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Grandmother/Grandfather Wisdom: Stories from the Farm

How is it that, for the most part, women have taken on the role of healer in families? What are your doctor mom or doctor dad stories that have been handed down?

One generation to the next, the oral tradition of what to use to ease a cough, heal a sore throat, treat a fever, calm an itchy rash, or settle an upset stomach has somehow been lost within the family. I learned from my mom who learned from her mother who learned from her mother how to deal with illness, including infectious illnesses like measles, mumps, rubella, chicken pox… You name it, there was a way to help support your kids to heal! Even hepatitis, which we knew as yellow jaundice — we all had it, all at the same time.

Back then, time and home care was sufficient. With some TLC (tender loving care or timeless loving care) and menthol rubs, calamine lotion, iodine gargles, carbolic salve, milk of magnesia, or ipecac came special food…puddings, soft boiled eggs, toast. I wonder sometimes how our childhood illnesses might have been different had my mother, grandmother, or great-grandmother known about homeopathy.

What has stayed with me over the years was the TLC more than the home remedies. This was often all that was needed to reassure me that I would be OK…a soothing, cool hand on a feverish head, the scent of my mom or dad nearby, time to just sit and be…powerful medicine.


What I am discovering today is that young parents are networking on Facebook, sharing tips, resources, remedies, and they are creating their own repository of healthy ways of eating and healing. Amazing and wonderful!

But it is our connection to the past that also holds important healing. Knowing the family stories, the ‘what was it like for you, Gramma?’ stories are healing. They complete a circle of knowing and being known. More mystery than medicine but also a kind of medicine…family medicine. Funny how that term has a different connotation in the conventional medical world…family medicine where you are rushed through your appointment, left in waiting rooms, leaving you wondering ‘what is family about this office visit?’ Visiting, telling stories, and healing all take time and require being in present moment. This is what the meaning of family medicine can be…if we take the time.

So today, here is a story that my mom wrote for her grandson Matt who asked her, ‘What was it like growing up on the farm?’ My mom has written the stories for us and collectively, they are a legacy that will be cherished for future generations.


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“It was just a creek that ran thru’ the farm yard quiet and peaceful, going three directions nowhere in particular. It had no name just ‘the creek.’ Sort of like the barn cats being called ‘kitty’ or ‘the orange one.’ It was great for us as kids, three brothers and myself. We swam in the summer and skated for many miles in the winter. Even the people from town came out on the hot days to get a reprieve from the heat. They must have been desperate to cool off. Not just because I had a sense our creek was no more than an over-sized stream but the fact they had to share the water with many an animal…cows in particular. Today we wouldn’t dream of that kind of intimacy with our swimming pools…well, maybe the odd dog or two.

Dad built us a huge raft that made it easy to get from one side of the creek to the other. I really don’t know why we wanted so badly to get over there but I guess it was just a destination. My rafting career on the creek was short and sweet. Brothers being brothers did what any self-respecting tormentor would do and took pleasure in making sure I could swim. Drowning was not what they had in mind so when they saw I wasn’t doing too well with the swimming thing, they rescued me. That fear of drowning has never left me and the joy of being on a raft was sorely spoiled after that. Thank goodness it never affects my pleasure of being near water when safety isn’t an issue.

The spring of the year proved to be quite different from the winter and summer laziness of a slow-moving body of water. The run-off of the snow-covered fields swelled the creek to overflowing its banks, taking out bridges and fence posts with reckless abandon. When the bridge went out, we had to resort to horse and wagon to get us over the fast-moving water and ice-flows. We always hoped it would be an opportunity and a good legitimate excuse to stay home from school. It just never happened that way. Somehow that is something that hasn’t changed over the years with parents.

For me, in the childhood and youth it was a refuge when there was turmoil in the home, which was a fairly frequent occurrence. But even on the good days when the sun was scorching hot, I’d find a cool, shady bank and just bask in the scents and smells that surrounded me. The mint near the water’s edge was so green and fragrant. It seemed the mud even oozed the minty smell. Buttercups were almost as profuse as the mint but so much more delicate and delightful. If I sat still enough the odd slender frog or a warty toad would join me. I was never alone there and it was there I felt the world was okay. What a small little space I occupied and yet it was the world to me. I daydreamed and watched the clouds overhead change shape morphing into a new creature as they sped across the sky. How simple life was there. Sometimes I long for that feeling of simple solitude…of childhood reverie. The world stood still and together we listened in silence.”

~ Gramma Betty Sanguin
Family historian, writer, and storyteller, belly-laugher and healer

Thanks Ma! Love you!

Grateful to be able to share a generation of stories,


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