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.
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.