Miracles of Medicine

Medicine always makes me feel better—especially when I don’t take it.

I have my Aunt Cliss—Great Aunt Cliss—to thank for that. Growing up we didn’t think she was so great. She didn’t seem to have patience for my sister or me. And so, we devised ways to annoy her. It was the 70’s; “Kill them with kindness” wasn’t popular yet.

For years my sister and I were convinced Aunt Cliss was a witch. Her long silver hair tightly wound in a bun or loosely hanging past her shoulders, her thin yet muscular body, the glasses she fretted over but seemed to be able to see perfectly fine without, her frequent unexplained long walks followed by a knack of returning at the wrong time, her disdain for everything ‘us’, and her medicines convinced us she was a witch.

Growing up, we spent a lot of time with our grandmother, and since she lived there, we spent a lot of time in the presence of Aunt Cliss.

If we were sick, Gran would make us wheat pancakes, scrambled eggs with cheese, and bacon. We would spend hours huddled under blankets reading, watching TV, laughing—when she was there.

When Gran was away at her apartment where she stayed during the week because of her job, there was Aunt Cliss.

As soon as one of us said we were sick—Aunt Cliss sprang in to action.

The clanging of cauldrons, shuffling of ingredients and boiling of water was quickly followed by the peeling of onions, rinsing of lemons, and pouring of syrups. Onions, lemon, corn syrup, honey and a pinch of what tasted then like spite but was probably humor: I will always remember it as a thick, bubbling, brown concoction with the sting of honey.
I’ve hated honey ever since.

She made her brew many times before she died in 1986. I only remember tasting it once. After that one spoonful I felt better—instantly. Today, when I’m sick I imagine the pungent aroma of onions and lemons and I feel better. A pound or so of peeled onions, scrubbed lemons, a jar of brown, thick, sweet liquid, a dash of humor and a vat of honey: A magical cure for imaginary ailments.


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