Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal

The Magic of Mercurochrome

Judy Lee Green

There were no boo-boo bunnies or character Band-Aids when I was a little girl, but there was the magic of Mercurochrome. Iodine burned. Mercurochrome did not. Mercurochrome was like a little pharmacy in a bottle. An antiseptic as well as a psychological healer, Mercurochrome was good for cuts, scratches, scrapes, bumps, bruises, abrasions, gashes or more serious wounds. It did not have to be injected – no pain. There were no doses or pills to swallow – no bad taste. It was not a messy ointment.

Application was easy. Paint it on. Blow on it. It dried instantly. Anything that my mama put Mercurochrome on immediately became better and the bright red color was a badge of courage.

“I didn’t even cry,” I would boast for several days until the red finally wore off.

My brothers, my sister and I tested and proved the restorative powers of Mercurochrome many years ago. Gary, Donna, Ronnie, Dana and I were small. We ranged in age from nine down to three. It was summer and hot. The windows were up and the doors were open.

Mama was not feeling well and had become extremely tired. She latched the screen doors and told us that she was going to lie down across her bed. We were to play together quietly, no fussing, no arguing, no pestering, no annoying. She was not going to sleep but was just going to close her eyes and rest.

Only a few minutes had passed when Ronnie, four years old, noticed a scratch on his knee that needed immediate attention. We tiptoed into Mama’s room and asked her if we could put Mercurochrome on Ronnie’s scratch. Mama, flat on her back with one arm flung over her head, had fallen into a deep sleep. We reasoned that since she did not say no, her answer was yes.

We scooted a stool into the bathroom, climbed up and retrieved the Mercurochrome from the medicine cabinet. We painted Ronnie’s knee, and he immediately began to feel better.

We were being so good and so very quiet. Since the Mercurochrome was already down and already open, each of us started noticing scratches that needed doctoring with our magic cure-all. Soon we five kids all had Mercurochrome in several different places.

Quietly we tiptoed into mama’s room to show her that we had taken care of our scratches without bothering her. We knew that she would be so proud of us. She was in an exhausted sleep. We whispered that since mama didn’t feel well, perhaps Mercurochrome would make her better. We had to look very carefully to find a scratch but after the first one, the rest were easy to locate.

Twenty minutes later we were back in the living room playing Cooties in the floor. We had painted every scratch, every freckle, every mole, every discoloration of our mama’s skin that we could see. She had Mercurochrome on her toes, her feet, her legs, her hands, her arms, her neck and her face. At Donna’s urging we had even tried to paint her fingernails and toenails.

When mama shrieked in horror we knew she was awake. Proud of ourselves, we ran to her room and asked, “Are you feeling better?” We expected her to tell us what good kids we had been while she rested.

With all the yelling it didn’t seem at first that she was feeling much better. But her disbelief and shock soon turned to humor as she stared at her polka-dotted image in the mirror of the bedroom vanity.

We laughed a lot the next few days as the Mercurochrome slowly wore away. If anyone had asked us kids, we would have insisted that the Mercurochrome had made our mama feel better. Hadn’t she lain down feeling bad and woke up laughing – after a while anyway? And hadn’t everyone who saw her laughed and laughed at our red polka-dotted mama? Yes, we were sure. Mama had been cured by the magic of Mercurochrome.


Judy Lee Green, Tennessee-bred and cornbread-fed, is compiling a collection of stories about growing up in a family of seven in the rural South in the 1950s. Inspired by Lois Lane at the age of nine to become a writer, she has been published numerous times over many years in print and on the World Wide Web. A writer of fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry and essay, she presents various Life Stories programs and workshops and challenges others to write their memoirs.

© Judy Lee Green

Muscadine Lines: A Southern Journal ISSN 1554-8449, Copyright © 2004-2012