By Sarah Schrock

Hawaii, Arizona, Italy, New York, Mexico, “down south” or the “west side” — these are all places locals seem to be to fleeing in anticipation of the mud season. Good thing for the escapees, because this mass exodus coincides with a number of ailments plaguing the valley.

As I called in yet another absence for my first-grader to school last week, Stacey Cooley told me she had two full pages of absentees. Colds, flus, sinus and ear infections, and the dreaded, rampant strep throat are to blame. Staying healthy amid this whirlpool of germs tests our tried-and-true home remedies. To add to my repertoire, I decided to ask the healthiest person I know, Mary Bean.

Mary just welcomed her 24th great-great-grandchild into the world to add to her 28 great-, 10 grand-, and two children. At age 101, I figured she must have some wisdom for staying healthy.  I asked Mary what home remedies and illnesses she remembers from her own childhood or from raising her children.

Mary recalls measles and mumps, and polio (which left her first husband partially crippled in one leg). But it was whooping cough that left its mark as the most difficult illness to care for, especially for her 6-month-old Carole. Before antibiotics, treatment included raising her infants’ arms above the head and going outside in fresh air multiple times a day to stop the coughing fits.  Her daughter Jo remembers the pain of the coughing fits, and how scary it was watching her mom take care of her infant sister. Jo and her husband, Dennis, shared some remedies they remember as well.

Mustard plaster applied to the chest for a cough was a common concoction. This paste, created with flour, water and mustard powder, would sometimes burn the skin if made too strong.  Liniment rubs for congestion and warm towels for tummy aches were employed. For a sore throat, one would swab the tonsils with a cotton swab soaked in a mysterious brew of alcohol. Dennis remembers a coal and kerosene oil swab — guaranteed to kill anything. It’s not difficult to see how this fell out of popularity. For a common cold, Jo remembers chicken soup being the best cure.

Mary’s vigor impressed me the moment we met. When we moved in next door eight years ago, at age 93 Mary chopped her own wood, shoveled her sidewalks, mowed her lawn, drove her own car and spent much of her time in her magnificent garden. Over the years her fireplace gave way to gas, she sold her car at age 100, and someone else took over mowing, but during the best of the snowstorms this winter Mary could be spotted with a shovel in hand clearing her walk.

Mary’s secret to a long life is a combination of diet and lifestyle. She limits processed foods, using whole ingredients. Raised on a dairy in Omak, Mary drank whole, raw milk daily as a child. Raw milk advocates claim the benefits of un-pasteurized milk include a stronger immune system and better absorption of nutrients in milk. Well, if Mary is proof, I’m a believer. She keeps her body, mind and spirit active, working at The Cove and the Senior Center, playing cards with her friends and attending St. Genevieve’s Catholic Church. Perhaps it’s her sense of humor that keeps her young. When asked what her secret to a long life is, she remarked, “you want to know what the trick is, it’s easy. Keep breathing!”