Tuesday, June 14, 2005

feeding my brain

I bought two books today at lunchtime. There's a Borders three blocks away from my office, which cost me a great deal of paycheck, the first couple years I worked here. It's a great place to pass a lunch hour--especially in the summer, among the cool, quiet stacks that smell of bleached paper and soy-based inks.

I went in there semi-seriously looking for a tome on Catholicism in nineteenth-century America. I know such a work exists: I've seen some on Amazon, but today I just wanted to do some skimming, not buying.

Instead I got sidetracked by the African-American studies. I saw the endcap, with a new compilation of slave narratives, and figured I could pick up some anecdotes. I found a thin bound copy of Booker T. Washington's Up From Slavery, for the whopping price of $2. I knew who Booker T. was, but I never had heard of this book. Maybe I read an excerpt and forgot about it. We didn't even cover him in Minority Lit, in college. Still, for $2, every kid in America ought to be made to read this. It's not a man with an ax to grind or a scholar trying to build a reputation. He's just a guy telling it like it was.

The other book I got is way more fun: Lotions, Potions, and Deadly Elixirs: Frontier Medicine in America. It's a hoot. Beautifully bound and printed on glossy paper, with a number of proofreading errors that set my teeth on edge, it's both informative and entertaining. The first half is anecdotal and expository; the back half is an encyclopedia.
Applying vinegar mildly pickled the top layers of the skin. Regardless of the smell, and the desire to bite oneself, vinegar helped relieve sunburn and similar skin irritations. When applied to irritated skin, vinegar makes skin sting before it feels better. That is perhaps why it found little favor in treating minor hemorrhoid flare-ups or burning bottoms caused from improper wipings with pine straw or leaves.

I kid you not. The author also relates how his Grandma doctored everybody with coal tar and veterinary medicines, fried her chicken in lard, ate eggs and bacon for breakfast every day, dipped snuff and still lived to be ninety-four. My kind of woman. I figure with modern advances in medicine--and less chance of contracting parasites--I can make it to a hundred and four.

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