The informant, JB, is my father who is 49 years old. My family lives in the same small town I grew up in, Huntsville, TN. I was under the impression that this home remedy was universal until I mentioned it to my college friends, and I was met with bizarre and confused faces. This remedy is not exclusive to my family and is widely known and used in my town.
Interviewer- Hey dad when I was little, or even now, if one of us got stung by a wasper (wasp).
JB- (Laughs) Yeah, I know it sounds gross, but it works. When you’d get stung, I would get backer (tobacco) outta my lip and hold it on there until it was numb.
Interviewer- Ew, I can still picture it, but it did help. So how did you know to do that, like who taught you?
JB- I don’t remember ever specifically taught. My dad would do it to us as kids and like you said it works so.
To my surprise, the common fix-all that was chew tobacco was not universal, but actually a form of folk medicine. The origin is unclear, but when I searched it on the internet, quite a few websites cited nicotine as a home remedy for stings and noted it strong numbing power. Perhaps I am biased, but this folk medicine screams Southern roots. Chewing tobacco has always been a staple in every Southern man’s daily routine, along with the skoal ring marks in the back pockets of their Levi’s. So, it makes sense that a long time ago a kid was crying over a bee sting and a nearby dad or grandpa thought to apply some “backer” from his lip. This demonstrates the closeness of Southern families, and fathers in blue-collar culture, mine included. Not every type of dad would get the dip-spit out of his mouth and put it on his kid’s sting instead of grabbing something out of the cabinet. However, in the South, specifically blue-collar communities, there is powerful “do it yourself” mentality. This mixed with the extreme closeness and perhaps cultural tolerance for things perceived as “gross”, results in folk-medicine. It is much harder to imagine businessmen fathers having the same first instinct as my father, and all family men in my town.