“Perhaps because of our storehouse of knowledge of home remedies, parents were remarkably complacent about all the injuries that were a routine part of the lives of free-range farm children — cuts from knives, stone bruises caused by bare feet on rocks, blood blisters, and all the bloody, oozing scrapes on knees, arms, elbows, and thighs.
When one of us kids received a scratch, cut, or puncture, we didn’t run to the house to be taken care of. Nobody would have been interested. We just went to the barn or the corncrib, found a spiderweb, and wrapped the stretchy filament around the wound. It stopped the bleeding and the pain, and was thought to have antiseptic qualities.
Generally, healing occurred without further attention. Skin has got to be one of God’s greatest creations.”
— Mildred Armstrong Kalish, “Little Heathens”
Running in bare feet for the first time in spring, we knew we had some toughening up to do. “The best thing to do is walk across the stones,” my big sister once advised me. “It’s gonna hurt, but it’s gonna help, too. Tomorrow or the next day you’ll be able to do it without making that stupid face.”
About a month ago, I watched our Amish neighbor kids walking across our farm to get to school. I was surprised to see that little brother Henry was along, so I walked out to say hello. “It’s the last day of school, so Henry gets to go along,” Lizzie told me. I commented on what a beautiful sunny morning it was, and the children nodded and smiled.
As I watched them walk on, I couldn’t help but notice they were in bare feet for the first time this year. When Henry reached our stone-covered lane, he began prancing, kicking his feet high. He then retreated to the grass for the rest of the walk down the long lane. I could put myself in his place precisely, remembering that feeling all too well. I look back on growing up on the farm, running barefoot so much of the time, and am amazed that no one was ever hurt beyond the typical skinned-up scrapes that make a childhood pretty typical.
Scrapes, cuts and bruises. One of the worst scrapes I remember came about from falling out of the corncrib, my arm tearing across a nail that was sticking out of the old wood where a slat would be placed when the thing was full. My older sisters looked out for me, and against my protests I was taken to the house for a splash of Mercurochrome from the medicine chest in the bathroom.
I remember saying through clenched teeth that putting that red stuff on my torn arm hurt worse than the injury had in the first place. To this day, I can recall the scent of that stuff. I was the only one in the family who ever had to have stitches, and that injury didn’t even happen on the farm.
We were at a family reunion, and two of my older boy cousins were throwing a basketball back and forth. Somehow, I was knocked down by the ball and landed on a pretty glass ornament, breaking it and running a piece of it in to my arm just below the elbow. I was a pre-schooler but still vaguely remember the event.
My great-grandpa Charlie insisted that I needed medical attention. I was his sidekick, and he looked after me with an adoring sweetness. Even though it was a Sunday, our family doctor met us at his office and stitched my wound. I still have the scar to prove it.
We were taught the simplest farm safety from a very young age. Never were shovels or a hoe to be left lying about where someone could injure themselves, and every nail pulled was to be accounted for before being disposed of properly. Animals were to be respected for the damage they could do in an instant. I have come to realize my parents worried endlessly about one of us getting hurt.
The olden days of farm injuries, Grandpa Charlie told me, offered only basic remedies. A farmer knew to keep peroxide and tincture of iodine around, and sometimes a chaw of tobacco applied to a deep cut was thought to help draw poisons from the wound. Some people swore by a shot of whiskey when all else failed to heal.
My dad’s other grandfather used his family’s old world recipe to produce “Young’s Wonderful Salve” which he sold through various establishments. People could not afford to go to a doctor for every little malady, and spending 25 cents on a possible “cure” was worth a try.
We still have a few of these little round containers of the concoction, and to this day it often works far better than anything we have tried on cuts, tears, bites, even diabetic ulcerations. It stinks to high heaven, but, boy does it work!