A note on my Ancestry family tree for Mamaw Cochran reads: was she a granny woman? That’s her up above with Aunt Pansy. She certainly looked like one. But was she?
It goes without saying that she had grandchildren. But Appalachian granny women were more than mothers and grandmothers. They were midwives. Healers.
Often taught by their mothers, grannies served rural communities where doctors were scarce. They practiced folk medicine and healed the sick with home remedies, superstition, and prayer.
They accepted no payment for their work because their patients couldn’t afford to pay. Instead, granny women welcomed gifts of butter, eggs, or vegetables. But there were no hard feelings when someone couldn’t afford to give anything at all.
Grannies were respected members of their community. Fundamentalist Christians. They believed it was their duty to help those in need, and so they did.
Some view their practices as witchcraft, but grannies didn’t. To them, it was just old-fashioned common sense and faith.
Grannies embraced the placebo effect long before doctors understood how it worked. Putting a knife under a birthing bed to cut the pain in two might sound silly, but belief is a powerful medicine. As were the teas, tinctures, salves, and poultices granny women used as treatments.
So was Mamaw Cochran a granny woman? I wish I knew. Mamaw Cochran was Mamaw’s mama. She died long before I was born. Everything I know about her came from Mamaw, and dementia took Mamaw’s memory before I could ask.
I’m not even sure who told me that Mamaw Cochran was a granny woman. I made no note of it. It wouldn’t surprise me, though. It seems like all of the women in my family have a touch of granny woman inside them.
Indeed the “old folks” had a cure for most everything; from alum and the water from boiling white oak bark for treating mouth ulcers to oil and sulfur to treat sores on dogs. They didn’t have a drug store on every corner as we do today. Another one of the many things I wish I had “set down” when they were still around.
I love old timey treatments. We still use quite a few of them around the house. Tobacco poultices for bee stings and warm sweet oil for earaches are two of my go-tos. lol