Notes From The Cactus Patch

Tall Tales and Ripping Yarns from The Great State Of Texas

“Who Needs A Doctor When You Have the Farmers Almanac”


I have been reading the revered “Farmers Almanac” for the past 6 months, and it’s surprising how accurate and sometimes, inaccurate it can be.

The Almanac and I go back a long way. My Grandparents introduced me to the book when I was six years old and spent summers on their Texas farm trying to convert myself from a city slicker to a country boy. They were firm believers in the power of its predictions, although they were let down more than a few times.

This fine morning, as I drink a cup of java and read the pages, it tells me the summer in this part of Texas is forecast to be cooler and wetter than average. I know it to be BS the moment I read it. No summer in Texas is cooler and wetter. Every day for us is misery and suffering topped off with biting and stinging bugs. We are the land of burn-your-ass-off heat, and everything planted or growing wild turns brown and shrivels away by August; the bugs are with us until the first freeze. It was a bit wetter in July, but the temps are still around 95 plus degrees, making you feel like you are wrapped in hot-wet-towel and sitting in the devil’s sauna. Unfortunately, they missed that forecast by a few hundred miles.

There is no mention of the Corona Virus and all the hoopla that came with it. So, how did the staff at the Almanac not know about this bug?

Back when the Farmers Almanac was in its heyday, rural folks depended on it for farming, ranching, and day-to-day living. The book was also full of home remedies, potions, poultices, plants, and hocus-pocus to treat their maladies. Unfortunately, doctors were few, and most families lived their lives without seeing one. As a result, most country folks were born at home and also died there.

The Almanac takes great pride in “do it yourself” folk remedies and contains dozens of them, along with questionable ads for elixirs, oils, good luck charms, H’aint Bags, and voodoo dolls. Grandmother used them all. I knew if I became ill while at the farm, all of these would be administered. My Grandfather was strangely healthy for his age. He knew better than to get sick around his wife. If he was ill, no one knew it.

It was bound to happen. In the summer of 1956, I am spending my summer on the farm. Fever and chills arrive during the night. My temperature is off the charts, and I am shaking like a hound dog passing a peach pit. Grandmother calls in her friend down the road, Mrs. Ellis, for a second opinion. The two-country alienists stand at the foot of my death bed in deep consultation.

It is decided. I will receive the complete treatment reserved for the rare “Raccoon Flu” and possible “demonic possession.” Treatment will commence immediately.

The two women drag me from my sickbed and thrust my aching body into a cold water bath for an hour. Grandmother gives me two doses of salts, three teaspoons of “Reverand Moses Triple Strength Root Tonic,” and a double-dog dose of “Dr. Sal’s Really Good Opioid Extract.” Then my shivering torso is coated with “Sister Amy’s Pure And Blessed Olive Oil” from the banks of the river Jordan. Next, I am wrapped like a mummy in a white cotton blanket, a mustard poultice is glued to my chest, and a burlap bag of foul-smelling something is tied around my neck. They place me in bed, covering me with 6 quilts, and two speckled hens are brought in to sleep in my room overnight. Grandmother says I will be well by breakfast. At this point, I am praying for death during my sleep.

Dawn brings a cool breeze into my sickroom, and I am awakened by one of the spotted hen’s sitting on my chest. She is clucking softly as if to say, “it’s time to get up, you’re well now.” I realize the hen is right; I do feel like a new kid. No fever or chills, and I am hungry for a fat biscuit and my Grannies country gravy.

I follow the two hens down the hallway into the kitchen. Grandfather sits at the breakfast table reading the Almanac. Without looking up, he exclaims, ” going to rain today, Almanac says around noon.” The last rain the farm had was over a month ago; what does the stupid book know.

Granny tells me to take the two-spotted hens outside and feed a big handful of laying mash because the Almanac said mottled hens will have an excellent laying week. She doesn’t ask how I feel; she knows her hocus pocus worked.

I head back to the farmhouse for noon dinner after spending the morning building Horned Toad houses out of pebbles and sticks. We sit at the kitchen table, munching on fried chicken when a loud clap of thunder shakes the house. Granddad, without looking up from his plate, says, “yep.”

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10 thoughts on ““Who Needs A Doctor When You Have the Farmers Almanac”

  1. I love it, Phil! Very funny! And well written. Odd. I JUST subscribed to Farmer’s Almanac a couple weeks ago and it just hit my email as your blog did! I find it somehow comforting. Why, I have no idea. Some tradition that still exists, I guess. Never really read it before. But it came up when I was researching pollinating pumpkins and I decided to subscribe. It sounds hot in Texas, but we really loved visiting there a couple winters ago. Went to Galveston and Corpus I think. San Antonio.

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    • It’s an excellent book for farmers and gardeners. I am working on my Master Gardeners certificate and am amazed at the almanac’s information; my grandparents would not have survived without it. Glad you got to visit Texas, and thanks for reading.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. You had me at double dog dose.

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  3. Reblogged this on L.E.K. and commented:
    I love Phil’s piece here. Really made me feel like life was normal for a few minutes!

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  4. I grew up on my maternal grandparents small farm. It had been a chicken farm before I appeared but, they were long gone by the time I was growing up. The empty chicken houses (big metal barns) were fun to play in. They had eight different garden plots, fruit trees, nut trees and three different grape vines. The next door neighbor was a bee-keeper…lots of fresh honey. They kept an Almanac around. I spent many summers there, helping to harvest, clean, cut, shuck, peel, can & freeze food. Do you miss farm life?

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    • At times yes. I was a kid and every summer was an adventure. My wife and I were through Santa Anna a few days ago after visiting Marfa Texas. The old farm is gone and all that remains is the well and part of the wind mill. It was a hard scrabble west Texas farm and not an easy life for my grand parents, but too me it was a magical kingdom. I still read the Almanac to this day.

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      • Yeah. *sigh* My grandmother’s farm was sold by my mom and her four brothers. All five names were on the deed as my grandmother deeded it to them years ago, retaining lifetime rights (she passed in 2007). It was sold to a retirement community/assisted living facility group, that owned the land adjacent to the farm, for millions. That place was my playground.

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