Wednesday, April 4, 2012

vinegar and brown paper

… my brother came to me in a dream early yesterday morning, so to speak, and without speaking.

i arrived into the dream in a panic, racing into his bedroom in the last house we ever all lived in as a family, before he (the oldest) turned 18 and moved away.

on his bed, i picked up a leather-bound book/binder, which was also wrapped in brown paper, and had a long wire coming out of it.

the strange package in my hand, i ran from the room, crying out, “i found it, i found it! i found the bomb,” but as i ran from the room, and out of the house, a barn exploded in the distance, a giant fireball threatened the surroundings.

it was too late.

i woke with a lurch. it hurt to breathe.

the leather-bound book i had found, in my dream, wrapped in brown paper, on the bed in my brother’s old bedroom, the book was mine.

it was/is this leather-bound binder organizer thing that i had purchased in the 90s, something i used to carry back and forth to work.

it held calendar pages and phone numbers, baby-sitting schedules, addresses, bits of paper, business cards and snags of thought, tiny keepsakes, a bookmark and photos.

in the family, we called it “the black book,” and it was known for its “power” at saving the world, well practically—but for many an emergency, or need for a number or … the answer or the number or a card stating same, could always be found in that book.

i don’t carry it around much any longer. the more and more i’ve worked at home, it has remained on my desk, or under my desk or under a pile of papers. every now and then i pull it out and update addresses or phone numbers, shove in more cards and bits of info that might be needed in “some emergency.”

and early yesterday morning, in my dream, that book, “the black book,” appeared to be the next bomb to go off, but i was going to stop it!

when i grabbed that crazy brown paper-wrapped binder off my brother’s bed, in his room of our yesteryears, i had the power to affect change. i could right and rewrite the world as we know it!

but it didn’t work.

it was just a black book, with a wire coming out of it, wrapped in vinegar and brown paper.

whatever bomb i thought it contained, that could go off at any minute, didn’t matter because a bigger explosion had already occurred.

it was too late; it is too late.

i get that, but i’m taken aback at how flamba-flabbergasted my guts become when i learn it all over again, on a Wednesday bright-sunshine of a morning, over a year later.

i get that he’s gone and there are no real answers… won’t ever be, but a girl can dream.

art print: jack & jill by maria kirk

Each way to suicide is its own: intensely private, unknowable, and terrible. Suicide will have seemed to its perpetrator the last and best of bad possibilities, and any attempt by the living to chart this final terrain of life can be only a sketch, maddeningly incomplete.
— Kay Redfield Jamison (Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide)

... So was vinegar and brown paper really a treatment for head injuries, and would Jack have survived with this remedy?


You may know that part of the famous nursery rhyme of Jack and Jill which goes, mend his head with vinegar and brown paper.

This does indeed refer to the use of vinegar and brown paper for the treatment of wounds, bruises and other injuries. It is a very old remedy which is still used today for swelling and bruising, or headaches.

The brown paper used in 18th and 19th centuries was made of old rope, canvas and other sacking, and could be very coarse, but it was found to be useful when applying a substance to the skin. Cider vinegar, meanwhile, has been used in medicine for hundreds of years.

For bruises, one method was to take six or seven sheets of brown paper and soak them in a saucepan containing vinegar. The vinegar was heated and allowed to simmer making sure the paper did not break up. The paper was then applied in layers over the affected area. Often secured in place with a cloth or rag.

Chambers Encyclopaedia of 1868 recommended that "the heat and pain commonly experienced in sprains are often relieved by the local application of brown paper soaked in diluted vinegar and changed when the feeling of heat returns."

Sometimes it was used for nose bleeds, and a letter to The Cottager's Monthly Visitor (1849) suggested it helped with toothache: "Steep a piece of the coarsest brown paper you can procure in some cold vinegar. Apply it to the face before bed time and tie a handkerchief over the same I have known great benefit to arise from this application."

In Nicholas Nickleby, Dickens has Squeers recovering from heavy bruising which required "Vinegar and brown paper, vinegar and brown paper, from morning to night. I suppose there was a matter of half a ream of brown paper stuck upon me from first to last."

Other substances placed on brown paper included honey for sprains, and tar for pains in the chest.