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It’s Good For You

by Madonna Dries Christensen



When I was growing up in the 1940s, there were three words that struck fear into the hearts of children—Cod Liver Oil. Those who are familiar with this elixir know what I mean. For those who were lucky enough to escape cod liver oil, get down on your knees right now and give thanks.


The product is what the name implies; there are no hidden ingredients. It’s oil, extracted from the liver of codfish, rich in vitamins A and D. In my youth, mothers believed that a daily dose of cod liver oil warded off, cured, or lessened the severity of, flu, colds, colic, coughs, headaches, hives, impetigo, warts, boils, acne, anemia, mumps, styes, scarlet fever, measles, chicken pox, whooping cough, polio, dandruff, bedwetting, constipation (or the reverse) head lice, or whatever ailed you.


“It’s good for you,” Ma advised as she poured the liquefied fish into a spoon. We kids dropped what we were doing and scattered in all directions.  


“You can take sugar with it,” Ma promised, trying to persuade us to come out of the locked bathroom. “It’s the smell that’s so bad, not the taste,” she tried as Poppy pulled one of us feet first from under the bed. “You won't taste it if you hold your nose.”


Lies, lies, lies.  Nothing disguised the taste. Think of the vilest thing you have ever tasted. Cod liver oil is a zillion times worse.


We tried this ploy: “There’s no use making me take it; I’ll throw it up.”


Ma replied, “If you do, I’ll give you another dose until you keep it down.”


And she would. It was probably better to take it once and be done with it. It didn’t help to gulp the oil down fast—well, you really couldn’t. The goop coated your tongue, teeth and throat like a layer of glue, and the taste and odor lingered all day.   


I have a hazy memory of standing in line at school, in Iowa, to receive a spoonful of cod liver oil. I must have dreamed it; I can't believe they could have made children do that—lambs to the slaughter, so to speak. I need verification from someone who remembers that this actually happened. Imagine teachers saying, “Boys and girls, after the Pledge of Allegiance the school nurse will be here to give us our cod liver oil so we'll stay nice and healthy.” They would have had a mutiny on their hands, even in those days when children were seen more often than heard.  


I recently checked the shelves at the pharmacy. Cod liver oil now comes in mint flavor. Mint flavor? Who do they think they’re kidding? The bottle carries a warning: Keep this preparation out of the reach of children.


Sure—now when it’s too late for me.


Time marches on; I now take fish oil capsules, but they’re tasteless. Really; they're good for you.  

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