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Elma held two absolute and incontrovertible beliefs. One of those beliefs was in the existence of God. The other was that Wonder Oil cured everything. 

Wonder Oil is still available for purchase. It is topical remedy-type oil containing cloves and menthol. It is marketed to relieve pain caused by bruises, joint and muscular pain, sore muscles and aching feet. Elma was not deterred to limit her use of Wonder Oil to what it is marketed for. Elma used Wonder Oil not only for aches and pains, but for our scrapes, cuts, headaches, and even sadness. If we had a stomach ache, she would douse a teaspoon of sugar with it and get us to swallow it. 

When we fell skinning a knee and went crying to Elma for help and comfort, our screeches would only get louder upon sight of the Wonder Oil bottle appearing. The pain was only going to get worse before better. She dumped the alcohol-based cure-all all over our bleeding and open sores. As we screeched, all the while her dumping the offending oil on our wounds, we would hear her yelling back over our screams “It takes the sting out.” Meanwhile, our wounds would burn with electrifying pain while she poured the stuff on our open and bleeding skin. 


Because Elma knew Wonder Oil was the answer for everything, she was rarely deterred from using it. Sometimes, when our screams were particularly piercing at the sight of the tonic, Elma would relent and put it away before applying the Wonder Oil. This resulted in our protests and original cries reducing to a small whimper. 

Because Elma administered Wonder Oil for all stomach ailments, I think most of us would think twice before complaining of a stomach ache to Elma. The taste of it, even with the sugar, was foul. As I got older and learned how to read, I would sound out the words “for E – x – t – e – r – n – a – l use only” on the outside of the bottle. “Mom,” I cried, “it says for external use only.” 

“Acgh you kids.” 

The next time we had an ailment, the Wonder Oil bottle would appear as always. 

Despite all the drama associated with it, I still keep a bottle around in my home for no other reason than the fact that I like to smell it from time to time. Like the smell of marijuana smoke, the smell of Wonder Oil instantly catapults me back to the memories of the home I was raised in, making me feel safe and loved.



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