The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

A Dose of Castor Oil

By Martha Cockrell Robinson © 1996

Issue: Spring, 1996

Everyone is familiar with the ritual of Spring Cleaning. The doors and windows are flung open to the fresh air and sunshine and much cleaning and scrubbing takes place after the house has been closed tight all winter. Well, at our house, it was the opinion of the grownups that not only the house needed a spring cleaning, but our "systems" as well. So, as regular as clockwork, every spring we were dosed first with calomel (and we weren't allowed to eat while the calomel was going through our systems "cleaning us out"), then we were given a dose of castor oil to finish the job and to get the calomel out of our bodies. The calomel was in the form of a little pink pill and was easy to swallow, but have you ever tasted castor oil? It is thick and oily, has an awful smell and an even worse taste. And the aftertaste stays on long after the stuff has been swallowed.

The particular time I am telling about now was before I was old enough to be "brave" and swallow the stuff down. I was between the ages of 6 and 7. Since I repeatedly declined the proffered spoonful of oily liquid, the grownups decided that stringent tactics were called for and set about to accomplish the goal of getting the awful dose inside me. I was therefore physically removed to the back steps kicking and screaming and fighting all the way. Once there, Maw held me by one arm and Mama the other, the two of them attempting to hold me still, while my uncle (in his 20's) was supposed to administer the spoonful of castor oil. I clamped my teeth shut tight but the three of them pried them open somehow and my uncle finally was able to maneuver the spoon between my teeth. Little did he realize that the battle was not yet won! No sooner had the spoon been forced into my mouth than I let go with a very forceful "sphffttt" and he got the whole spoonful right in his face! That was the end of that. They didn't try again with the castor oil that day, but decided to dose me with something else - Black Draught - which looked liked dry cow manure and tasted dry, powdery and bitter and had to be washed down with water. At any rate, it was the lesser of the two evils. Taking a dose of Black Draught was no picnic, but it beat castor oil by a long shot!