In 1957—at 14 years old—I was working in a large cafeteria in Dallas, TX. I saw a number of old-timey medical treatments administered by co-workers of the afflicted or wounded. The cafeteria employed almost 100 people as cooks, vegetable-prep girls, dishwashers, porters, bussers and department heads along with their employees. The mix of ethnicity was approximately 2/3 black to 1/3 older whites.
It’s important to bear in mind that homegrown medical treatment originated because of the lack of doctors in a given area or the inability to afford them.
The first example of folk medicine that I saw applied had to do with a prep girl who went into a seizure of some sort. I’m not sure what type of seizure she had but most of us were still in shock from seeing her writhing on the ground with her eyes rolled back in her head.
The head cook—an older black woman—broke through the onlookers and enlisted two porters grab the girl’s arms to hold her in place. She then slipped off one of the girl’s shoes and placed it tightly over her mouth and nose. Sure enough, it was only a minute or so when the girl’s breathing began to return to normal and she finally stopped convulsing.
Another time, one of the butchers had cut himself while slicing up chickens. The next morning he had developed an infection around the cut. The head porter removed the bandage from the butcher’s hand and saw that the cut had not closed.
He pulled a plug of Red Mule chewing tobacco from his pocket, chewed it just long enough to break it up and moisten it. He then slapped the wad of tobacco over the cut and bandaged it tightly. At the end of the day he removed the bandage and applied a fresh tobacco poultice over the wound and re-bandaged it. By the end of the third day the infection was gone.
Perhaps the most bizarre thing I witnessed involved a young girl who had been developing small bumps on her face for several months. She was very pretty and complained around the kitchen that she was afraid the bumps would continue to develop and spoil her looks.
Several people advised her that these were “nature bumps” and that an effective cure was increased sexual activity. At first I thought this was a joke because the girl was probably a virgin and everyone was just kidding her.
After a time, I could tell by her new admirers around the kitchen that she was following everyone’s advice and was enthusiastically “treating her affliction.” I never did learn if this was a joke or not. I also was promoted and transferred to a different cafeteria before I could see if the treatment for her “nature bumps” was successful or not.