I woke today thinking of Griswold Salve. I have no idea if anyone else knows this remedy, but when I was a kid my father always kept some around for splinters, which I then and now often got because of my unwillingness to wear shoes and generally take heed.
In my family, my father was the nurturer, which might’ve seemed improbable if you met my parents–my mom, with her soft tones and sympathetic expression, my dad with his booming voice and imperviousness to external stimuli (aka poor listening skills). But when I got hurt, I cried for my daddy, not my mother. He was soothing and methodical. Loving in the most patient of ways.
I almost liked slivers because of Griswold Salve and how my father applied it. Fetched at Nonantum’s Fox Drugstore (is that still there?), the salve resembled a tiny Tootsie Roll, almost obdurate in its lack of apparent purpose. Googling it now I see its ingredients were beeswax, mutton tallow, cedar oil, and something called oil shale (ammonium bituminosulfonate) but I regarded it as tantalizingly alchemical, like pliable petrified wood. Nothing you buy in drugstores now, that’s for sure.
While I was still yelping over the shock of a foreign object jammed in my body, (it’s a wonder I later consented to contacts, let alone tampons, let alone phalluses), my father would disinfect tweezers and a needle and ceremoniously strap on a headlamp to extract whatever part of the splinter he immediately could. To remove the rest, he would light a match to the end of what I thought was called Grisley Sal (lots of mafia in our neighborhood). It smelled like nothing else–pencils and trees and honeycomb, what I associate even now with trustworthy men and benevolent mystery. Smearing a melted bit on a Bandaid, he’d bandage my wound while murmuring sjoosjoosjoosjoo, a sound he said could heal anything. I believed him, because within a few days, the rest of the splinter always emerged. Sometimes I’d even save it–a talisman of my father’s powers.
I don’t know why I woke thinking of Griswold Salve, my unlikely madeleine. It’s hard to believe such an old-timey remedy was regularly used in my childhood; long ago it was taken off the market for high lead content. Also hard to believe I ever so wholly trusted anyone with my ailments–with my body, in general. But on some level, isn’t that what we all crave? The practical magic of simple effective care.
My daddy’s care.