Home Remedies

Mustard Plaster Recipe: This is made of different strengths, depending upon the length of time it is desired to keep it on and the sensitiveness of the skin.

1. Equal parts of mustard and flour.
2. One of mustard and two of flour.
3. One of mustard and three or four of flour. White of an egg added makes it better and not so blistering.

A paste is made with warm water and spread between the layers of muslin and left on no longer than ten minutes. When the skin is red remove the plaster. This is used when you wish a quick counter-irritation.
The above recipe for a mustard plaster - a very commonly used home remedy in the early to mid 20th century - was taken from the medical volume of The People's Home Library: A Library of Three Practical Books; sold door-to-door by salesmen, published by the R.C. Barnum company, "...a well-known subscription book company at that time."  Many is the time I watched my mother make mustard plasters, sometimes for my father, and sometimes even for me (and this was in the 1960s yet...)  When I was small, I tended towards chestiness, and had more than my share of terrible colds, flu, chicken pox, measles, not to mention ear and tooth aches.  My mother nursed me very well through them all, with help from my grandmother who lived nearby, this book, her own common sense, and experience.  It may have been old-hat by then, but old tech doesn't mean irrelevant or outdated.  Sometimes the old cures are very effective.

My Grandma bought a 1920 edition of the first in the series, called The People's Home Medical Book, by T.J. Ritter, MD. It described Dr. Ritter as a "...Graduate of both the allopathic and homeopathic schools; formerly asst. to the Chair of the Theory and Practice of Medicine, Michigan State University, Ann Arbor, Mich."

My Mother grew up under the care of Grandma using the advice of that book, together with her own common sense. In turn, my own family, including myself, came under it's influence in due time. Where some may have learned about human anatomy from National Geographic or girlie magazines, I learned from the People's Home Library.1

As I raised my own children, I didn't have the book to refer to, but I remembered my mother's examples, and carried on the tradition of common sense home nursing care, and not running to a doctor every time my children sneezed.  I provided simple but effective remedies like gargling with warm salt water when there was a sore throat, providing a comforting (and chest/nose opening) warm 'steamer' (aka vaporizer) at night when they slept, had oil of cloves on hand for tooth aches and ear aches, etc.

1 - I also learned some interesting facts of life from my Mom's Bible, which was illustrated in color with reproductions of famous painter's renditions of scenes from the Bible. I must admit that I was, even at a tender age, very appreciative of the curve of the nearly nude derriere of Samson as he pushed the mill stone around...but that's another topic altogether!


The Art of Visiting

My Grandma Fitzpatrick, visiting with relatives in the family homestead (circa 1970).
When I was growing up, there was something called visiting.

Visiting was when you walked down the road, or jumped in your car for a drive to nowhere in particular, and you ended up at someone's home. You didn't call ahead - you didn't have to.  No one cared if you did, and most likely they were home and excited to see you.  You were welcomed into the home, and before you knew it, you were sharing the latest news, telling clean, corny jokes laughing like a fool, and loving every minute of it.

And you never left without being fed. Sometimes an entire meal, but most definitely at least bars or cake, and the ever present coffee. The pace of life was different then. People weren't so much in a hurry, and they took the time to ask after you. How's your family? How's your garden coming along? I can't believe how big your boy is now; seems like yesterday he was just a baby. Did you hear...?

Life was not as regimented as now.  There was regularity, a rhythm, to be sure.  But it felt more organic.  I suppose it could just be that I was a child, and I'm now romanticizing it through the nostalgic lens of memory.  But I don't think so.  I think it was a better time.


Dad & the CCC's

My Dad grew up on a farm in northwestern Minnesota.  He only went through 8th grade, which wasn't unusual back then.  When you were part of a farm family back in the 1930s, every hand was needed to make it run.  Farming was a labor-intensive job back then, with many farms, including my Grandfather's, still using horses for some of the work right alongside machinery.

Dad, 1938
When Dad got to be around 19, he went further north to a town called St. Vincent, where his Uncle Gail and Aunt Liza ran Short's Cafe.  It was actually part soda fountain/ice cream counter, part restaurant, part saloon, and - if rumors were true (and I have heard stories from people who knew, that they were), part backroom gambling hall.  He went there to work in his uncle's establishment and there met my mother (age 16), one of the village girls stopping by for a soda.  While the rest of that story, as they say, is history, Dad had more personal history to forge before he and Mom were married and walked the rest of their lives together.

