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The Last Cold Warrior
My current inconvenient and woeful truth is I’ve got the mother of all colds. This misery has all my senses confused and discombobulated …and there’s no relief in sight— at least none that’s not days away. It is times like this that my ‘inner-small boy’ wishes Aunt Lula was still around…
Lula wasn’t my real aunt. You certainly couldn’t find her name anywhere on the official family tree, the one Mom kept folded up in the family Bible. But in Mom’s heart, ‘Aunt’ Lula was as official as any blood-relation, the two had been close friends forever. In my youth, anyone who was a close friend of a birth parent was often accorded the honorary title of Aunt. As near as I could figure, the title meant that although they weren’t on the hook to feed you, sign your report card, or go to PTA meetings, they still had some official jurisdiction over you.
As it turns out, honorary relatives were occasional babysitters. I viewed ex-officio relatives as ‘ringers’ left behind by a parent to put the kibosh on any of your really brilliant ideas such as bringing home stray dogs, frogs or garter snakes into the house. (A few years later, this would translate into this thwarting my ambitions for keeping late summer nights, drinking, smoking and bringing home stray teenage women of questionable repute.)
Aunt Lula was a matronly woman of indeterminate age and she was an habitual visitor at our house in Atlanta. She not infrequently made the trip up, by Greyhound, from her home in Tuskegee, a small town in the upper reaches of lower Alabama. She was brown-skinned, had short black hair and an oval face. I once figured her age to be forty-something — clearly a senior citizen in the eyes of a seven year old. Of course, to a small boy growing up in the Fifties, anyone over the age of thirty-five was considered ancient. (Their days were no doubt numbered and they might just keel over at any time.)
Lula had three overarching talents. The first was doing aunt-ly things such as rewarding me with a dollar for every ‘A’ on my report card (big money for a kid in the 1950’s), yelling at me (again!) if I climbed too far up the monstrously big oak tree in her Tuskegee backyard and sending me sweaters at Christmas that were always three sizes too big. “He’ll grow into it,” I ‘d hear her tell my Mom. The oversized sweaters was a habit she continued until I was well into middle-age! And while I didn’t totally understand it as a youth, the woman also had a talent –a ‘penchant’ really –for nuptials — and marital break-ups. By the time I was fifteen Aunt Lula had remarkably gone through four husbands and four divorces.
Aunt Lula’s most impressive –and memorable– talent however, was practicing medicine without a license.
Many of her visits coincided with me having a cold, the flu, flu-like symptoms or some other malady Lula always just knew she could cure better than “any of those doctors that don’t know didly,” as she would tell my mother, Virginia.
Aunt Lula did not like or trust real doctors. She had her own (she said) time-tested remedies for almost everything. Her remedies most often turned out to be substances, compounds and concoctions you weren’t likely to find at any Walgreen’s. For colds, she prescribed black strap molasses mixed with garlic powder. The stuff tasted awful, smelled worse and had the consistency of 80-weight motor oil, a spoonful of it heavy enough to bend the utensil’s very handle. The year I had the chicken pox, she recommended my Mom utilize alcohol and oatmeal baths to eliminate the itch of pox bumps. For the nationwide outbreak of Asian flu in 1958, she prescribed a concoction of turpentine, castor oil, tea, sugar and warm water.
“Dreech! This stuff tastes awful, Aunt Lu!!”
“Swallow it down, boy. In a couple of days you’ll feel good as new.”
“In a couple a days, I’ll be dead. I think you’re trying to poison me. I’m tellin’ Mom when she gets home from work.”
“Chile please! Billy, you just like all the rest of the menz. When y’all get sick all y’all act like li’l babies. Everything that’s good for you don’t always taste good, ya know. Thas the way medicine spused to taste. Thas how you know it’s workin.’ Now be a real man and drink this down. Aunt Lu made this special.”
Thing is, several days later, I would invariably feel better though the after-taste of castor oil seemed to last months.
While Aunt Lu never came up with a remedy for keeping a man, she was a kind of genius when it came to curing whatever ailed small boys as well as other assorted problems. She even had a solution for keeping the toxic smell of chit’lins out of the house while the dastardly things were cooking on the stove, a habit I could never break my mother of, something she persisted in doing at least once each summer.
