“The first wealth is health,” wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson.
The days of childhood flew by without worries about physical health for the majority of us living in rural Appalachia. Our grandmothers and mothers practiced home remedies labeled Appalachian folk medicine. And doctor visits were rare. Nonetheless, my mother and her sisters gave birth at hospitals. Both of my grandmother’s were raised without their mothers. Women were more apt to die during childbirth in the former days.
Growing up in Scioto County, families worked, families played. Families socialized. Living paycheck to paycheck in those days put the focus on daily living, and less on health.
Laughter was medicine in those days. When the Cunningham siblings got together (Shirley, Judy, Betty, Jean, Harold, Dale) funny stories flowed. When the Cunningham cousins visited (Juyan, Jeannette, Bobbie) the fun doubled. When other cousins visited (Johnny, Daryl, Joyce) the fun tripled.
Work was medicine in those days. Manual labor exercised the body. Being outside in nature improved the mood and attitude. Sunrise brought activity and sunset brought rest. My grandma Lydia and her two daughters, Shirley and Judy, brought home the bacon and fried up in a pan.
Food was medicine in those days. Planting, hoeing, harvesting. Cooking, canning, baking. A freezer full of deer meat, beef, and pork. Using seeds, stems, flowers, leafs, herbs, vinegar, ginseng, roots, and bark. My Grandma Hila valued the land and what it produced.
Southern Folk Medicine: Healing Traditions from the Appalachian Fields and Forests is a book by Phyllis Light (publisher: North Atlantic, 2018). Light surmises, “Folk Medicine is defined as a system of medicinal beliefs, knowledge, and practices associated with a particular cultural or ethnic group.”
Strep (streptococcus, a bacterial infection in the throat and tonsils) visited me during the winters as a child and my grandma rubbed some kind of salve on my throat and pinned a sock around my neck. Vick’s Vapor Rub was dabbed on my chest and a piece of flannel material was pinned to my shirt. I drank homemade Sassafras tea and other boiled concoctions. My mother coaxed me to gargle with salt water. And I sucked on Horehound cough drops that tasted like a mixture of root beer and licorice. Horehound is an herb in the mint family. So health was important, but there were obstacles to healthcare in those days: lack of insurance, lack of money, and lack of doctors.
“Health is Wealth” is a popular saying that refers to the importance of health. As individuals in the twenty-first century, we tend to value health as one of the most important assets. Ill-health reduces one’s quality of life and well-being.
During our youth, we often take health for granted. We are busy living life: employment, college, marriage, children, vacations, and everything else we do in-between birth and death.
Preachers are trying to save sinners. Social workers are trying to save humanity. Doctors are trying to save human lives. And Wall Street chases the almighty dollar. Mahatma Gandhi proclaimed, “It is health that is real wealth and not pieces of gold and silver.”
As we age, the realization that health is of utmost significance either hits us in the face or gradually creeps into consciousness. Heart disease, cancer, diabetes. We finally understand that we only have one body.
My mother was a hardy pioneer woman of rural Appalachia. She survived colon cancer, but her health declined after a botched knee surgery was not properly corrected or treated. Shirley Cunningham Martin, 79, passed away in 2017.
Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO, died in 2011 at age 56 after the spread of a pancreatic neuroendocrine tumor which resulted in respiratory arrest.
Health is wealth, but sometimes wealth cannot save health.
Reach:Melissa Martin, Ph.D, is an author, columnist, educator, and therapist. She lives in Scioto County. www.melissamartinchildrensauthor.com. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.