“Stir the Bubbles Out”

Two weeks ago, my kids were sick, which isn’t in itself terribly interesting. But it was the first week-long illness of their lives, and their first full week out of school. And that meant it was also my first extended period playing the nurse version of mom.

When instinct kicked in, I administered Ginger Ale with the bubbles stirred out and put on The Price is Right–because there is no cold that cannot be conquered by that combination.

cover of the 1976 edition of Dr. Spock's baby and childcare, featuring a smiling baby

My kids weren’t in the least intrigued by Bob Barker, probably because they’re kindergarteners. Instead, it was Moana marathon for us. But they were curious about the flat Ginger Ale.

“Why can’t we have the bubbles?” my son asked.

“They might upset your tummy,” I explained.

I handed over a cup of now-still Ginger Ale, and he sipped cautiously. “It’s spicy.”


“My tummy feels the same.”

We repeated this ritual every day. Me sloshing soda around in a Pyrex. The dull thunk of the spoon against the glass was seemingly medicinal, perhaps for me as much as for them. Them dutifully drinking it.

When they recovered, I asked my mom where the idea of flat Ginger Ale as a home remedy came from, and she suggested Dr. Spock. I have a 1976 copy of his ubiquitous Baby and Child Care (pictured above), but this doesn’t seem to be the source. In it, he decries children drinking soda and says when ill, they should go to the doctor and you should a use humidifier (an item he suggests will cost about $30–an enormous amount at the time) in their rooms at night.

But I suspect the midcentury is the right vintage even if Dr. Spock himself didn’t suggest it. Because illness, like the start of the school-year or the Fourth of July or winter holidays, is timeless. It folds space like a piece of scrap paper, smushing time against itself.

There’s a new debate raging about historical romance, something that’s been a long-term subject dear to me (see exhibit a, exhibit b, and exhibit c). I’m always happy to see it come up again. I won’t weigh in beyond saying we should talk about how the subgenre does race, class, gender, and sexuality long before we should ever talk about how it does authenticity, because it doesn’t and hasn’t ever been about that. So if authenticity is not what histrom does, by all means let’s see different stories told differently, and let’s do a better job promoting the diverse romances that have already been written.

But more specially, in my fiction lately I seem to be caught up interrogating the middle of the twentieth century, and this little things–stir the bubbles out–suddenly became a link for me between my books and how I live. It’s this flotsam of an old wives tale, maybe wrapped around a tiny kernel of truth, that somehow got embedded in my psyche and then jumped out in a moment of stress and anxiety, like a talisman.

We all carry these things inside ourselves: these ideas, these values, and these memories. And it matters where they come from, and it matters when we use them, in life or in fiction. I don’t know at present if I can say which work this “knowledge” did or what precisely it means, but this bit and all those like it are the muscle memory of culture, the stuff our lives, and the warp and woof of our stories.

6 thoughts on ““Stir the Bubbles Out”

  1. this is so lovingly written in such a delight to read. I never heard about stirring the bubbles out, I always had ginger ale with the bubbles in because that was apparently supposed to settle the stomach.
    in other news, I hope your children are OK and I have recently watched Moana many times and I really really love it

    1. I had horrible, horrible morning sickness when I was pregnant, and ginger ale was on a lot of lists of home remedies for nausea, so there might be something to that, but I doubt stirring the bubbles out makes any difference.

      And yes, the kids are better, thank you! And Moana is awesome, though maybe not three times a day several days in a row.

  2. Emma,

    Welcome to the world of school born illnesses! You are now familiar with what is yet to come in the many many years in public school.

    Wives’ tales or not you will learn that “if it works” don’t reinvent the wheel.

    I am certain that your Mom is very proud of you for weathering your first BIG storm.

    Kiss the kids for me.

    Cheryl Alker
    (friend of your Mother’s)

    Sent from Windows Mail

  3. When we had a gastro bug as kids, my mum (who trained as a nurse in early 60s Australia) would give us flat lemonade. The idea was to keep our fluids ups and give us some calories, without upsetting our stomachs. Lemonade was a treat in those days – so even though it was flat, we’d drink it right up. If we couldn’t keep down the lemonade, she’d give us lemonade icy poles (frozen lemonade on a stick) – again fluids & calories, but the ice would limit how quickly we put it in our tummies. My father (also a nurse) would give us rum toddies when we had a sore throat. It certainly numbed the pain, and I guess the alcohol helped kill bacteria, but still…

    I totally agree about the details of how we do things. An anecdote – the father of one of my ex’s is Jewish Algerian. He moved to France as a young man, and then onto Australia. When he married my ex’s mother, his family taught her how to make cous cous. The instructions were very specific, including such things as what kinds of vegetables to use (including size) and how to cut the vegetables. Fast forward to me and my ex being out somewhere, and falling into a conversation with a woman we’d just met. Somehow we got to talking about cous cous, and different ways of making it – she also had an Algerian parent. She described how her family made cous cous – very specific – exactly the same detail as my ex’s family. Turned out her parent had come from the same tiny Algerian village as my ex’s father.

    1. My mom is also a nurse (trained in the early 70s USA), so maybe this idea links back not to Dr. Spock, but to mid-century medicine. I’ve heard on social media from folks whose parents gave them 7-Up or Sprite, which are both citrus-y. It makes a lot of sense; it’s probably not quite as rehydrating as Gatorade or Pedialyte, but sodas and lemonade have carbohydrates and fluids. Removing the carbonation does crack me up, though–even as I had to do it.

      And that story about the cous cous is amazing! I think maybe we’re mistaking big picture authenticity with the truth in small details, which is where this cultural knowledge is stored and transmitted. It’s sort of premodern.

      (Another of these is my grandmother telling me when you’re trying to thicken a sauce or something, you should stir in a figure 8 pattern. A quick search on Google shows it on some cooking blogs and, again, in a lot of vintage cookbooks.)

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