Kathy Bohannon

Momma and the Ptomaine

Momma had a method of taking care of her four kids. She came from the “you’ll shoot your eye out” generation of ample threats. She had so many of these threats she probably held a graduate’s degree in wives’ tales.

Armed with her Mercurochrome, momma was always ready to combat a case of anything from cooties to the dreaded ptomaine.

Lucky for mom, times were ripe for rearing children in a “legend-has-it” society. Unlike today’s parenting where kids have access to a wealth of information at their fingertips, mom raised us back in the day when the only way one could verify something was to grab a three-pound encyclopedia off the shelf.

Our encyclopedias were really old and musty and stayed that way until 1971 when a salesman knocked on our door. Surely thinking his kids would benefit from the latest tomes of world facts, dad sprung for a whole new set of Compton’s. The salesman left only one with us. We could barely wait for the rest of them to arrive.

The day finally came and the family sat down at the table, each of us eagerly researching all types of topics. If I could have spelled it correctly, it is highly probably this fountain of knowledge would have enabled me to discover the truth about ptomaine.

Momma had many threats, but the promise of ptomaine poisoning was the one that really impressed me. It’s probably a good thing I couldn’t look it up because momma had a thing going with her chosen disorder.

“Don’t touch that,” she would shout, adding, “You’ll get ptomaine!”

Since I couldn’t find it listed under “toe-main” in our Compton’s, I had no idea that ptomaine was basically food poisoning. Little did mom know she actually used it correctly on a frequent basis, particularly when she saw us perusing the refrigerator shelves. Still, mom’s threat of our contracting the dreaded ptomaine was rarely directed toward the food we might eat.

A cut on the foot: ptomaine.

Picking up John Sears’ pet mice: ptomaine.

Wearing someone else’s shoes: guaranteed ptomaine.

Ptomaine would follow us from early childhood until the teen years, when kissing a boy was undoubtedly the greatest risk of ptomaine known to man.

Bravely, I took my chances.

To my knowledge no one in momma’s house got the ptomaine. Oh, we had food poisoning once or twice, but never “ptomaine.”

The way I figure it mom was also raised with the risky ptomaine that at some point may have actually been food poisoning, but outgrew its boundaries and became the dreaded universal malady. Our family history of ptomaine probably went back as far as mom’s grandmother, who once swallowed a suppository whole.

Swallowing a suppository whole happened on both sides of my family. There’s indeed something weird about that.

By default and heredity, my kids also grew up with a few wives’ tales and to this day love to bust me out with the “facts.” I think of mom and her ptomaine, her vial of Mercurochrome at the ready, and I wonder what she would think of technology today.

She’d probably be appalled. “It will give you ptomaine!” Funny, I can almost smell the Mercurochrome. * * *

(Kathy Bohannon is a regular contributor to The Newnan Times-Herald. She is a blogger, crafter and the author of two books: “Dyson the Terrible Puppy” and “Gardens of Savannah.” Both can be found at www.barnesandnoble.com .)

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