The Horsey Cup

Posted on Wed, Dec 27 2023 in Bob's Journal

My mother was a proponent of natural remedies. What this meant in practice was that I spent a significant portion of my childhood inside cramped stores that smelled vaguely earthy and had bottles of every imaginable herb in capsule or syrup form. The great thing about herbal remedies is that you should consume lots of them every day, no matter the situation. I remember when my mother found out about the wonders of bee pollen, and for months we ate tiny spoonfuls of small orangish-yellow spheres.

Of course, if herbs were good when you were healthy, they were even more important when you were sick. My mother had a simple set of responses to any illness that entered the house. For a runny nose or other minor ailment, Vitamin C was the solution. For more advanced illnesses, it was time to break out the echinacea, but if that didn't work, there was still one herb of last resort: blue vervain. Of course, I don't know if I ever actually saw the label, so it sounded like "bluverbane" to younger me.

It came as a syrup, and by my mother's scale there could be nothing more effective. If you've never had the experience, imagine the most bitter thing you've ever put in your mouth, that burns slightly and leaves a bittersweet aftertaste that's impossible to scrape off your tongue. I tried my best to be an obedient son, but even I had a hard time obeying when asked to drink a tablespoon, no matter how much she insisted it was just what my body needed to heal.

My mother, being the cunning innovator that she was, hit upon a solution. She would dissolve the blue vervain in a mug of hot tea. It was a brilliant answer, with only a few small problems. First, none of her sons liked hot tea. Secondly, the blue vervain easily overpowered whatever weak flavor the tea had. Still, I remember many winter days sitting staring at a mug of suspicious smelling hot tea.

One of those days, my grandmother had come to visit, and hit upon a new strategy. She coaxed me to take a sip of the blue vervain tea, until finally I raised it to my mouth and took the tiniest sip. "Wow, did you see that?" she exclaimed.

I hadn't seen anything.

At this point, I need to make a small diversion, the reason for which will soon become apparent. Aside from a very impressive collection of herbal supplements, my mother was also the proud owner of a diverse set of ceramic mugs. There were plain ones, ones with patterns, ones with pictures, in various sizes. The one I was using was a white mug with a picture of a red and orange sunset on the side. In front of that stormy sunset proudly stood a lone brown stallion with a black tail and mane.

"What!?" I asked my grandmother, wondering what she had seen.

"That horse flicked its tail," she informed me.

That seemed unusual to me, but there are many unusual things in this world. I watched the horse closely, but it had apparently chosen to stop after that brief movement.

My grandmother suggested an experiment: "Why don't you take another sip of your tea, and watch the horse closely?"

I tried this, but it turns out that it's impossible to drink a nearly full mug of hot tea while keeping a close eye on the outside of it, particularly since I was still young enough to hold it with both hands instead of by the handle.

"Wow, that horse kicked his leg!" my grandmother exclaimed.

From that time forward, blue vervain was always served in the "Horsey" cup. With each sip, the poor patient strained vainly to watch the horse and someone else stood by to declare that it had, in fact, moved.