Dad's discharge papers from the CCCs.
Sometime in 1940, Dad decided to check out the CCC, or Civilian Conservation Corps.  The CCC was one of the New Deal agencies, offering work programs to young men seeking employment during the Great Depression.  To put it simply, the program provided training/experience for the young men, and much needed works projects for the public - a win-win for everyone at the time.

Dad worked in Company 718, stationed near Big Fork, Minnesota, which is in the north central part of the state, not far from the 'arrowhead' region.  His company was part of a group that worked in the Pine Island State Forest.

Dad's time with the CCCs were cut short, when he was notified to report for medical examination, the precursor to induction into the military.  It was then only a matter of time before he was called up for training, active duty, and sent overseas to fight.  But that, that is another story...
Call to Duty


Look up...Waaaaay Up!

Jerome the Giraffe and Rusty
the Rooster with Friendly...
I grew up in the farthest northwest corner of Minnesota.  Our homestead was part of the village of St. Vincent, but it was on the north side, behind some woods, and looked out onto farmland.  Unless you knew otherwise, it was pretty much like living out in the country.  To our west, just across a small field, were the river woods, and just behind them, was the Red River of the North.  It was the border between us and North Dakota.  To the north, just two miles away - and in our flat river valley, within view of our own eyes - was the Canadian border.  We were so close to Canada, in fact, that the little town just across it - Emerson, Manitoba - had the closest hospital to us, and therefore, I was born there.

There has always a close relationship between Canada and our little corner of America because of our geographic location. One of the things we shared was television.  In the early 1960s, there was no Sesame Street or Nickelodeon.  But for those lucky enough to have access to the CBC, there was the Friendly Giant.

The Friendly Giant was a beautifully simple program, consisting of Friendly the Giant, and his pals, Jerome the Giraffe, and Rusty the Rooster.  There were a few other friends like the Jazz Cats who would come by and jam with them for a few songs.  Friendly himself not only told fun stories and joked around with Jerome and Rusty but also played the flute.  The show always started with the camera slowly panning from right to left across a little village, until it came upon a very large boot, Friendly's boot.  All the while, you were hearing off-camera a comforting baritone voice saying it was a beautiful morning today, and so on.  Once the boot showed up, the voice would say, "Look up...Waaaaay up!", and up the camera went along with our eyes, until we saw the smiling face of Friendly.  He'd say he would go on ahead to open up the drawbridge so we could come in for a visit in his castle, and in the meantime we should start walking there to meet him.  As we imagined ourselves going to the castle, onscreen we saw it, and the big drawbridge being let down for us to cross; all the while, a gentle song was being played on a harp.  Once inside, we were escorted to the fireside where Friendly put out some chairs in front of the fire (one big one "...for two to curl up in..."), as well as a "...rocking chair for those who like to rock."  I always imagined myself in the rocking chair.  Then the show would begin!


Old Homes are Old Friends

The house I grew up in.  The section far to the right was all that was originally built by
my grandparents in 1906.  The rest has been added on over the years.  Every time I go
by and visit the house, I almost think my parents are going to come up to hug me...

I grew up in a very old house that leaned and creaked and had strange smells, but I wouldn't trade it for the world. I loved it.

I am once again in an old "home with character".  I sometimes have little plants struggling through the cracks in the basement concrete by the washing machine, and herds of Daddy Long-legs living in the bathroom, as well as a colony of ladybugs hanging out pretty much everywhere they want to.  Many things don't work quite right, and it takes a lot of love and care, but that's alright.  I can relate.



No photos of Smokey exist, but she looked a lot like this female Nebelung

Many years ago my first kitty, a feral female that adopted us who we named Smokey, got caught in traps twice.1 The first time she came home with a leg that had a deep puncture wound all around the leg. She went up into the hayloft by herself for days, and came out healed, thankfully. The second time, she came home with the leg dangling, and did the same thing, but this time came down without a leg; we assumed the tissue left connecting the leg to the body died and she self-amputated. Both my parents, from a farm background, were confident she would heal herself, and she did. They had seen such things before. I was little and trusted what my parents said. A different time. Animals can be amazing...

 1 - We assumed whoever had set the traps, must have found her and set her free each time, otherwise she would have died in the traps...


