A Breath of Fresh Air

Although I am almost 60 now, I can still clearly remember an evening in the Iowa wintertime when I was in my formative years.

I had come down with a nasty chest cold and was lying in bed, sniffling and coughing and feeling sorry for myself. Mother came into my room, as she had done many times before when I was sick, carrying a tray containing a bottle of thick black cough syrup, a huge jar of Vicks Vaporub, a jar of her Ponds cold cream, a tablespoon, and a stack of flannel cloth rags with safety pins on top.

I didn’t want any part of that treatment that night and told her so. Well, she was surprised to hear me talk like that, but said that I was sick, and the Vicks would make me feel better. I had never really talked back to my Mother before, but that night I foolishly decided to really rebel. I was actually yelling, between coughs, that the stuff was old-fashioned and stunk and didn’t do any good at all. I finished my tirade with the loud declaration that I wasn’t going to take any of it, and she must really be stupid for still wanting to use it.

She didn’t say anything – she just set the tray down on the nightstand and pulled my covers down. I’m still not sure how she did it but I was suddenly grabbed by the arm and in an instant, she was sitting on the bed and I was draped over her lap.

Spanking was not a frequent occurrence at our house, so I was surprised and terribly embarrassed when she started to spank my bottom with her hand. I was sobbing and crying long before she was finished. I think her arm got tired before her anger abated enough to stop.

I crawled back into bed, still sobbing. She quietly informed me that she was now going to take care of my cold and that if I talked back to her again, she was going to get a strap and put me back in diapers. I was not dumb, so I said absolutely nothing. The only sounds coming from me were the tremulous sobs of a child who had not yet achieved the level of maturity that he thought he had.

Before she was finished, I had quietly consumed two tablespoons full of the thick, bitter syrup and been smeared with very thick layers of Vicks on my chest, neck, and back. They were then covered with the flannel rags and pinned to my pajamas.

The final indignity was having my face covered with her terribly feminine cold cream. (Vicks sometimes seemed to make my face rashy.) Her last act before tucking me in and saying goodnight was to put some Vicks in a vaporizer near my bedside and plug it in. I was left with a very sore bottom, a badly bruised ego, and a hissing machine that was rapidly replacing all the oxygen in the room with menthol fumes.

The treatment (less the spanking) was repeated three times the next day and on several other occasions of illness. Each time thereafter, the treatment was accepted without any negative comments from me. As I said, I wasn’t dumb!