I'm a home remedy experiment survivor

For Emily, KatieBug, and EG...


I grew up in a mill village in Bartow County, Georgia, called ATCO - American Textile Company. Our house was on the edge of the village and behind it was a dump - our playground. Back then no one called it a dump. We had no idea toxic chemicals from the mill had been dumped there. To us it was more glamorous than a dump. It was where we made forts, played hide and seek, and wandered for hours looking for treasure. The Village kids called it Trash Pile Hill. We loved that place.


It was really a beautiful place once the dumping stopped. The trees began to grow, and some sort of wild tall golden grass covered the sun-kissed spots. It overlooked Jackson's Dairy and Petit Creek. The kids on my street all played together, because we were all about the same age and weren't allowed to wander around too far from home. Usually, I was the only girl in the group.


The kids from the Village were creative because we had to "make do" with our inventions - like skateboards attached to roller skates and box springs for trampolines. My first trampoline/box spring experience was bittersweet and happened on Trash Pile Hill.

I can remember where we discovered the box springs - underneath a tangle of bush and vines that were growing through the springs as if they'd been woven. Someone had driven up the back alley to the edge of where the Hill began and dumped it. No telling how long it had been hidden there. We'd discovered our treasure. We worked hours uncovering that thing and pulling out those vines so we could jump on it. It became a project. When we finished, we spent an entire afternoon jumping, falling in between the circles of rusty wire, getting our feet tangled in those circles ...laughing. We had so much fun.


It was summer, so I was wearing a sleeveless top and shorts. I don't recall when the fun ended and the discomfort began, but it was sometime after we were jump-exhausted and headed home. It didn't take long for the blisters and red whelps to appear everywhere my bare skin had come in contact with the vines. I had my first case of poison ivy. I scratched so hard my arms and legs bled. My face was swollen, my eyes were tiny slits, and I scratched like a dog tortured with fleas and ticks.


My mama waited until the next morning and called a taxi to take me to the doctor's office. We didn't have a car. Dr. Dillard's nurse, Rosalind (If I recall correctly) took one look at me and ushered me into Dr. Dillard's office. He didn't even inspect me. He just wrote the prescription and told mama where to go to have the prescription filled. The taxi drove directly to Owen's Funeral Home on Main Street, next door to where the Big Apple grocery store used to be in Cartersville. Mama went in and left me in the taxi.


When we got home, she sat me in a wooden straight chair and rubbed me down from head to toe in this smelly stinking concoction Dr. Dillard had prescribed. To this day, I remember that smell of embalming fluid - formaldehyde, mixed with calamine lotion. Twice a day for days I got that stuff rubbed all over me - in my ears, up my nose, and in and around the cracks and crevices where I'd scratched and it had spread. The blisters oozed. I scratched. They broke, and the concoction stung. I begged her not to do it. She swatted me on my leg and told me to be still. She rubbed until every inch of me was covered in dried pink cracked lotion. I wonder if it occurred to her that rubbing your kid down in formaldehyde, one of the chemicals used to embalm dead people, might be dangerous.


My boy buddies and I argued and fought all the time, probably because I was so bossy, demanding, and insistent everything be done my way. That week we didn't fight. That week, they got their revenge. They laughed. They taunted. They held their noses and while staying a good piece away from me and told me how bad I smelled. It was humiliating. Traumatizing.


I knew it was true. I could smell the stink I emitted. There's not much to fight about when it's the truth. Today, the smell of new wrinkle-free sheets evokes this vivid memory. I'll have it forever. In a peculiar way, the experience is a link to my interests today. We are, after all, a product of all our experiences, right?


(Emily, Katie Bug, and EG, if you're interested in knowing what I smelled like, smell wrinkle-free sheets before they're washed.)




This is a series of stories I'm writing, because my older granddaughters gave me a journal years ago, and I've neglected writing in it. Recently I asked the oldest Emily if I should just write about the good. She said they want it all - the good, the bad, and the ugly. This blog will become that neglected journal.

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