Tuesday, January 7, 2020

A spoonful of honey

My husband has been sick for the last few days. This follows a lingering cough I managed to shake last week, but overlaps with one of the kids having some kind of GI...thing. Such is winter in the Northeast, especially when everyone is pushing just a little bit (or more) past capacity.

As I was putting honey into my husband's tea yesterday morning, I was reminded of another child, suffering with another cough, but of a different. Back when my now-almost-twenty-six year old was an only child, she suffered from chronic congestion. The protocols seemed to have changed: I spent a lot of time being told that she could take hot, steamy showers to loosen up whatever was making her cough, and then she was finally given an inhaler and a nebulizer after a few trips to the ER. By the time her younger brothers were born ten years later, they just wrote a prescription for an inhaler as soon as they listened to some unclear lungs for the first time.

Back in the steamy shower days, when she was about three, my husband and I spent a lot of time in a neighboring town for certain errands. We liked being there, back then. It was smaller than where we lived, and had had for many years a thriving Jewish culture. Numerous Russian Jewish immigrants had settled in that area, and as we both have Ashkenazi ancestry, it was nice to be in that area among people that reminded us of our ancestors.

Much better than a spoonful of sugar

One of the places we went frequently, with little girl in tow, was a dry cleaners. It's not there anymore; it's either been replaced by a swankier dry cleaner, or an even swankier restaurant. Such are the ways of gentrification. But back then such a place still existed, and it was run by an elderly Russian Jewish couple. I remember now: I went there first to have my shoes adjusted. The man's English was hard to understand, but he was well-practiced in his craft, so when he handed me the shoes and the insert and gestured with his hands, I understood what he wanted me to do. He was kind, but he was busy. His wife, however, satisfied all the stereotypes of an elderly immigrant grandmother, and she thought my daughter was adorable (she was correct). I seem to remember some cuddling.

One day, they had another customer, perhaps a little younger than the two of them, but old enough to be my mother. She was one of those people who aren't given to smiling naturally. I tend to shy away from those people, especially when I have a small child in tow, and especially when that child is ill. I was aware, of course, that we should get her home sooner rather than later, and I was hurrying to make sure we could. I also had the sense that I was interrupting something, even if it was only a chance to share a conversation in their native language.

After my daughter's tenth burst of coughing, the other customer nodded at me. She spoke more softly, and more gently than I thought she would. "Give her hot water with honey," she said matter-of-factly, but with sympathy. "It will soothe her throat, but it will also bind up whatever is making her cough." That sounded...very reasonable. I smiled, as I do when I'm nervous, nodded, and thanked her.

I believe I did give my daughter hot honey water when we got home, but I'm not sure how much it helped. (Surely, it was no less effective than the hot steamy shower.) But that's not why we do everything, is it? Sometimes it's nice to be reminded of when someone wanted to help you, whatever help it was they could offer, and sometimes those are the easiest gestures to repeat.


  1. I use the honey in the picture, a colleague told me the same thing; honey in hot water for cough.

  2. The kids love this honey :-) A big jug of it lasts about two weeks in our house.