Lessons from Grandma: Making Do

[Image Source:  Handy Farm Tools & How to Make Them]
My Grandma taught those around her the best way anyone can teach another - by how she lived her life. That's not to say she didn't express opinions. I'm just saying she usually was too busy to sit around talking about ideas, and was more about getting things done!

I used to love hanging out with her when I was a little girl, especially in the summers. Most of the time it was her and me and nobody else, which is how I liked it. Grandma would sometimes put me to work gathering acorns from the yard in the fall of the year. I'm still not sure to this day if that was necessary, or just a clever trick on her part to keep me out of her hair. Either way, I was diligent in my job and had filled a large vinegar jar full of acorns by the time I was done. As I cleaned her yard, I'd get close to her little garden out back, and her shed, which I thought were very intriguing, full of old garden and carpenter hand tools, some of them from the last century, belonging to her father.

One summer, Grandma decided she needed a wheelbarrow. Always having lived a thrifty lifestyle by necessity, by then she was living as a widow on a very limited, fixed income. Her solution? Plunder the plunder pile1, scavenge a wheel, and slap together a homemade wheelbarrow! I was so excited by her project, she even let me help, and I ended up with my own smaller version. I used that thing for a lot of projects around her house and later up at the old homestead where I grew up (and she and Grandpa had built as their original home, as newlyweds...)

1 - Plunder Pile: A pile of items saved for possible use or re-use at a later time, usually consisting of lumber, fence posts, old windows and doors and other such items. Usually stored outdoors in a pile against or behind a building, sometimes in the form of a tee-pee. Very handy resource to have when making lots of inexpensive, homemade projects.


War Wedding 1943

Mom and Dad, the day of their wedding on February 13, 1943


FBI's Most Wanted

My mother's older sister Irene had eight children, seven of them girls.  One of those girls was named Lois.

Some time in the late 1950s, Lois crossed paths with a man named Everett Leroy Biggs.

Biggs was from another Illinois family, like my cousin.  He had served in the U.S. Marines in post-war Korea.

At any rate, they met, married, and had several children together.  And during their marriage, Everett became a wanted man.  A very wanted man.

He was so 'wanted', that he made it onto the FBI's most wanted list on November 21, 1966, as #240.  The FBI described him as a "serial armed bank robber".

He wasn't on the list long, only two weeks.  On December 1, 1966, Everett was arrested,  taken by surprise outside his Colorado home.  It is said that they tracked him down through his children, who were enrolled in a nearby school.  He served his time, was released, and to my knowledge, walked the straight and narrow thereafter.

I'm not sure when my cousin divorced him, but in 1979, he married again, and he and his second wife were together until his death in 1997.


Dad's Birthday, March 14th

Tomorrow, my father would be 93 years old if he was still with us. He made up great stories, loved watching cartoons with me, helped me build a fence, I helped him move an outhouse; through the years he shared his life with me, and when he couldn't, he wrote it down for me to find later after he was gone. Near the end, I helped him walk and take showers, and listened as he shared how it was to slowly lose your body not just to age but to Parkinson's, yet feel the same as when you were young inside. Tomorrow, I will miss Dad, as I miss him and Mom every single day.


The Language of Sewing

Hems. Tension. Darts. Inset sleeves. Pleats. Notions1. A-line. Remnant. Basting (and not as in a Turkey!) Bias. Blind-stitching. Spool.  Tracing. Interfacing. Ripper (of which I have become very familiar with through the years!) Gather. Lining. Seams. Patterns. Pinking Shears.

All these words and terms are old friends of mine.  I have neglected them in the last few years because other things in life became a higher priority, not to mention lack of time.  I realize now that much of it was my own tendency to become easily distracted and enamored by all things new or different.

It's not that I didn't realize the value of knowing how to take up a hem, mend a tear, sew on a button, or even sew an entire garment.  No, it was more about eating up life as fast as I could because with every passing year I felt the hand of the Grim Reaper tapping me a little harder on the shoulder, and I wasn't going down before seeing and doing all I could.

Now that I have come full circle, and am on the homestretch towards that "undiscovered country", I reflect on the skills of my youth.  I cannot fathom producing dresses, blouses, skirts, etc. as I once did, but I do love knowing that I could, if I had to.

Sewing is like a riding a bicycle, and getting back on the wheel, bobbin, foot, and feed would be easy as pie.  Oh dear, I am really mixing my metaphors!

