Bedbugs and Lice Were Common

Originally published in The Perkins Journal on June 28, 1984.

By Zola Sample

It is a wonderful modern world we live in today. And everyone should appreciate it. For in my young days we didn’t have a repellent against bedbugs, mosquitos, fleas, chiggers or ticks, and nothing for wasps and hornets.

Bedbugs thrived in new lumber, even lived on one another and most people one time or another experienced trying to deal with them. And lice was another menace among the early day school children.

Home remedies were thought up to try and give some relief. Baking soda played a big deal for stings. Salty grease was another remedy for chiggers, sore toes, etc. Coal oil was used by many to get rid of bed bugs.

After a few nights of sleepless slumber the war was on against Mr. and Mrs. Bedbug, and I don’t mean maybe in our household. Mother would be running wild with a jug of coal oil, or small can with paint brush after a thorough cleaning of all bed coverings that had been washed in lye water and sunned. The straw tick was emptied and new straw replaced.

The room had to be scrubbed with lye water. The bed posts were later set in pans of coal oil so if any stray bugs ventured within a mile of the post he would drown or suffocate. It was a job well organized.

Her remedy spread among surrounding neighbors.

Fine combs sold well in that day for they were needed after a thorough cleaning of the hair and scalp with hog lard in the case of lice. Every child in the family got a head wash with lye soap, a disinfectant that was often used to combat most all ills.
Then the long process of checking long-haired children … girls in that day for nits and any other varmit that might have gotten lost in the skirmish. I sat behind a teenage girl in school when I was about eight and saw lice playing tit-tat in her hair at the part. When I returned home that night to relate what went on in school, my mother took me for a complete physical and reported it to the teacher. The girl happened to be the daughter of the teacher. How about that?

The seven year itch (Ed. note: scabies) was another menace in that day. When I was teaching at Mannford I happened to get it. I went to old Dr. Wheeler. I thought I was disgraced for life. He provided me with medication. He said, “It is no disgrace to catch it, but it is if you keep it.” I was soon relieved of the itch, thank goodness.

Today there are all kinds of sprays to protect us. There are sprays for luxury such as hair spray, deodorant, wet or dry, room freshener and nasal spray. Raid does everything including fleas, spiders, ticks, mosquitos, hornets, wasps and even bumblebees.

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