A Spoonful of Vinegar?

Last week, I caught my little dachshund, Laverne, eating a bar of soap.  When I tried to take it away from her, she hid under my bed with it so that she could enjoy a few more bites.

I asked her what she’d said to the other dogs to merit having her mouth washed out with soap.  She just gave me the paw and kept gnawing the Dial.

I don’t actually remember ever having my mouth washed out with soap as a child. In the 1970s, when my mother was raising three young children, a spoonful of vinegar was her punishment of choice if we were caught saying something ugly.  I’m not sure how or why she invented that unique deterrent to inappropriate conversation (defined as profanity or simply saying something mean to a sibling), and I’m not quite sure how she put the two together, but I seem to remember it having something to do with this verse:

“Singing cheerful songs to a person with a heavy heart is like taking someone’s coat in cold weather or pouring vinegar in a wound” (Proverbs 25:20 NLT).

Science now tells us that sickness and aging are a result of inflammation in the body and that vinegar is a magical anti-inflammatory. It’s also an antiseptic. So pouring vinegar into a wound or simply swallowing a spoonful of it provides incredible health benefits.  Unfortunately, I’m living proof that it really doesn’t cure potty mouth.  But the upside of mom’s mouth detergent experiment is that I love vinegar, and my copious childhood vinegar consumption is probably the reason I’ve never been sickly and why people tell me I don’t look old enough to have two children in college.

Mom wasn’t the only one who shunned the use of soap for cleaning up a dirty mouth, though.  My grandmother, who ran two different daycare programs and taught 4-year-old preschool in her later years, had an ingenious remedy for biters.  To a child who bit another child, she said, “Oh my, your mouth is just full of germs because you bit someone.  We’ve got to do something about those germs.”  And she would swab the kid’s mouth out with Listerine.

My sister brought her children to visit us at the beach over the Thanksgiving holiday.  The morning they left, the kids slowly trudged out to her Toyota Sequoia, annoyed that they had to go home.  The car’s back seats were packed nearly to the ceiling with stuff for the trip:  at least 16 DVDs, a Nintendo DS for each one, pillows, blankets, suitcases, a bag or two of spilled Skittles, 36 shoes (some minus their mates), and 4 children.  Little Joe, who’d claimed the very back seat – away from his sisters – was packed in like a towheaded anchovy.  His sister’s extra-large My Little Pony was perched on top of the pile next to him, threatening to come crashing down on him at any second.

I kissed the girls goodbye.  Then I said to Joe, “Have a good trip, man,” and offered my fist for a bump.

He responded with this, pausing between words for added emphasis:  “I.  AM.  ABOUT.  TO.  SAY. A. VERY. BAD. WORD!”

His sisters held their breath, waiting.  Joe was about to get into trouble, and their eyes sparkled in anticipation.

“What is it?” I said.

“PASSGASS!” He screamed.

In keeping with the tradition set by my mother and grandmother, I pondered for a moment what to do about Joe’s “bad words.”  I wondered what an appropriate punishment would be. Perhaps washing his mouth out with Pepto Bismol?

But because I’m not a big believer in mouth detergents,  Joe just had to listen to me and his sisters howl with laughter.

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