I can still see it. Actually, I’d hear it before I ever caught sight of it. I’d hear Otto screaming, “NO! No Mary!! NO!”, just in time to look out the window and see Mary chasing her stepson, Otto. It was like a choreographed dance. Otto would zig, and Mary would zag. Otto’s short stumpy legs making choppy stabs here and there, and Mary’s longer, but older, legs keeping step for the most part.
Sometimes the one being chased was Otto’s sister, Anita. Sometimes it would be in their yard across the alley, or down the alley toward the Carter’s. Once they even sprinted through our backyard. On too many occasions Mary would have something in her hand; a shoe, a belt, and one time it was a bright yellow piece of a Hot Wheels™ track.
There were others who laughed. I remember being confused. While it looked cruel and totally unnecessary; I would notice what looked like a smile on Otto or Anita’s face. They looked as if they enjoyed the dance. As if they were amused at making Mary work so hard. Because it seemed to occur like clockwork, I admit there were times I heard the ruckus and didn’t even get up to see the show.
One evening while playing with Otto and Anita, Mary called them in. Not too long after I heard the beginnings of a commotion. I asked, “What’s wrong?” Valerie, Otto and Anita’s older sister, said in a dry voice, “Casterol.” When she saw the confusion on my face she continued, “Mary makes us take Casterol once a month, so we don’t get sick. But it’s the Casterol that makes us sick.” Seeing that most of the chase was happening inside the house this time, I left them to it.
When I got home, I asked my mother, “What’s Casterol?” Needing some context clues, I repeated what Valerie said. “Oh! Castor oil!” my mother exclaimed. She then went on to say that it was something held over from slavery time and called it a “County Home Remedy.” So, why am I thinking about this today? It’s because I am reeling from the aftereffects of a Saltwater Flush. I’m attempting to cleanse my body of toxins that want to setup camp and cause problems.
You may have thought this was a story about my dysfunctional childhood neighbors. No, this is me wondering aloud, “If we had continued with those ‘County Home Remedies’, would we be in the shape we’re in now?” Given the decline in the nutritional value of modern food, the increase in the use of white sugar and sugar by-products, and the number of environmental pollutants; would we be better off if we had continued the monthly inconvenience of things like the Castor oil ritual?
It is remarkable that the “uneducated” enslaved African knew enough to eliminate the toxins they had ingested from the food scraps they ate. Coming from a long line of those dealing with food scarcity and food insecurity, some of us have in our family histories ways to cleanse and detox that we too may have dismissed as a “County Home Remedy.”
This is not my first attempt to right the wrongs of my diet and nutrition. I am blessed that I only suffer with a few illnesses. However, that blessing cannot be an excuse for inaction. Only those living under really big rocks can truthfully deny knowing there is an active move by those in powerful places to control food sources. Many of these same entities seek to keep communities dependent on sugar, dairy, and meats filled with antibiotics and growth hormones.
One thing that is more apparent on this leg of my journey, is how my pride has been the biggest deterrent to good health. I knew there were foods and habits that could reduce the risk of illness and did nothing. I am now able to clearly hear the message that we all are born with a propensity toward diseases such as cancer. Importantly, it is what we do in life that can tip the scale one way or another.
That monthly scene from my childhood was a ritual. At the age of nine, I chalked it up to the antics of a “mean step-mother.” While I don’t agree with Mary’s methods; I understand her reasons. Actually, given the resources and knowledge now at our disposal, we all can understand; maybe even more than Mary did.
(No real names were used.)
Originally published 12/2018. Revised 7/2022