Copyright 1994
Sam Elmore

HUMPTY-DUMPTY


Some folks may find it hard to imagine what their lives would be like without air conditioning, indoor plumbing, and all the other "mod-cons". I know a few people who really get upset if a brief power outage occurs, depriving them of their "comforts of home".

Comparing the "old days" to "now-a-days", leaving modern equipment aside, I believe the biggest improvement in my lifetime has been in the field of medicine. Many of the diseases encountered heretofore are being controlled, or have been completely eradicated, by modern medicine.

On the other hand, I don't mean to disparage "patent medicines" or the home-grown nostrums of my youth, such as "granny rags". They are also known as "fried shirts" in some places; a truly descriptive term, if I ever heard one.

(A granny rag is an old cloth of some kind, dipped in boiling water, smeared with everything in the house that smells bad, held in front of the fireplace until it is steaming and stinking up the place…then it is summarily plastered to the naked chest of a sickly boy, and covered with several home-made quilts. That boy will be on the school bus the next morning, without fail.)

When you think of how some of the "miracle cures" were developed, it is really amazing. I believe it is claimed that penicillin was developed from the mold growing on old bread. Well, even if we had known how to extract penicillin from bread mold when I was a kid, it wouldn't have made the least bit of difference.....the vintage of "old bread" at our house was measured in HOURS (and in single digits, at that!). No, there's no slander of the old ways intended here; when you come right down to it, I'm a firm advocate of "dancing with what brung ye'."

For a time, when I was a kid, we lived in a log house. Our water was drawn up from a dug well with a cedar bucket. The only time we had running water was when one of us kids was told: "run fetch me a bucket of water". Air conditioning was achieved by the rapid oscillation of a palmetto-leaf fan, with a Lewis Funeral Home advertisement on the back. And, of course, one must needs take a short walk to attend the "bathroom".

That log house was not a very tight structure, due to age, warpage, cracks, and knot-holes. We had screens on the windows and doors, but the mosquitoes seemed to know precisely where all the knot-holes were located. Malaria, transmitted by mosquitoes, was apparently a matter of real concern to my parents, so.....enter the Watkin's peddler.

Mama purchased clear gelatin capsules and large, blue bottles of pure quinine, from the Watkin's man. After the supper table was cleared off, she'd spread out a sheet of paper, pour out a pile of quinine from the bottle, tamp the capsule halves into the quinine until they were almost full, then join the halves together.

To stave off the dreaded malaria, I was required to ingest two capsules of pure-dee quinine before bedtime each night. As a result, I went around half-dizzy most of the time, and my ears rang so loudly, I wondered why everyone else couldn't hear it.

(My ears still ring like several fire sirens tuned to different frequencies. I don't know if that earlier quinine ingestion had a blessed thing to do with it, though. Navy doctors advised me, during my retirement physical some three decades ago, that my spending a quarter-century near high-speed turbines, in the bowels of Navy ships, hadn't helped my hearing much).

One of my older brothers, Ben, came back from CCC camp for a visit when I was about six years old. Due to a paucity of beds, I was allowed to sleep in the same bed as Ben. We were all real happy to have Ben at home again and, when Mama assigned me to his bed, my two nearest-in-age brothers, Baucum and Barge, were plumb jealous (which doubled my own pleasure, of course).

That night, Mama doled out my nightly quota of two quinine capsules and I walked into the bedroom, grumbling under my breath. Ben asked what I was griping about; I told him. He silently pointed to a knot-hole in the floor, by the edge of the bed. I poked the quinine capsules down the hole.

A few days later, one of Mama's pullets wandered out onto the gravel road and experienced a "close encounter" with one of Mr. Smead Stewart's hurtling pulp-wood trucks. The pullet was pretty well banged up by the impact; one broke wing, and a busted leg. It flopped off into the scrub brush out beyond the back yard; we figured she was a goner, for sure.

Somehow, the pullet survived the encounter and, a good while later, rejoined the flock in the yard. It was a sight to behold as it careened around the place; sort of stooped over, and walking like ol' Amos, on the "Real McCoys" t.v. show. We promptly dubbed the pullet "Humpty-Dumpty."

For some reason, the chicken took to following me around, as if it was partial to me. It wouldn't have anything to do with Baucum or Barge, and the rest of the family simply ignored it. So, there I was, with my very own "pet pullet". (Once again, Baucum and Barge were green-eyed, which tickled me no end).

This is hind-sight conjecture on my part but, at the time of the incident, if you had asked me the age-worn question: "Why did the chicken cross the road?", I'm sure I would've replied: "Because it was spaced out on a "quinine binge", from eating all them capsules I poked through that knot-hole every night."

Mama was quite meticulous about cleanliness in our home; washing, scalding, airing, and double-scrubbing everything (including kids). Anyone who stepped into her kitchen with mud or dirt on their feet became a prime target for the "bald-headed" end of her kitchen broom; (that also applied to Papa Abb).

One afternoon, Mama had the six-eye wood stove going full blast, cooking supper for us. The heat in the kitchen was stifling; so she propped open the kitchen door with a smoothin' iron, hoping to catch an errant breeze. She turned out a skillet of cornbread on a platter, and set it in the middle of the oilcloth-covered table. The next time Mama turned around from the stove, there was Humpty-Dumpty....up in the middle of her spotless table, pecking at the cornbread.

The grown-ups came in from the fields about dusk dark. We all washed up, out by the well on the back porch, and trooped into the kitchen to eat. We were pleasantly surprised to find that Mama had cooked fried chicken for supper. That was usually reserved for a Sunday treat....this was Tuesday. We took our places at the table. Mama filled the plates for us kids, while the grown-ups served themselves.

There I sat, smiling, with a chicken leg in one hand and a slice of cornbread in the other; then my world took a decided turn for the worse. Big brother Britten wiped his chin and said:

"Ol' Humpty-Dumpty eats pretty good, don't she, boys?"

(Mama had "broom-handled" Humpty-Dumpty).