I have finally succumbed to the winter whipping, the sniffle shuffle, the Kleenex kabuki, the creeping crud.
— Adam Gerik (@ofadam) February 26, 2014
Perhaps I’m delirious from cold medicine. Or just feeling nostalgic, teetering on the brink of death as every ounce of moisture is extracted through two nostrils. But a certain brand has entered my head and taken hold.
See that tiny, worn canister over there? That’s what the run-of-the-mill head cold meant in the Gerik household.
We weren’t solely a Mentholatum camp – Vicks earned a spot in the medicine cabinet, too. But it was always a second-place finish for the VapoRub, somehow not as tested during those bedtime hours. Memories are sketchy, but it’s generally thought that the Mentholatum bug came from my dad, while Vicks arrived with my mom.
Our method was simple – mom or dad would rub a bit on our chest before bed, then we’d take a dab and put it under/around each nostril. Only now do I realize how dangerous this could have been.
So I set out to Walgreens this fine evening, searching for the potion. I can’t find it myself, so I ask a pharmacy employee if they carry it. “Mentholatum? Do we carry Mentholatum,” she asks a coworker. A face is made. “Is that in the green bottle? My grandma used to use it on me.” This isn’t going anywhere.
“Green bottle? My grandma used to have some,” another girl says to me. I now feel needy. Instead, I’m forced to buy something labeled “Baby Chest Rub.” The scarlet letter lives! And I’ll live.
The clincher to this trip down memory lane? The Mentholatum company was founded in Wichita, Kansas in 1889. The building still stands, but the company itself fled my hometown in 1935. My dad grew up in the neighboring state of Oklahoma, where they apparently ran the little green jars as some sort of bootlegging enterprise.