I was discussing with my mother via skype about home remedies that she knew of, or that her mother used to do for her and her siblings when they were sick.
Me: I remember you once saying that your mother had a couple of home remedies that she would use with you when you would get sick, yeah?
Informant: There were certain things –
Informant: M’kay. There were certain things that mom did when we were sick, especially when we were sick to our stomach. First of all, she would give us 7-Up.
Informant: Cause 7-Up she believed would settle our stomachs. To this day I despise 7-Up.
Me: And, why 7-Up?
Informant: And another thing she did, was to put us to bed with a bath towel.
Informant: And the whole idea of that, well the idea behind that was actually quite practical because my bedroom was pretty far from the bathroom, and if I had to throw up and I couldn’t make it to the bathroom, mom wanted my to be throwing up into the towel. But, for me, that towel ended up being very very comforting; and I used to kind of snuggle that at night when I wasn’t feeling good and it made me feel better just having it.
Me: Is that where I got Magic Towel from?
Informant: That’s why you got Magic Towel.
Informant: From my memory.
Informant: Because when you were little, you had an upset stomach one night and I didn’t have any medicine that either you would take or I could give to you. And so I gave you that towel and I told you that it was a magic towel and that if you hugged it real, real tight all night then you would feel better in the morning.
Informant: And the next morning, you felt better and you looked at me and said, “I have a new B.” ‘Cause that’s what you used to call all your blankets. And you put it at the bottom of your bed and Magic Towel stayed with you longer than any other B.
Me: Despite having lost it multiple times and having to replace it.
Informant: Well you’ve only lost it once I think
Me: No, it was more than that. I think it was at least twice.
Informant: Could be. I remember that it got left in the Dallas airport once.
Me: Yeah, I remember that one.
Informant: Not on my watch.
Me: Not on mine.
Informant: It was daddy. Daddy help – let you forget it. So does this help?
Me: Yeah, mama. Thanks.
When hearing this story, and especially about the taking the bath towel to bed, I realized that there is a reason why these folk remedies are passed down. It is because they work. Whether they are born from practicality or herbal medicine, if they work, then they are remembered and passed down to the next generation. Now, 7-Up, like many other sodas (including Coca-Cola), was originally created as a medicine, and it is highly likely that my grandparent’s generation believed such sodas to actually do what they were advertised to do. With the bath towel, though born of practicality, it was the belief that my mother had that it would work to cure an upset stomach that made it work. It is an example of the placebo effect. Also, the fact that my mother used this remedy for me, and that it worked, shows that such remedies, over time, can become family traditions, or traditional remedies within a family. I still sleep with magic towel, and I have never gotten sick in bed since my mother first handed me a towel. We may have had to replace the actual towel a couple of times, but it wasn’t the towel that was important, it was the concept of the magic towel and the belief that it worked that mattered.