 1 - Speaking of notions (i.e., buttons, trim, zippers, etc.), my grandmother and mother were very practical, economical women.  When a garment became irreparable, you didn't simply throw it away.  First, you stripped it of anything useful - old buttons, zippers, hooks and eyes, appliques, even collars, lace or ribbon.  Anything that could be recycled was carefully removed and stored for possible future use.


Play House

Me, in front of the Play house [Summer, circa 1964]
My first small house...little did I know then, that my playhouse would in
in its way be prophetic in how I eventually viewed living space.  It also 
didn't hurt that I grew up in an old house which imprinted on me the value
of using space wisely, and valuing such simple things as being cozy.
Delphine: Boy do I remember that play house...it was so cute and fun to play in. Grandma even had built little cupboards in it. She was quite the carpenter.  
Me: Delphine, I didn't know there had been cupboards in there. By the time I played in it, they were gone. Maybe Mom and Dad repurposed them for another outbuilding, like one of the sheds Dad used for his tools. Anyways, I always wondered about the history of the playhouse. Do you know if it had been something else before it was a playhouse (such as a chicken coop, or...?) I thought it was very cool that it had linoleum on the floors, the old kind, too...
 My family wasn't rich.  We weren't dirt poor, either, although nowadays, some people might look on us then and think we weren't far from it.  When I was growing up, it was like they say - you had love, you had food, you had family and community - it was all you knew.  It felt right.

What we didn't lack was inventiveness, creativity, the make-do mentality, and imagination.

For instance, my parents took a small outbuilding, and turned it into a play house for my sisters.  I later inherited it.  I had a children's ice cream parlor table set, that my Mom had scooped up for little cost from the Lewthwaite Drug Store in Emerson years before when they shut down their soda fountain counter.  We took scrap fabric and made little curtains for the window.  There was a big window that had a screen on the outside, and the inside window swung up on a top hinge, and could hook to the ceiling to provide a lovely breeze during the warm months of summer.  My grandmother had helped lay down old linoleum on the floor, and the walls had been nicely painted.  Many tea parties and conversations with my doll Sally were conducted inside, or just outside if we were in the mood for a picnic...


Parkinson's Black Cloud

Parkinson's Disease forces a person to face their mortality every day...
Photo Credit:  Salon / Shutterstock
My father had Parkinson's. He was diagnosed with it not long after he retired.  At first, the symptoms were hardly noticeable, and with low doses of medication, didn't affect his daily life much at all.  But as it always does with the disease, it progressed.  Medication dosages increased, and despite them the signs such as decreased speech volume, trembling, and general weakness heightened.  Mom tried not to show it, but she grew angry, taking it very personally.  To her, Parkinson's was a very real enemy, and she resented the fact that just as Dad and her were not only alone, but free to travel and enjoy their golden years, there was a black cloud over them.

In 2001, my sisters and I found out that Parkinson's was taking a heavy toll on both Mom and Dad.  As we brought Dad and Mom came back from New Mexico for good., I didn't know I had so little time left with him.

During the quiet moments when Dad and I were alone, he would share with me what it was like to have hallucinations, a common side effect of his meds.  How, although he knew he was awake and "they weren't really there", he often saw wee, little people sitting on the end of his bed, or climbing up his dresser.  He said it was a surreal experience, something he couldn't explain away.  I asked him how he dealt with it.  "I just watch them, remind myself it's not real."  What else could he do?

Dad had a dignity and pragmatism about his growing frailty.  He cherished Mom while at the same time being very concerned for her, recognizing that the mental health concerns and emotional weakness he had long been aware of, was now growing stronger for her.  He had been shielding her from their consequences as much as she had been helping his due to Parkinson's.  They were a team.

Dad went first, only a few months after their return; in the end, it was his heart that gave out.  Mom went with him that day...but her body held on for another six years.



I was groped once, aggressively groped. I was coming out of science class in high school. I and two boys were the last to leave class. The boys were brothers. One came up behind me just as I was exiting the science room and reached around and grabbed one of my breasts. I stopped dead, then he let go, walking on with his brother, both laughing. I stood there for a minute, then went into the girls' lavatory just down the hall on the left. I didn't understand what just happened, not really, but I knew it wasn't right. My first reaction? Anger. Anger at being violated. I never told anyone that time, but if it had ever been attempted again, I would have...