The 80s were the end of a fascinating pharmaceutical era. Big pharma was just starting to take over the market, with local chains being conglomerated into national chains, and medication warnings and fear of litigation ruling the inventory. In the next decade, giant convenience-store-like pharmacies would pop up on every corner, and everything would become over-labeled and carefully curated.
But the 80s. It was the last decade where there were still plenty of tiny, one shop pharmacies with ancient pharmacists wearing spectacles and sporting pocket watches while they blew their noses on handkerchiefs.
These men remembered the old days. When you gave children paregoric for stomachaches (also known as “camphorated tincture of opium”), and when mothers drank a small glass of Brandy while nursing their infant before bed to ensure they could sleep through the night (the mother and the baby), and when people drank the good version of Coca-Cola that still contained cocaine (okay maybe the pharmacists weren’t quite that old.)
These were the kind of men that carried my father’s medication of choice: Pineseptic.
Pronounced “pine-a-septic”, it was the horrifically strong smelling liquid of my childhood and came in a brown bottle that was almost certainly straight out of a 1915 apothecary. My dad was convinced that it cured anything that could happen to the surface of your skin or that hurt underneath your skin. And he wasn’t wrong.
Jammed thumb? Pineseptic.
Growing pains? Pineseptic.
Broken bone? Pineseptic.
Scraped Knee? Oh yeah – pour that pine juice into the oozing cuts.
Did it work? Absolutely. It worked immediately, every time.
Did I hate it and sometimes hide my wounds from my father? Absolutely. The smell was untenable to my tender young nose.
I didn’t realize until much later in life that Pineseptic was my dad’s made-up brand name for the product – it was actually called Astyptodyne and no one, except for my family, would ever know what Pineseptic was.
(Although only a few more would know what Astyptodyne was, either, truth be told.)
The supply of Pineseptic became harder to find, but Dad could still search the shelves and discover it, covered in dust, in ancient pharmacies. One pharmacist asked him, “I’ve got to know. What do you use this for? I just use it to clean the shelves in here – works great for that.”
As the Chief Evangelist for the product, my Dad explained to him all of the miraculous powers of Astyptodyne.
“Huh! Who would’ve ever known?”
Then, in 2002 the movie “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” came out. As my family is quite Greek, it was a big deal. I even had a Great Aunt that looked identical to the Aunt in the movie (the one with the twin still in her neck. My Aunt did not have a twin in her neck but she could read your fortune from your coffee grounds.)
But the fact that the Dad in that movie used Windex to cure everything – Oh. My. Gosh. My whole family had a fit.
Pineseptic was our Windex.
It was all so clear now.
Having a bizarre cure-all liquid was not just my Father’s quirk – it was a quirk of his Greek Heritage. He couldn’t help it. He was destined to it.
For many years, Pineseptic became impossible to find. Fortunately, all of Dad’s children, who were the most likely to burn, scrape, and jam themselves, grew up and discovered the amazing curing power of ibuprofen.
But still, my Dad pined for Pineseptic.
Then came the overabundance of products on the internet, and specifically on Amazon. And once again, the magical liquid of Astyptodyne was readily available to my father – and even in new convenient forms, like a spray bottle! And a pet version! His heart was whole once more.
We were discussing the miracles of Pineseptic on family vacation this year, as my brother mentioned that he had used the pet version on their dog and it was just as effective on lucky Layla as it had been for us as children.
(Incidentally it also kept Layla from chewing at her sores because what with the smell, I can only imagine THE TASTE.)
In this conversation, my brother asked my Dad if he’d ever read the origin story of Astyptodyne.
He had not. Nor had I.
I pulled up the actual Astyptodyne website as instructed by my brother, and read aloud the spectacular history of our childhood odor (all grammar and spelling left as is)…
It’s discovery in 1906 was due to an accident in a steam plant. A steam pipe burst and severely injured three workmen in a turpentine plant in Wilmington, NC. In finding their way out of the steam-filled building, one of the men fell into a pit of what is now known as ASTYPTODYNE, which was then a by-product of the Long Leaf Pine Tree and had no use. This man recovered from his burns quickly with practically no pain and little scaring. His co-workers were carried to the local hospital where they suffered for many weeks from pain and scars. Learning of this miracle, doctors and chemists throughout the Southland began a series of experiments with this oil. As a result of their findings and reports, it was found to be a natural healing oil. It was decided this was too valuable a remedy to neglect. The key to ASTYPTODYNE is that it is made with pure long-leaf pine oil which is an essential oil for healing.
The glee I felt in my heart cannot be limited to mere words. This was the most beautiful origin story Pineseptic could ever hope to have. I mean, how many medications can boast of someone accidentally falling into a vat of byproduct after being burned in a factory explosion?! It was just perfect. And, it solidified that my Dad liked Essential Oils before Essential Oils were cool. He was the original hipster before hipsters were even born.
As I meditated on the history lesson I’d learned, I felt as if it was so literarily rich that it belonged in poetry. An Irish blessing, perhaps.
May the road rise up to meet you,
May the wind always be at your back,
May you fall into a vat of undiscovered miracle oil if you’re ever caught on fire.