As I climbed down off of the roof from spreading a little roofing tar the other day, I thought to myself, “I don't care how careful I am, I'm bound to get a little tar on my fingers.”

Sure enough, my hands were covered with the silly stuff. I immediately started looking around for something to clean it off with, and as luck would have it, there sat a small can of kerosene – hot dog! I grabbed a rag and doused my hands with kerosene. Ouch! I had forgotten I had a fresh cut on my forefinger. The burning sensation reminded me of my childhood days with my grandmother out on the farm, she put kerosene on everything.

My grandmother was born just a few years before the new Standard Oil Refinery in Sugar Creek went online, back on Oct. 22, 1904. The principal products were paraffin wax for candles, and kerosene sold from barrels in the back rooms of grocery stores to light the lamps and heat the cook stoves of the day. However, that was about the time Henry Ford developed the automobile assembly line. With the coming of the “auto age” and the jet airliner, the product line expanded and the refinery grew into one of the largest in the country.

If you grew up in Eastern Jackson County back in those good old days and heard your grandmother scream, “Get the kerosene!” it generally meant that someone had a cut and needed first aid. Unfortunately, kerosene on a fresh cut burned like fire. But my grandmother, like many folks of the era, believed that kerosene had great medicinal values.

Kerosene was used to treat all manner of cuts and abrasions, from minor ones to severe wounds. One time Dr. Saunders scolded my grandmother for using kerosene on a wound, but that didn't stop her. She was convinced that it was good stuff.

When I was about 10 years old, a nickel I'd found was burning a hole in my pocket. So, I jumped on my bicycle and headed to the neighborhood store where my grandmother often sent me for little odds and ends. For a nickel I could get three suckers.

The one-mile trip took me down our tar covered road and onto a paved county road, which had a fairly steep hill. I needed to build up some good speed to get up over the hill. Of course, my grandmother never let me wear my good shoes out on the farm, so I was barefooted. I was standing up on my bike, pedaling as hard as I could when I reached the top of the hill.

Suddenly, the chain slipped off the sprocket and my bare foot, toes pointed down, hit the pavement. As my bike headed down the other side of the hill at 90 mph, I looked down at my mangled foot. Three of my toenails seemed to be missing and the whole bloody mess almost made me wish that I had never found the nickel.

Finally, I coasted up to the store and figured that since I was there, I might as well get what I had came for. I ran inside, grabbed three suckers and gave the lady my nickel and made my way for the door.

“Hold on a minute, Teddy!” she ordered. “What in tar nation did you do to your foot? That needs some kerosene on it.”

I protested and told her the doctor told my grandmother to not use kerosene and jumped on my bike to get away.

The cool air on my throbbing foot felt good on the trip home. Once I got there I ran in the house screaming for help. My grandmother yelled, “Get the kerosene!”

To reach Ted W. Stillwell, send an email to or call him at 816-896-3592.