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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Let's Heat the Ear Medicine

It is a windy day, cold and biting, and between the bus and the two blocks home, I can feel the earache coming.

“Mom, I’m getting an earache!” I shout as I come through the door. I throw my coat on the chair, head toward the TV.

“That doesn’t go there,” my mother announces from the kitchen.

“But I have an earache!” I yell.

“Oh, earache my eye,” my mother says, coming into the living room.

Gilligan’s Island is on, and I haul myself indignantly off the cushions. I hang my coat up and return to my spot in front of the TV.

“But it really does hurt,” I mumble toward the set.

My mother positions herself between me and the Skipper and leans forward, looks into my eyes. She decides she believes me.

“Well, I’ll get the washrag then.” She turns and walks down the hall, toward the bathroom.

My mother, the woman who believes a bowel movement can cure all your ills, also believes in the restorative qualities inherent in the Hot Wet Washrag. According to my mother, your standard-issue washrag, held under the hottest water you can stand, squeezed dry, and then applied to any part of the body, has healing powers. Each application of the Hot Wet Washrag lasts 20, maybe 25 minutes, depending on how hot the rag is when you start and how long it is before your mom finally takes pity on you and takes it back to the bathroom for another shot of hot water.

Five or six applications can do wonders.

This particular earache, however, is unfolding into a screamer; and a dozen hot-and-wet washrags later, my mother has gotten some exercise and I am feeling no better.

My mother sits down on the couch where I now lay on my left side, the cooling washrag still pressed to my ear. She places her index finger thoughtfully on her chin.

“We’ve got some of the medicine left from last time still in the cabinet,” my mother says, thinking aloud. “Let’s try that.”

When she returns with the ear medicine, you can see the gleam in her eye. The woman who believes in the home remedy has an idea.

“You know,” she says to me, her head cocked to one side in that endearing, Cocker-Spaniel way she has, “I’ll bet this would feel better and work faster if we warmed it up a little, don’t you?”

I am not sure about this idea. I don’t really want anything around my ear right now, period, so my opinion on having a liquid poured into it, warm or cold, is unreliable. I shrug miserably.

“Let’s try it,” she says.

I follow her into the kitchen, where she pulls the sauce pan from the bottom cupboard and fills it with water. I hop up on the counter as she puts it on the stove. She turns the burner on and we stare at the pan.

She turns to me.

“You hungry for a little somethin’?”

“Like what?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Let’s see what we got.”

Both of my parents are excellent cooks and know how to stock a fridge. Not that I appreciate this. While other children are enjoying frozen pot pies and beef stew from tin cans, my parents are forcing us to eat freshly prepared, home-made meals.

She speaks from inside the fridge, her voice muffled by potential snacks.

“We’ve got celery with olive-and-pimiento cream cheese or we got summer sausage and cheese. Which one?”

“Celery and cream cheese!”

We munch celery sticks, their ruts filled with pimiento cream cheese, as we wait. The water in the pan is now simmering.

“Let’s drop this baby in, warm 'er up.”

Five, six minutes later, my mother pronounces it “done”. She pulls the tiny bottle out of the pan of steaming water with a pair of tongs and transfers it to her oven-mitted left hand.

“OK, now tilt your head. Let’s see that ear.”

I tuck my hair behind my right ear and tilt my head to the left.

“Hold still now.”

There is the sound of the tiny ear dropper clinking against the sides of the little glass bottle. I tense, head cocked, waiting for the dropper-full of medicine to fall into my ear and down into my head.

And that moment arrives.


Like a bolt of lightning splitting the night sky, the heated medicine tears through my ear canal and deposits itself on my wrinkled and screaming brain.

“Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!” I bellow, my body bent in half. I grab my mother around the waist, burying my face in her chest. The pain is excruciating.

My mother laughs when she is nervous, and she is laughing now.

“Oh! Oh!” she fights to catch her breath. She knows how unseemly it appears, her apparent mirth. “Oh, dammit it anyway!”

I step away from her, clutching my head, as she presses a dish cloth into my hands. There is a moment's silence as I stare at the cloth, then at her. What am I supposed to do with this?

My mother is desparately trying to look serious.

“Oh, dammit it anyway, Pearl! I’m so sorry! I’m so –“ she cracks up again. “I’m sorry. It’s not funny. No, it’s not funny at all,” she says, wiping tears of laughter from her eyes and trying to look solemn.

The front door opens, followed by the sound of my father’s keys hitting the dining room table.

“Dad!" I call out, "Mom’s trying to kill me!”

“Again?” he says, walking into the kitchen. “I thought you guys had worked that out…” He trails off as he reaches around me and into the fridge, grabs himself a beer.

He pushes the refrigerator door shut and takes a step toward the saucepan still on the stove.

“So what’s for dinner?”


Eva Gallant said...

I love it. Sounds like my mother, except she had a French accent!

Jenn Thorson said...

Oh Pearl, I am so sorry. I am feeling your pain from years ago, and it is bouncing along my ear canal in Ear Empathy.

Where your mom had the Hot Wet Dishrag, my Dad felt squat thrusts would cure most things wrong with me. If I had pain somewhere, "Do some squat thrusts, you'll be fine."

I would like it noted that he was not so enamored with the idea when it was suggested to HIM a few years ago for some back pain. :)

Susan in the Boonies said...

