey, Ruth, remember when we had itch?"

"Sure do. Get jerky just thinking about it."

"Remember about the wall paper?"

"No. What about the wall paper?"

"You mean you don’t remember that one night when we were plastered with the sulfur salve, you backed up naked against the wall and left the print of your bottom on the wall paper?"

Irene shrieked and I bent double. When I could talk again, I rasped, "No! How long did the print stay there?"

"Years! Mom got her soap and water and washed the paper, but that cure had already gone inside the wall and left its stain. And they couldn’t afford to re-paper the room. So every night when we all sat in the living room, we could see twin prints of two greasy little buns on the wall paper behind the stove."

--Ruth Seamands


Jannie Ernst said...

Thanks, Ruth! Now you made me itch just by reading your story. I still remember my own scabies days. In Africa, it's more common, I think. But just as itchy. And just as hard to get rid of. Yikes!

Anonymous said...

A great reminder that the good old days weren't always so good. That ending was hilarious! "Two greasy little buns."

Tina H.

Anonymous said...

What a treasure of stories! Love it!

Eden said...

Ah, I wish I had cool childhood stories. I had a very boring childhood in many degrees.

Love the "greasy little buns". Too funny!

Hey Brandilyn! How are you doing? Hope all is well. You are in my prayers.


Susanne said...

Too funny. Not about the itch or salve, that would be awful, but the buns on the wallpaper!