I was talking with an acquaintance of mine last week, and we got to wondering about all those recommendations and practices we adopted to avoid catching the coronavirus. We’ve been at this for going on two frickin’ years, but even so, it seems like people are now taking it all in stride.

Me, I keep a supply of masks and put one on sporadically, and I have to remind myself not to touch my face, but as time goes by, avoiding crowds is nearly impossible. It’s a good thing sanitizers are still a thing at stores because one thing I was never consistent with was handwashing. Sure, I wet my hands under the faucet, but seldom go so far as working up a good 20-second lather with hot water in, say, the Walmart restroom.

Maybe it goes back to those childhood years when the only soap I remember using was my mother’s homemade lye soap.  That stuff was, to put it mildly, gaggable. (Is that a word?)

From a mixture of lye, vinegar and lard, she would make it in a big porcelain bowl, never adding anything perfumey to it, and when it was done, she took out her butcher knife and sliced it up in these strange angled shapes. Not the fancy soap they made in the movie Fight Club.

She also made soap flakes out of it, and we even used it to wash our hair.

No store-bought stuff for us, no sir, unless it was the occasional Lava bar.

I read somewhere that we tend to remember bad things from our past more easily than happy things, mainly because it helps us with survival. Like the taste of lye soap when my mother washed out my mouth with it when she heard me joking with my best friend to “go to hell,” when I was 8 years old. Like washing my sins away.

Although it was the grossest thing ever, I later learned that lye soap can be the best thing for your skin. I guess that goes for a lot of the old grandma recipes and cures and whatnot people used before the big companies got ahold of ‘em and made copies out of chemicals and put ‘em in tamper-proof bottles.

Some of the best remedies grow right out of the ground. I’m thinking of the time I was in Mexico, back in the Yucatan forests, when I sprained my ankle trying to jump over one of the low stone walls they have all over in that region. Trouble is, there was a hole on the other side, and my foot went wonky. Although I knew a little Spanish, the locals spoke Mayan. Fortunately, just yelling sufficed, and eventually, three or four men from the milpa found me and carried me to a hut and summoned the village shaman or medicine man.

His name was Marcelina, and after deciding I hadn’t been bitten by one of the neighborhood pit vipers, he and his apprentice went to massaging the ankle, despite my unmanly howls of pain. After a while, through gesturing and rudimentary Spanish, he said he was going into the woods for plants to make into some kind of poultice. He came back later with an old Anacin bottle containing an oily liquid I was to rub onto the bruised area every morning and night. He then let me know he and his wife would perform their healing prayer for me that night.

Wouldn’t you know it? That sprained ankle quit giving me trouble after a week or so of using that liniment. One thing, I quit jumping over walls without knowing what was on the other side.

Like the curanderas of New Mexico, it seems the old healing ways still have merit. They know which roots and herbs to use for particular conditions – remedies that have been handed down from the Mayans and Aztecs. I suppose “big pharma” has caught on to their recipes, but that was bound to happen, and although they cost a whole lot more, you don’t have to go out in the woods with grandma hunting for ingredients.

My mother would have no problem with old Marcelina’s cure, I’m sure. “Simplify, simplify,” she would teach us kids. Use what you need, she’d say, and don’t fall prey to false luxury.

That’s, of course, opposed to “essential” luxury. Like binging on my favorite Netflix series every weekend.

Speaking of that, I saw three people vomit last week. No, it wasn’t at some bad restaurant, it was in some of the bingeable shows I was watching. Between you and me, I don’t understand the cinematic appeal of retching.

OK, now I’m making myself sick. But not as sick as from my mother’s lye soap.