Oh, Gosh that was hard to read.


(This actually explains so much...)

Joshua said...

Hot eardrops? I need a shot of whiskey after reading that.

Simply Suthern said...

My moms ear fix was Hydrogen Peroxide. Served cold. It froze the back of your eyeballs.

She also served up Mercurochrome for mouth sores which explains alot.

jenny_o said...

Good concept, poor execution, perhaps?

Can you hear with that ear since then?

Oilfield Trash said...

Love this. Your mom sounds a lot like how my mom was when I was a kid.

laughingmom said...

OW! Made me remember having such a bad ear infection that they let the suckers burst and my relief for the excruciating pain was - a hot wash cloth. I'm here for ya Pearl!

Drake Sigar said...

Your mother seems like the type who would cure a shallow cut to the arm by amputating.

Camille said...

There was only one real cure in our household way back in the day Pearl - Paragoric. Yes indeed, that licorice flavored, opium infused, liquid morphine which also had alcohol mixed in for good measure. One used to be able to buy it without prescription practically by the quart. Toothache? sour tummy? ingrown toenails? boils? Why, you name it and Paragoric got tablespooned into our gobs. It cured everything...mostly by knocking you out for about 18 hours. Good times, good times.

haphazardlife said...

Warmed up ear drops for an earache. My mom did that, 'cept she'd test it against her wrist before dropping it into my ear.

She wasn't an outstanding cook though.

- Jazz

The Vegetable Assassin said...

Well now, doesn't THAT go a long way towards understanding the enigma that is Pearl Of Today! :)

Pat said...

Naughty Mom! Warm is good - hot is not. Poor baby:)

Leenie said...

I'm with Susan and Veg Assassin: Boiling oil to the brain explains a lot about our Pearl.

And I unnerstand the home remedies that if they didn't kill you or make you stronger--at least left you with a great story to tell.

Louisiana Belle said...

My mother also thought the bowel movement was an uber-important daily function. I didn't eat a lot as a kid so when I couldn't "perform" out came the disgusting red rubber bag! I hated my childhood. :/ Think I'd rather have hot oil in my ear than the other thing.

Gigi said...

My mom did the same thing - I remember that little glass bottle (I believe it was blue) well. Although, I don't remember ever having my brain scalded.....although maybe I can't remember because the remembering part was the scalded part.

alwaysinthebackrow said...

When our kids had bad earaches, I also used the little blue bottle of medicine. Never though to put it in boiling water though. My mom's favorite cure for anything was to "go soak it". She is a nurse, so it held some authority. Not much effect, though, for things like a headache (or an earache).

Sioux said...

Some of the comments reminded me of the good ol' days, when alcohol was in cold medicine. That made babies take GREAT naps!

Little Miss Sarcastic said...

Wow. Glad i never had that experience. Hot ear medicine, not the best way to instill trust with your kids.

My mum swears by Pawpaw ointment. I reckon she'd recommend it, if i got my arm cut off!

injaynesworld said...

I got earaches all the time when I was a kid. Damn those things hurt! Although, you can make even pain seem charming.

Daisy said...

I also got severe ear aches as a kid. My mom's solution was to "lay on that side" and keep it warm on the pillow. Ahhhh the "good old days"!

Lazarus said...

What doesn't kill you makes you stronger Pearl!! Another funny post, you have such a great way with the language. Especially for someone who can't hear how the words flow anymore!

Roses said...

Well done. You survived your childhood.

I'm especially pleased because it makes me smile on days like these.

I also survived the hot flannels, dubious drops of questionable vintage and Vicks Cough Syrup.

Dave King said...

Bowel movements and hot wash rags... could she be the matron of whom I once fell foul?

Linda O'Connell said...

You have certainly captured the era and proven that not all of us had Leave it to Beaver households. My mom too thought a B.M. and a nap took care of everything.

hoodyhoo said...

Sounds like something Dear Sweet Mama would do... and she's a NURSE, so it must be medically appropriate to set your child's brain on fire!

lifeshighway said...

So very very funny. I had the opposite childhood. My mom was a critical care RN and you could not come to her with any ailment. She just worked with "someone with a brain tumor" so we suffered in silence.

Boom Boom Larew said...

Yowzer! Thank god I never had earaches as a kid. (Then again, my mom was too busy working on our nether regions with suppositories kept in the fridge... cold is no better!)

River said...

Oh Ouch!!
My mum was a great believer in bowel movements too. Every Saturday night we three kids would each be given half a square of "special" chocolate. We didn't know it was Laxative, we just thought we'd been good. My sister found the box one day and ate all the squares....

the walking man said...

If that didn't heal the ear at least it melted the wax.

Almost Precious said...

Thank God that medical knowledge has improved over the years but at least I now understand why my generation is so messed up...or messed up in the opinion of my grown children anyway.

My mom was a believer in olive oil, sure it was great for cooking but it also softened the skin and a couple of warm (repeat warm, not scalding) drops in the afflicted ear and a piece of cotton wadding would cure any earache. Funny it did seem to work.

Cake Betch said...

Between this post and your last I find it really eerie how similar our mothers are. My dog's eye is swollen and she's called me multiple times to do the hot washrag to the eye thing. Whenever I have an upset stomach or have to fart she tells me to the go to the bathroom.