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Old Time Remedy for Upset Stomach

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Peggy served as caregiver and patient advocate to family members for over a decade. Here is some of her best advice.

Wikimedia, Public Domain, Coca Cola Five Cents

Wikimedia, Public Domain, Coca Cola Five Cents

Upset Stomachs

Things were simpler when I was growing up, years ago. For one thing, there were fewer choices. Back then, if we had an upset stomach or a case of diarrhea, Mom would treat our discomfort with something we could buy over the counter at the general store. The nearby corner store was the place to find nearly anything you needed.

By O'Loughlin, Gregory L. Related names:  So. CA Edison Company Eastwood, John S Huntington, Henry E Ward, George C Pacific Light and Power Corporation [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By O'Loughlin, Gregory L. Related names: So. CA Edison Company Eastwood, John S Huntington, Henry E Ward, George C Pacific Light and Power Corporation [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Our family medicine cabinet held only a few familiar items. Most common ailments could be fixed with aspirin, Vick's VapoRub, Noxema, or Mercurochrome.

For minor burns or insect bites, we used Unguentine or Bactine spray to ease the sting. But the most frequently used cure to a minor stomach problem called for a dose of a brown miracle elixir available from the local drug store. We would head to the corner store to fetch a refill if our supply ran low.

Drug Store Sign

Drug Store Sign

Mom would generally send my brother or me to the store just a few blocks from the house. We'd pedal our bicycles as fast as we could down the tree-lined back streets to Chappell's Variety Store. Once there, we'd park in the concrete bicycle racks and head directly to the pharmacy at the back, averting our eyes from the racks of toys along the way.

Waiting at the window to catch the eye of the druggist behind the partition, we could hear him clanking away on an old typewriter preparing labels for prescriptions. The pharmacy was raised a level above the rest of the store, allowing a view of his white coat flapping as he moved about behind the etched glass partition. Racks of empty glass bottles and blank labels littered his work counter.

Manual typewriter

Manual typewriter

The store carried various household items from bread and canned goods to fishing gear, cold cream or Fitch Dandruff Remover Shampoo. There were light bulbs, sets of dishes and keen interest to us kids, a rack of the latest ten-cent comic books like Super Man, The Adventures of Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge.

The variety store was the neighborhood hangout, popular for its soda fountain and grill where they served the best hamburgers in town. That was the place to go before fast food places made their way to the small island of Key West.

Woolworth Soda Fountain, Asheville NC. Listed in the National Register of Historic Places in the US. Photo by Jane023 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Woolworth Soda Fountain, Asheville NC. Listed in the National Register of Historic Places in the US. Photo by Jane023 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

We'd take a seat on red vinyl swivel stools that stretched the length of the side wall and wait while our fifty-cent hamburgers sizzled on a flat grill. At the fountain, you could order a Coke in the nickel or dime size served in a glass with chipped ice. Many summer days were spent sitting beside dispensers of orange and grape drink, basking in the aroma of hot dogs grilling on the rotisserie. It made for a fine treat on a tropical day in the Keys.

At the fountain, you could order a Coke in the nickel or dime size served in a glass with chipped ice.

At the fountain, you could order a Coke in the nickel or dime size served in a glass with chipped ice.

Post Office

Postal services were available through a window where we mailed out parcels wrapped in brown paper cut from grocery store bags. Before mailing, the package had to be tied securely with sturdy, white cotton string. Regular postage stamps were four cents, with air mail stamps at seven cents for faster delivery. Letters could be dropped off at the mail slot next to the pharmacy.

The local post office

The local post office

Lessons from It's A Wonderful Life

We were careful to keep our antics in the store to a minimum, knowing better than to cause any trouble. It would mean big trouble for us when we got home if our parents got a call from the druggist.

Every Christmas we looked forward to watching reruns of the old Jimmy Steward movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Young George Bailey worked behind the counter for the pharmacist who prepared pills for a family with diphtheria. George (Jimmy Stewart) got his ears boxed for not delivering them promptly. This valuable lesson was a reminder of our true mission and kept us from dawdling in the store.

The Magical Remedy

From our place on the swivel stools where we sipped our fountain drinks, we could listen for our name to be called. We'd slurp our sodas and hop down to fetch the white bag with the precious remedy; a concentrated solution of Coke syrup in a small bottle.

We’d pay the cashier up front while eyeballing the assortment of candy bars and bubble gum, before hopping back on our bikes clutching the package like a bag of gold.

Vintage Coca Cola Machine

The ten cent coke machine dispensed glass bottles of soda. The handle released the mechanism allowing one bottle to be released.

The ten cent coke machine dispensed glass bottles of soda. The handle released the mechanism allowing one bottle to be released.

The Dose

Once we got home with the remedy, Mom would send one of us to fetch a tablespoon from the silverware drawer. Armed with the bottle of coke syrup, she would ascend the stairs to the bedroom of the sick family member.

In the rare instances when Dad was the one with the stomach ache, we would slink up the stairs behind her and wait quietly on the landing while she gave him a dose. If one of the children was ailing, the rest of us would march boldly behind her into the bedroom of the afflicted. We'd surround the bed and watch as she opened the glass bottle and poured out a measure of the sticky syrup. The patient, sitting in bed with lips puckered, would swallow the brown liquid, smooth as silk, leaving us to lick our lips vicariously at the sickeningly sweet taste.

Glass Medicine Bottles

Vintage bottles held home remedies filled by the pharmacist on site.

Vintage bottles held home remedies filled by the pharmacist on site.

There are countless over-the-counter products these days claiming to offer relief from minor stomach aches and indigestion. Catchy jingles sing about heartburn, stomach ache, and diarrhea, but I still turn to the old family favorite whenever it's needed. Whether it's the carbonation or the actual formula, it still works for me when I'm feeling queasy.

Coke syrup can still be found online, although it's doubtful your local pharmacist will carry it or prescribe it for your health. All things in moderation, as the old saying goes.

Coca-Cola was originally intended as a patent medicine. Invented by John Pemberton in the late nineteenth century, it became a popular carbonated soft drink. Two of its original ingredients were kola nuts and coca leaves. The Coca-Cola Company, headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia, produces concentrate of the revised formula, which is sold to licensed bottlers and distributors in over 200 countries throughout the world.

The current formula still remains a trade secret.

Coca-Cola History in Two Minutes

© 2010 Peg Cole