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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Bitter and Sweet (05/28/09)

TITLE: Open Wide and Swallow it All
By Genia Gilbert


Liz groaned and gasped for breath as she struggled with the box, and worked her way down the steep attic stairs. She understood now why Daddy was always postponing this clean-up. Since his death a few months ago, Liz and her siblings had taken turns restoring order to the old house, getting it ready to sell. With Mamma and Daddy both gone now, the task had become emotional as well as physical. In fact, she dreaded going through this box, but was glad it was one of the last.

Dust fogged into her eyes as she raised the flaps of the aged brown cardboard box. Then, stifling a sneeze, she spied the bottle. Liz was amazed to find the label, though dingy and tattered, clearly readable. The words “Coco-Quinine” brought simultaneous tears and chuckles as she sat alone in the huge old kitchen. The emerging memory was vivid beyond description.


Lizzy heard Mamma’s voice about the same time she spotted the bottle on the table. Oh no, not that. Only a few months ago, they’d been through this.

“Willie, Grace, Lizzie, come, and let’s get this over.”

Grace, her usual prim and proper self, floated into the room and took her chair. Lizzie glared at her. Willie, like herself, dragged his feet, eyes darting about for an escape route. Being the youngest, almost six, he had a better excuse to act like a baby. Lizzie, ten years old, wished she could handle it better. Grace, a whole year younger, was so uppity and sure of herself, Lizzie secretly wanted to pinch her.

The object of all this upheaval was the big brown bottle, like a centerpiece, before them. It was a substance called chocolate quinine, and Lizzie understood it had begun as a cure for a bad disease somewhere far away. She only wished they had used it all up over there. Dr. Cannon had recommended it to Mamma last year, and she’d latched on to it with great enthusiasm. What Lizzie couldn’t understand was how it could be good for fever, colds, and leg cramps. And why did all three kids have to take a dose every time one of them got sick? But Mamma was sold on it, and she held Dr. Cannon’s words right up close to God’s.

The medicine was made to fool kids, Lizzie thought. At first, it had that sweet syrupy chocolate taste, and just when you started to enjoy it, the most awful bitterness covered your tongue, spread in your mouth, and rolled down your throat, then lasted for hours. On her first dose, Lizzie had tried to spit, only to have Mamma repeat the whole spoonful. Ugh! she could taste it even now.

Being the one with a sore throat and fever, Willie was to be first, but he clenched his teeth tightly and shook his head.

“Okay, Willie, I’ll start,” piped up Grace. She held the spoon herself and swallowed the thick liquid without a grimace. Lizzie groaned.

Willie, not convinced, could control himself no longer. As Mamma moved the spoon toward him, he flung out both arms, splattering nasty goop everywhere.

“Now, Willie, this will help you.” Mamma consoled him.

At that, Willie flung himself to the floor, face down, wailing and sobbing. “I don’t want to be better. I’ll just die and go be with Jesus.”

Words flowed from queenly Grace: “But Willie, it’s chocolate. It’s sweet and tastes so good.”

At that moment, from his chair in the living room, Daddy rose up and entered the disaster area. He lifted Willie firmly, assured him that nobody was ready to see him depart for the great beyond, and sat him down, rather hard, in his chair. His words rang in Lizzie’s ears.

“Willie, the medicine is bitter and sweet, but you can take it. You just have to do it, and then get on with business. Now, open wide and swallow it all.”

With Daddy’s big hand on his shoulder, Willie simply sniffed and swallowed. It was done. Lizzie knowing she was next, was silent. She gulped the mixture down, praying that she wouldn’t spit a drop.


Grown up “Lizzie” now laughed aloud. Daddy hadn’t known how his words, along with his example, would inspire life-long wisdom and strength in all his children. Or had he?

Liz carefully cleaned and polished the old bottle, thinking of some special place to display it.

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Member Comments
Member Date
Fiona Dorothy Stevenson06/05/09
I have never tasted coco-quinine, but your stories bring back memories of childhood and quinine. Evocative and well told. Chuckle!
Marijo Phelps06/08/09
I loved this! You took us there (and brought back memories of my years in Pediatrics!) The kids afe very well portrayed and Dad was wonderful. Thanks for the most enjoyable read.
Mary Lou Cook06/08/09
What a wonderful story. It brought back my childhood memories of cod liver oil. You did a super job on the dialogue.
Dee Yoder 06/09/09
Oh man...this made me think of one time my mom gave my sister and I cod liver oil when she thought we were faking illness to get out of school...it was terrible! So glad I only had to swallow that stuff ONCE! Well written and very descriptive.
Bryan Ridenour06/10/09
Great descriptions and very well written. Nicely done.