Alma and the almighty Eggshell

My paternal grandmother was named Alma.  A comfortingly plump woman with thinning baby-blond hair and large pink-rimmed glasses on a gold chain, she cooked everything with Crisco, never used a sponge (only dishrags), and I never saw her wear anything other than a house dress, pantyhose, and giant fake pearl clip-on earrings.  Her favorite term of endearment was “Louse Poop,” and whenever she wasn’t really following a conversation, she would sigh, “yeah, right…” as though she had never heard the phrase spoken with a sarcastic tone.

This woman left her parents at age 14 to be a domestic servant, then to teach in a one-room schoolhouse on the prairie, and she taught me how to “puss” my soup if it was too hot.  I didn’t find out “puss” wasn’t a real English verb meaning “to blow on something to cool it” until I was about 20.  (It means “kiss” in Swedish.)  I never heard my grandmother talk about religion, or saw her go to church.  The regular weekend routine usually just involved bacon, eggs scrambled with milk and sausage, and bourbon highballs at 4:30 p.m.

Alma was also the queen of outlandish home remedies.  Have athlete’s foot?  Go walk in the dewy grass at sunrise.  Got a stye?  Rub a gold wedding band on wool and hold that on your eye.  My dad always laughed when these cures came up in conversation, but secretly I believed in, and desperately wanted to know them all.  Heartbreakingly, I never got the chance to sit down and talk to her about them.

So over the last several years, I have made many futile attempts to find examples of other remedies like Alma’s, and to figure out where they come from.  Earlier in the summer I renewed my search again, and this time, finally, I had tremendous luck.

By grace, I stumbled upon UCLA’s archive of folk medicine.  Not only did it contain variants of Alma’s foot-dew and wedding ring eye cures, but I was able, for the first time, to shed some light on one of her more confounding suggestions — putting an eggshell over a bleeding nose.  I entered a few search terms in their database, and came up with the following:

“If one’s nose bleeds and will not stop bleeding, take an egg shell and let three drops of blood fall in it and throw into the fire, thereupon the bleeding will stop.”

I stared at this prescription for hours.  I found myself completely fascinated by the symbolism and ritual of the cure.  And on top of that, I was transfixed by the source.

Ethnicity Of Origin Pennsylvania German

Now, as far as I knew, Alma’s heritage was a mixture of German and Swedish, and the all-American who-knows-what.  In a recent endeavor to uncover my family history, I’d confirmed a rumor that my mother’s mother’s line was Pennsylvania Dutch — we landed in PA in 1732 and camped there for a good hundred years before moving west toward Ohio and Iowa.  This had elicited a good deal of excitement on my end, as I’d just recently learned about the Pennsylvania Dutch folk-magic tradition known as Pow Wow or Braucherei.  Now I learn that I may have some Pennsylvania Dutch folk traditions on my father’s side as well!

I immediately went out and hunted down used copies of some massive collections of Midwestern folk beliefs listed as sources by UCLA, and have been perusing them with glee ever since they arrived.  In case someone else out there is looking for long lost remedies or simply carries a torch for some old-time superstition, I’d like to share some of these  curious remnants every now and again.  To start us off, I bring to you now a collection of folk wisdom regarding Alma’s favorite coagulator: the eggshell.

  1. To cure boils, eat eggshells.
  2. [But…] If you handle too many egg shells, you will get warts.
  3. After you eat an egg, crush the shells to avoid harm or bad luck.
  4. To protect against caterpillars, scatter about your cabbage bed shells of eggs blessed for the Easter feast.
  5. Chickens will lay if fed ground eggshells.
  6. [Not just for chickens…] Keeping eggshells will cause fertility.
  7. [Alternately…] Keeping eggshells will ward off fire.
  8. For epilepsy, use eggshell tea.
  9. To dream about broken eggshells means gossip.
  10. In order to be assured that a cake will rise, put the eggshells in the cupboard until the cake is baked.
  11. If you make a wish on the first Easter egg you break and put the shells under the pillow at night, your wish will come true.
  12. Eggshells burned during a thunderstorm will protect the house against lightning.
  13. Crush eggshells before throwing them away, or the witches may use them for boats.

Hm… sounds to me like kind of a cozy way to travel!  Or as Alma would say, “Absolutely elegant!”  Until next time…

Love,
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6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Goggles and Lace
    Sep 08, 2010 @ 01:48:31

    Sounds like a hell of a woman! I wish I knew some old folk remedies from my family. Maybe I’ll investigate.

    Reply

  2. arrowclaire
    Sep 08, 2010 @ 19:20:32

    She was surprisingly subtle in life, but in retrospect all of the fiery eccentricities stand out! I definitely encourage the folk remedy search; it’s a lot of fun. If your family was in the U.S., try searching for a state or ethnicity here:
    http://www.folkmed.ucla.edu/advanced.html

    Best of luck!

    Reply

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  5. newworldwitchery
    Nov 09, 2011 @ 12:23:28

    What an awesome post! I know it’s an older one, but it really is full of excellent folk lore and remedies. Very cool stuff, Claire!
    -Cory

    Reply

    • arrowclaire
      Nov 09, 2011 @ 20:21:45

      Why, thank you kindly! High praise coming from you, Mr. Cory! Adored your All Hallow’s Read, by the way. Brilliant stuff. Thanks for that!

      Reply

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