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One cup too many of sassafras tea

| Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Mary Elizabeth came to visit one day. It was a blast from the past -- not mine but my grandma's. That's where this story had its beginning a very long time ago. But to me it has been unforgettable. Probably because I was so fond of grandma. All older people fascinated me. I loved to listen to them tell stories from the past.

Grandma and Mary Elizabeth conversed, and I sat there transfixed by her stories from parts of her life -- one happened to be about my own great-grandma.

As they spoke, I began to realize the women of that time were not coddled and given special treatment. Like most women of that day, they worked in the home -- not rich by most standards, but considered blessed by their good life.

As this lady talked dreamily about those old days when she was young and agile, she said she used to like to walk to visit people who weren't exactly right next door. Sometimes it was my relatives who did the walking to Mary Elizabeth's home in the country for an all-day visit.

Seasons came and went, years passed and Mary Elizabeth married. More years flew by, and in due time she became a widow and once more was back to walking when she wanted to go somewhere. This time, she said sadly, she took long walks past Chestnut Hill Cemetery, then down Franklin Avenue and up to the Hill Grove Cemetery.

Her folks were all there now, she explained.

I can recall her reminiscing about my German-born great-grandmother. She was a spunky old lady who lived alone and walked every Sunday to her church. She always sat near the back, and as all the children knew, carried peppermint candy in her worn, black purse. She was the most popular lady with the children of the church as she doled out those candies when Sunday school was over.

Now Mary Elizabeth told us a story we hadn't heard before. It seems our petite great-grandma was so fond of sassafras that she would walk to the woods and gather some to take home. There, she made a sort of tea out of it. In fact, she was so fond of it that she, according to Mary Elizabeth, drank too much one day and as she put it "fainted dead away."

As Mary Elizabeth said, "It must've thinned her blood."

My own grandma wasn't sure it was the tea that caused her to "fall over." She was very old, you know, but great-grandma stuck to her story and nobody dared say otherwise.

Years later, I read an article about potential side effects and dangers of consuming too much of any wild herb or root. No doubt great-grandma, tiny as she was, had overdosed on one cup too many of sassafras tea.

I do know one thing: She lived to be very old and led a vigorous life to the end.

I think I could use an occasional cup of sassafras tea myself these days.

Minna Jacobs is a Connellsville resident.

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