I Remember When . . . .
Great Stories about growing up in the Horntown, Oklahoma area!

Back
 

The Medicine Man

     Few people around Holdenville had ever seen a car like this one. A thirty-nine ford coupe, black and shiny. It had matching fender skirts and an add-on sun visor over the windshield. The wide white walls did not have a stain on them anywhere. People who looked in the window could see the fancy, leather steering wheel cover. And everyone knew it belonged to someone important because it was parked right by the front
door to the Hughes County sale barn. Everyone else had to park in the designated parking area.
     The Saturday sale was a big event in Holdenville in the early forties. It provided a rare payday for some and new beginnings for others. Some came just to watch the excitement.
     The miscellaneous sale started at 10:00 a.m. followed by the horses and then the hogs. The cattle sale usually started about noon. Except today. Today there was to be a special event. I was on the front row with my father. We would sell Brownie's heifer calf today. Brownie was the family's favorite milk cow. She was a big brown jersey that had been in our family longer than I had. She was a gentle and wonderful member of our family. The calf had her mama's big jersey eyes and the broad, beefy body of Elmer Lankford's Hereford bull. But there would be a delay.
     The owners of the ford coupe came into the ring and began getting ready. They ignored the hog and horse manure and set up a folding table. The lady brought in several cases of something and placed them on the table.
     The stands were packed full with everyone shouting to be heard above the noise of the crowd. When the man and the lady were satisfied that they had everything ready, he stepped to the center of the sale ring and raised his hands. A hush came over the crowd. He continued to stand with his hands raised. From the crowd of a hundred or so people, there was not a sound. The man was skilled and let the anticipation grow Finally, he began. He told us how fortunate we were to be among the first people to ever have access to a new wonder drug that would become the most important medicine of the twentieth century. It was, he said, invented by the famous Dr. . . 'somebody' from. . . somewhere. No one in the crowd had ever heard of the famous Doctor. It didn't matter. We knew that all famous people lived somewhere other than Hughes county. And it would, he continued, bring relief to generations to come.
     He described back pain, arthritis, neuritis, neuralgia, lumbago and other maladies that I had never heard of. He promised that this new formula would bring relief to all who suffered pain of any kind. And for this one day only, and to the good people at the Hughes county sale only, this miracle medicine would be offered this one time for only fifty cents per bottle.
     Then pandemonium broke out. The man, who only moments before had introduced this medicine with such dignity was now screaming at the crowd, as was his lady friend. They were passing bottles up through the crowd and quarters and half dollars were being passed down through the crowd. "Up second row from the top", he would yell, and would start a bottle up that way. He threw bottles to waiting hands to hurry the process. Someone near us bought a bottle. I was only six or seven years old and didn't know about such things, but it looked just like mother's vanilla extract to me.
     When the demand seemed to be satisfied and there were no more hands beckoning for the medicine, the man again went to the center of the ring and raised his hands. The crowd again became quiet. During the testing of this new medicine, he said, it was determined that this wonderful new product had an unexpected benefit that would change the life of all who took it for an extended period of time. Those who took it regularly for a year or more, noticed that their skin became smoother, their muscle tone better and their stamina improved. He walked closer to the crowd, his voice became serious. He seemed to be sharing a secret with us when he said, "In fact, those who took it for a long period of time actually had the aging process reversed."
     In a moment, the sale was on again. The screaming, yelling and passing of medicine and money resumed. Quarters flowed down to the ring like a waterfall.
     But finally the market was again saturated and the action subsided. The medicine man was down to two or three bottles anyway. He instructed the lady to go out to the car and bring more. While she was gone, he again shared great news with the crowd. He began by describing how exciting and wonderful life is for all couples when they first get married. His expression then became sad as, with great empathy, he told of how the years of child bearing and work take a toll on us all. He described in almost embarrassing detail the effects of this wear and tear upon this glorious state of matrimony. But, he said, almost triumphantly, one of the most important benefits of this new medicine was that it would restore excitement and joy to ninety-five out of a hundred marriages.
     He wasn't quite finished with his new pitch before people started raising their hands and yelling for the medicine. The lady opened the new case as fast as she could and the man was throwing bottles to outstretched hands in the stands. Money rained down from the bleacher type seats. People who had earlier bought a bottle, now bought two or three more.
     Three men sitting just above and behind us opened a bottle and were sampling it. The first man thought it tasted a bit like cough medicine. The second man thought it tasted a little like whisky. The third man agreed with both of them. He said it tasted a little like cough medicine and a lot like whisky.
     The last case of bottles was quickly sold. The man pushed the lady toward the door and told her to get more in a hurry. The crowd was excited and in a mood to buy and he did not want them to cool off. To keep everyone occupied while she was gone, he reached behind the table and took up a guitar. He would, he said, sing a song called, "I Want My Rib". He explained how the good book said that woman was made from the rib of man and that there was this man who was always tormented by the question of just which woman was made from his rib. He sang of the man's search for his rib. He came to a verse where a woman accused him of searching where there "Wasn't any rib".
     Some in the crowd laughed but most of this very conservative Christian crowd were shocked. Two men immediately came to my father and asked, "Brother Jack, what are we going to do about this?"
     Dad suggested that they should discuss this with Gladny Cummins, the owner of the sale barn. Dad left me to hold the seats and the three of them slowly made their way through the crowd. Mr. Cummin's office was immediately behind the auctioneer's box. They met Mr. Cummins coming out of the office and began to discuss the matter just as the lady returned with another case of medicine. She heard their conversation. She seemed frightened and concerned as she reentered the ring. She quickly whispered into the man's ear. He asked a question or two and she seemed to repeat her concerns, more urgent this time..
     In thirty seconds, he had folded the table and slung his guitar on his back. She followed him out the ring gate.
     The crowd waited for a while before becoming impatient. There were people who still wanted to buy more medicine. Finally, someone went to see what was keeping the medicine man. Shortly he returned and shouted, loud enough for all to hear.
     "They done gone!"
     "They what?" asked several people from the crowd.
     "Yeah, they headed out toward Horntown goin' forty miles an hour."
     Now, "forty miles an hour" in those days was an expression that equates with today's "mach ll" or "warp speed".
     It would be easy to judge that crowd harshly, to think them dumb. I don't. I knew many in that crowd and they were some of the best people I have ever known.
     Dumb? No.
     Vulnerable? Yes. You have to understand what life was like after the depression and during the war on up through the forties. Life was hard. Families lived in small houses without utilities. Work was so hard that many people died of worn out bodies. Pains described by the medicine man were common. It is natural to long for a better life, free of pain. Vulnerability is a product of two components, need and hope. Dire needs can bring imprudent hope. And such hope brings vulnerability. But without such hope there would be little effort and progress. There would be few victories. And those people, whom some would call dumb, brought
us a long way in one generation.
     And for a little while on that Saturday in Holdenville, people stared into that vanilla colored liquid and hoped for the end of back ache, exhaustion and the loss of spirit. They had hope. And it would come from that little bottle of miracle medicine, that magic elixir that tasted a little like cough medicine. . . and a lot like whisky.
     P.S. Brownie's calf weighed five hundred pounds and brought forty dollars.
Clayton Adair, Class of 1954 (Clayton attended Moss 1942-53 and graduated from Holdenville - 1954)

Back    Top