Medical College of Abuela
The Colombian Bandana Cure-all
“Oooooh, I don’t feel good,” my 5-year-old sister moans in the middle of a stifling summer afternoon, 1973.
My eyes widen with alarm.
“Shhhhh!” I direct her. “Shhhhh! If you’re not quiet, she’ll hear you!”
“Ooooh, but I really don’t feel good,” she continues, bending over at the waist, holding her stomach with both hands.
“Well, you’d better think hard about what’s going to make you feel worse: Being sick or getting tied down with all those bandanas!” I whisper ferociously to her as I stare right into her brown eyes.
I see by the open mouth that is now slowly playing out on my younger sister’s face, that she gets the point I’ve been trying to drive home.
“Oooh, yeah — the bandanas. I think I’ll be alright.”
The Medical College of Abuela: the textbook of cures for what ails you, according to the hispanic grandmother who raised us. To this wonderful woman, the answer to all physical complaints was a brightly colored bandana, tied around the offending site of the affliction.
Headache? Tie a bandana around it. A stiff knee? Tie a bandana around it.
The bandana was only the vehicle to deliver the dispensed-at-home pharmacological compound from the Medical College of Abuela.
Our grandmother would fill the bandanas with what she had been schooled in, tailored for what you were suffering from.
If you were complaining of a stuffy nose, she’d shake some rubbing alcohol from the bottles she seemed to have stashed everywhere, into the palm of her hand, wipe her hands down with the bandana, then tie that red scarf around our face, much like Butch Cassidy must’ve done to his children.
No wonder I have a hard time remembering parts of my childhood: If the fumes didn’t knock you out first, you’d soon feel your nasal passages clearing.
A headache meant just one thing: a bandana filled with orange peelings, tied excruciatingly tight around our temples. I’ve written before of what a hit this remedy made us in our middle class American neighborhood.
Retaining the Magic
There wasn’t a thing that couldn’t be cured by my Abuela’s bandanas.
Upon her death in 1982, as my sisters and I helped to pack up her room, I found the famed bandanas, neatly folded in a pile in the corner of her top dresser drawer.
Would they still hold their magic?
If I held these tightly folded red squares of cloth to my heart, would they ease the pain?
As I pressed them to my chest, they did.