Summer Complaints. The first I heard that term was about annual summer visitors to the coastal communities of Maine. But, the name had an earlier etymology on the coast. Older residents could speak authoritatively of spring complaints, fevers, chills, and illnesses that came on with the change of the season in the spring. Once upon a time, every grannie would have had a specially concocted mixture of herbs and secret ingredients that everyone in the family would be forced to consume, along with the Cod Liver Oil that was a medicinal standard. A spring tonic.
The Cap’n insisted that most of these foul-tasting concoctions made you automatically feel better once you couldn’t taste them any longer.

I left it at that until I came down with a cold that would not go away. The doctor over town said it was viral, and I’d have to put up with it. The Cap’ns wife Cora insisted that I have regular doses of Castor Oil and Cod Liver Oil. The Cap’n stood in the other room as Cora attempted to coax me into taking the Caster Oil. He seemed to be miming, ” you’ll be sorry.” Not too long after that, I learned that a critical ingredient in most grannie cures seemed to be stimulating the lower bowel. I nixed the Castor Oil after that.
The Cap’n was concerned because I was not perky enough to hold up my end of the work on the 34-foot ketch we sailed. He returned home that evening with a quart of dark brown liquid. Taking me aside, he insisted that I take half a glass of it every night before going to sleep, and swallow it down in one go. I secreted the bottle among the varnish, shellac, and other finishes in the workshop.
That night I went out to the shop and poured myself a half glass; how much worse could it be than Cora’s remedy? No sooner had I swallowed it down than I was re-enacting the scene from the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde movies where the doctor transforms with great agony. I did get a decent night’s sleep, however.
The next day I asked the Cap’n bout the strange elixir he had provided. “I got it from Walter Gray, over to the Fisherman’s Coop. He says it’s Demerara rum, fresh ginger, some herbs, and being he’s a marlinspike guy I wouldn’t doubt if it had a bit of Stockholm Tar in it too. He said for you not to use it longer than five days; might hurt your liver.” Might hurt my liver? “Don’t worry; you’ll be fine in three days.”
I was fine in three days. The doctor over town told me that the cold had just run its course. Cora insisted that Cod Liver Oil and Castor Oil had set be right. The Cap’n just smiled at me and collected the empty quart for return to Walter. If you can choose your elixirs, you should choose wisely.


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