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Monday, 08 November 2010

It’s Good For You

By Madonna Dries Christensen of On Worlud Pond

When I was growing up in the 1940s, there were three words that struck fear into the hearts of children everywhere: Cod. Liver. Oil. Those who are familiar with this elixir know what I mean. For those who were lucky enough to escape cod liver oil, get down on your knees right now and give thanks.

Cod liver oil is simply what the name implies; there are no hidden ingredients. It’s an oil extracted from the liver of codfish, rich in vitamins A and D.

In my youth, mothers believed that a daily dose of cod liver oil would ward off, cure or lessen the severity of, colds, colic, headaches, warts, boils, mumps, scarlet fever, measles, chicken pox, whooping cough, polio, dandruff, bed-wetting, head lice or anything else that ailed you.

“It’s good for you,” Ma advised as she poured the liquefied fish into a spoon. We kids dropped what we were doing and scattered in all directions.

“You can take some sugar or orange juice with it,” Ma said, trying to persuade us to come out of the locked bathroom.

“It’s the smell that’s so bad, not the taste,” she tried as Poppy pulled one of us feet first from under the bed. “You won't taste it if you hold your nose.”

Lies, lies, lies. Nothing disguised the taste. Think of the vilest thing you have ever tasted. Cod liver oil is a zillion times worse. Have you ever eaten lutefisk? It’s made from cod and lutefisk is really, really bad stuff. But that’s another story.

It didn’t help to gulp the oil down fast — well, you really couldn’t. The grease coated your tongue, teeth and throat like a thick layer of glue and clung there all day.

We tried this ploy: “There’s no use making me take it; I’ll just throw it up.”

Ma replied, “If you do, I’ll give you another dose until you keep it down.” And she would. It was probably better to take it once and be done with it.

I have a hazy memory of standing in line at school, in Iowa, to receive a spoonful of cod liver oil. Maybe it was a dream; I can't believe they could have made children do that — lambs to the slaughter, so to speak. I need verification from someone who remembers that this actually happened.

Imagine teachers saying, “Boys and girls, right after the Pledge of Allegiance the school nurse will be here to give us our cod liver oil so we'll stay nice and healthy.” They would have had a mutiny on their hands, even in those days when children were seen more often than heard.

I recently checked the shelves at the drugstore. Cod liver oil now comes in capsules but it also still comes in liquid form, in regular and mint flavor. Mint flavor? Mint flavor? Who do they think they’re kidding? And if a person had to take cod liver oil, for some life-threatening disease, why not the capsule rather than the liquid?

The bottle carries a warning: Keep this preparation out of the reach of children.

Sure — now when it’s too late for me.

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Instructions for submitting are here.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


Great story! I barely missed the cod liver oil era but had to take iron at one point in my childhood. I still remember that taste, like licking a pole.

This is wonderful! I love well written, humorous stories. Thanks!

My mother felt about enemas the way yours felt about cod-liver oil.

you know,it's funny, my mother got the same treatment. Except she LOVED her cod liver oil. how about that?

I bought some a few years back, thinking it would be a good supplement, but I only got one teaspoon down... and wasted the rest of the bottle. My cats wouldn't even eat it.

!!! Oh My God!!! We are the generations that defined trauma, I think! What a funny and well told story rife with sad truth! I found myself recoiling from the screen as you related your repulsion with such fervor. You are a wonderful storyteller.

It is important that history understands the lengths parents would go to ensure their children were safe from disease. My Grandmother was in the daily BM camp and I was often pursued with the indignity of an enema contraption or a bottle of Milk of Magnesia. How many kids huddled in hiding from what was supposed to be "good for us"? Thank you for sharing this!

I loved this story. In my mind's eye, there were Alfalfa and Spanky, looking so worried and skeptical, imagining the grease and the tongue and the glue in the gullet. EEEeeeeekkkk.

Good grief! This wonderful piece opened up 'Pandora's Box'.

Cod Liver Oil, Castor Oil, little green disgusting iron pills, stinging iodine laced on my open cuts and wounds. AND, being led around town to drink out of the same glass as those with Measles, Mumps, and Chicken Pox, so that I could be made sick. - Sandy

Oh, you brought back terrible memories of fighting with my mother when she decideed a dose of cod liver oil would cure whatever I had. I would cry, beg, try to knock the spoon out of her hand. Nothing worked. She was bigger than I and was determined. I can still smell and taste that odious oil to this day.

My only consolation was that I made the experience nearly as bad for my mother as it was for me. She ended up totally drained after finally getting the vile liquid down my throat.

Thanks for making the torture we children endured funny.

Thanks for all the comments. I had fun writing that piece.
Today, I take fish oil capsules. Tasteless, but I know the vile stuff lurks inside.

Great story! A comment, not on the cod liver oil, but on the title. I've always said my mother was psychologically incapable of passing a platter of fig newtons around without saying "They're good for you!"

My mother gave me cod liver oil by putting Coke in a shot glass and "floating" the cod liver oil on top. I only remember tasting the soda, so it must have worked.

Now, why did my tea-totaling parents have shot glasses....

Thanks, Madonna. I feel better this morning just thinking about having outgrown what's "good for me."

One of best pieces I've seen on this subject in my life, also a l94l person..what a yucky feeling in your mouth..there are lots of studies going on now about how healthy our generation will be compared to our parents and our children because of such things as taking cod liver oil, something we all avoided like the plague with our own children..we sure did live in the time of eat this, drink this, do this, it's good for you...great piece...thank you...Mary Follett

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