The Fayette Tribune, Oak Hill, W.Va.

January 3, 2013

Trips to the doctor weren’t nearly as common years ago

Home to the Hills

By Ricky Pack

— West Virginia has the highest rate of overdose deaths out of all 50 states, according to the most recent poll.

In the old days my family couldn’t afford to run to the doctor every time one of them was sick or hurt. Plus there weren’t that many doctors. They had six children plus the two, that’s eight. Sometime there was an aunt living with them.

My Dad and two uncles, Denny and Daryl, were hellions as it was told. I am sure my three aunts had their sick moments too. As Grandma told it, they weren’t perfect angels either. The curse of the Pack name will live on forever.

So there had to be home remedies. Some live on today, but many today would call these remedies “child abuse.” Got some good news for those people: All six of them grew up to be successful professionals, parents, and grandparents. So did the first three grandsons (all grandchildren were successful in life, but I am not sure if they participated in some of these remedies).

Here are some of Grandma’s remedies and preventions:

Sassafras tea: This is made from the root of a sassafras tree. Make sassafras tea from boiling the root. She would make it and once every year the kids had to drink the tonic. It was a vitamin that was supposed to last all year.

Castor oil: They got it every Sunday, many times with black coffee. This helped the digestive system immensely (if not explosively).

Teaspoon of heaping sugar with four drops of kerosene: This was for coughing, a remedy I knew well when I was a young boy. A spoonful of sugar…right! It worked! I slept like a baby.

Flu: Grandma would make a mustard pack out of dried mustard. This was put on the chest and then wrapped. No one in the family knows what else was used in the wrap.

Blood root: They would use it for what ails the stomach. This was another tea made from a dug up root that was red as blood. Also used in a poultice for lame horses.

Yellow root: Treatment for colds. Used as an anti-inflammatory, also for chest congestion. This was made into a tea. Still used today and there is a shortage of it.

Ice or a tub of ice: This was used to break fevers. Back then fevers were a serious thing. Too cold and death would be imminent. Only those who knew how to administer this cure would do it.

Sticks: Used to set bones on arms and legs. No doctor required.

Tobacco: Used for toothaches. A small amount would be put into the hole that was hurting.

Severe tooth pain required extraction of the tooth. This was done easily and the pain would be gone in a matter of a few minutes. Pop would get a pair of pliers and pull his own teeth. With the tooth gone, no more pain, no problem! A healthy hit off of a jug of medicinal corn whiskey or some fancy bottled whiskey and all was right with dentistry.

I know this method to be true. The last tooth pulled happened about 15 or 20 years ago. My Dad, Pop and Grandma were coming home from Beckley. Dad had a fierce and fiery toothache that even his tough self couldn’t stand. When he got home my little brother Ronnie said, “Dad, won’t you let Pop pull it?” Dad wondered if Ronnie was smoking some of that wild wood weed growing along the fence line.

The pain increased, the dentist’s offices were closed, there had to be something done. So Dad gave in, and Ronnie brought in a pair of needle nose pliers. Those pliers almost cut Dad’s lips off. So Pop got a pair of the regular silver pliers; started twisting, pulling a little, twisting a little more, Dad was drooling, wincing in pain as Pop twisted and twisted, and twisted, pulling, Dad could hear the nerves snapping, then as if the Red Sea split, Pop twisted the tooth one more time a complete 360 degrees, a little pull and the tooth was out.

Dad stood up straight and fire came out of his ears; he gargled with some warm salt water, went to town and found five men three times his size and kicked their butts!

Nah! Pain was gone and the rest of the day went as normal as always.

Do a random act of kindness this week!

(Pack may be contacted at Letters to the editor regarding his column may be e-mailed to