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Dr. Holmes was always the last resort

Phil Early is one of my all-time favorite people. I used to yell at him to “get a move on it” coming out of the chutes on endless afternoons at football practice an eon or two ago. He never said a discouraging word to me directly… but I do think I heard him mumble something under his breath to Rodney Nobles once when he didn’t think I was paying attention.

Phil Early is also a state championship football player. And let me tell you, he earned it the old fashion way! He and Rodney threw me into the shower after the championship game, clothes and all! I might have mumbled something about that when the cold water slapped me in the face…

I ran into him recently downtown. He immediately, like he’d been thinking on it for a while, asked if we used kerosene as a medical aid when I was growing up. My first thought was Phil was way too young to know about such things. Then I remembered his parents were kinda old school.

“Well no, we didn’t.” I didn’t have to think about this one. “We used coal oil.” They were actually interchangeable in the 1950’s medical world. We used coal oil because that was what our furnace burned. Mr. Joe Chadwick would back his big truck up to our tank and “fill us up” just about every month in the wintertime.

Phil leaned in, really listening; just like he did when you were telling him how to block down on “46 Reverse” in 1970. He was awaking memories that predated our “chute” days. 

“And don’t ask me the difference between the two.” Both smelled bad. Both would sting when soaked in a rag and tied over a cut, scrape, puncture, boil, lesion, abrasion, chigger bite, rash or any other “open” wound. Best I remember coal oil seemed “oilier” and maybe a tad “heavier” than kerosene.

You didn’t want either applied to your skin I can tell you that! It would turn the spot a little red and the odor would last long after the snake bite had healed.

 Either one was an effective “first line” of defense. They were used mostly to get the bleeding stopped and to kill off any germs that might infect the gash in your leg.

We used iodine, Merthiolate or Mercurochrome on little cuts. And again, to the best of my recollection, they all did about the same thing. They were a milder, and maybe a more civilized way, to treat an open wound.

The Mercurochrome stung a little more than the others. But none of them would lift you off the ground like a douse of coal oil on a knee that had just slid 15 feet down a gravel road!

Mom used Neko soap on any lingering scrape, cut, rash, etc. It was a blue bar that advertised itself as a “germicidal” soap. We didn’t have a clue what that meant. But it sounded potent. And Mom sure believed in it. It wasn’t smooth like Ivory soap. It would scrape the hide off of you if you were not careful! 

Of course, these are all “outside” body remedies. If you had a stomachache Mom would break out the Syrup of Black Draught. Whew! That stuff would make you smile from the inside out. And cause you to chase yourself around the house!

I could see Mom reaching for the bottle containing that dark, foreboding liquid… and my stomach would miraculously and instantaneously heal itself. I kid you not!

When Leon built that ramp and tried to jump his bike across the big ditch down behind George Sexton’s house… AND DIDN’T MAKE IT, he set some kind of medical record when we finally got him untangled from the wreckage and carried back to the house.

He had coal oil rags tied around deep cuts on his right thigh and left foot, mercurochrome splashed across that big scrape on his neck, some iodine carefully dropped on the slit over his left eye and comfrey leaves applied to his lower back to offset any twisting or bruising. And Mom gave him a double spoonful of E. W. Grove Chill Tonic in case there was any internal damage.

It was amazing how one question from Phil sent me on a medical sojourn.

And gosh, I forgot to tell him about the sassafras root tea, the owl feathers, cod liver oil, hi-test gas on sore pitching arms and oatmeal on bug bites.

I also forgot about Granny’s famous mustard poultice sack. She’d tie it around your neck if you were feeling puny. I never did know what was in it. But from the smell I suspected, among other things, it contained two live skunks, wild onions, rotten garlic, wet sawdust, sauerkraut and at least one dead buffalo…



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Meet the Editor

David Adlerstein, The Apalachicola Times’ digital editor, started with the news outlet in January 2002 as a reporter.

Prior to then, David Adlerstein began as a newspaperman with a small Boston weekly, after graduating magna cum laude from Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. He later edited the weekly Bellville Times, and as business reporter for the daily Marion Star, both not far from his hometown of Columbus, Ohio.

In 1995, he moved to South Florida, and worked as a business reporter and editor of Medical Business newspaper. In Jan. 2002, he began with the Apalachicola Times, first as reporter and later as editor, and in Oct. 2020, also began editing the Port St. Joe Star.

Wendy Weitzel The Star Digital Editor

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