The pattern of Aunt Lu’s visit didn’t dawn on me until years later, when I was ‘good and grown’. Her visits often coincided with me having some childhood illness (or threatening one). The woman seemed to live for me to be sick. (Or maybe, she was experimenting on me. Maybe she was doing research trying to finding a cure for any and everything, but couldn’t afford one of those research Rhesus monkeys. She experimented on me, her erstwhile ‘pretend-nephew’ instead.)
Now, in the present day, I’ve got this goddamn cold. A higher truth is the cold has played gotcha’ with ME! (As my late Uncle Cleon used to say about his not infrequent hangovers: “I don’t have the headache, this headache’s got ME — cause, I swear if I had it, I’d fo’ damn sure let it go.”) My head is clogged, my lungs are burning, my nose is chapped, raw, ‘runny’ and red. Breathing through my nose? Hell, I might as well be trying to suck peanut butter through a straw. My throat is scratchy and sore; the voice, what’s left of it, is an impossible two octaves lower. All things considered: I’m a mess.
If there’s one thing I hate more than being cold, it’s having a cold. For one thing, I can never remember whether it’s “…feed a cold and starve a fever” or “starve a cold and feed a fever.” Usually, a week after I’ve made the choice, it’s obvious I should’ve chosen the other option. A second complaint is that over-the-counter drugstore remedies have uncertain outcomes, are over-priced and have ridiculous side-effects (e.g. “blindness, heart attack, stroke, “anal leakage”, are possible I’ve read on some of them!) And while not many of us can afford to get sick, the real problem is that unless one actually owns a CVS store, only a small and ever dwindling percentage of us can afford to get well from a cold!
No one is more disappointed than I am there is still no cure for the common cold. You’d think a society that has landed a man on the Moon, discovered the buffalo-wing, and made the mass of people completely comfortable with forking over $4.95 for a ‘cup of joe’, would have figured out how to cure the garden-variety cold by now. All these years later, no solution is forthcoming, not even from Elon Musk, those people over at Google, the folks at TESLA, the talkers at TED — or dammit, even from people who invented the 3D printer, the seeming solution to every known problem in the universe in the New Millennium. Not even Obama has shown any inclination toward coming up with a cure! (You’d think he might want to take on the common cold if only for the purposes of legacy — say, a ‘post common cold Presidency’.)
In my current (cold) state my feeling is that if life were at all fair, it would be against the laws of nature and man for anyone over the age of forty to be burdened with a cold. Some ‘Youngblood’ would be required by statute to assume the cold of an older person, just as if they were giving up a seat on a crowded bus.
Alas, there are few if any of the ‘back in the day’ cold warriors still around. Aunt Lu passed away some time ago. None of the new age problem solvers, say Elon Musk, Google, Tesla, or Obama seem much interested in a common cold solution. Their only advice is to “…Cough into your elbow. Wash your hands. Don’t infect anyone else”.
What is a guy with a merciless cold to do these days?
Luckily, I hear Jim Beam–with or without lemon–can make a cold victim feel better. Or to forget the affliction altogether.
Yeah… gesundheit to you too!
 While I never said anything to her about it, one got the impression Aunt Lula might have been ‘set in her ways’. I once overheard her relate her troubles with men to my mother. “Virginia, I’ve been married four times and been divorced four times. I don’t know what was wrong with them menz? Hell, there ain’t nuttin’ wrong with ME!”
 Three heaping tablespoons of Cinnamon boiled in an uncovered pot of water left to waft about the house.
- Images: Sick man lying in bed suffering cold by Marcos Calvo Mesa and licensed by LikeTheDew.com at 123rf.com; Jim Beam photo - photographer unknown, Will thinks he found it a JimBeam.com - I hope he did as it would be fair use for us (promotional use), but I can’t find it there, but do at many other sites - I think it was likely used as a recipe photo and the author/photographer long lost (if you find out who owns this photo, we are happy to attribute or take down).