Days Gone By - stories from the past

Remember those cold days in Alabama with no central heat and Vicks Vapo rub [see vintage film] was the remedy for a cold?

“On January 30, 1966,  Alabama experienced its coldest ever recorded temperature of -27°F at New Market in Madison County. The average low temperature during January 1966 for nearby Huntsville was around 29°.” (Alabama Department of Archives and History)

How cold is cold?


Jean Butterworth

In the mornings when I get up, I immediately hurry to the thermostat to turn up the heat in my house. Sometimes I think about how cold my house was when I was a child. I really do appreciate the luxury of central cooling and heating these days.snow scene with fence

Colder in the past in Alabama?

I really believe that the weather was a lot colder in Alabama during my childhood years. In the winter I wore lots of clothes in the house since the house was heated by a coal-burning stove and later by a floor furnace.

There was not much to entertain the family during those cold rainy days except studying, reading and listening to the radio seated around the stove. So, the alternative was to go to bed to keep warm.

Hot water bottle and Vicks

Before it was time to go to bed, Mother would heat water on the stove and fill a hot water bottle and put it in the bed near where my feet would be. I usually slept in socks, so when my feet touched the hot water bottle my feet stayed cozy warm.

If I had a cold or cough Mother would rub my chest down at night with “Vicks Salve” from that little blue bottle. Then she would then put a clean flannel cloth on my chest. Boy, did it smell!

Quilts were very heavy

I wore flannel pajamas and slept under many quits that my mother and grandmother made for those long winter nights. In fact, the quilts were so heavy that it was hard to turn over in the bed!

Standing outside to catch the school bus in the early mornings was no fun. My bother and I dressed warmly on those bitterly cold winter mornings. When we arrived at school we had to stand outside again until the school opened. Usually, we would run and play to keep warm until that time. Inside the school, the older boys would build a fire in the coal stove in each room in the school. We kept on our coats until the room became somewhat warm.

Looking back over this now, I think that I didn’t feel the cold as I do now. Nowadays, I dress warmly, but with not as many layers as I did as a child.

Still, in the wintertime in Alabama, I must remember to dress warmly when I eat out at restaurants, in church, and attending seminars because the “controllers of the thermostat” keep the thermostat turned down! Burr!!!!!!!

Oh, how I appreciate our heating and cooling systems!

FROM TUSCALOOSA NEWS February 11, 1930 -when Vicks was still new.

Vicks news article



Read more stories from 1950s and 1960s in Chinaberries and Other Memories of Alabama by Jean Butterworth



Chinaberries and Other Memories of Alabama (Kindle Edition)

By (author):  Butterworth, Jean
List Price: $3.99
New From: $3.99 In Stock
buy now

About Jean Butterworth

Jean Champion Butterworth is originally from Tuscaloosa County, graduating from Tuscaloosa County High School, Druid City Hospital School of Nursing and The University of Alabama. She is a retired nurse. Working 27 years at The Children’s Hospital as Department Director, Specialty Clinics. She has traveled extensively in Europe, Africa, The Middle East, and Eastern Europe. You can contact Jean at [email protected] See additional stories by Jean Butterworth on She also now has a Kindle Ebook Chinaberries and Other Memories of Alabama

Liked it? Take a second to support Alabama Pioneers on Patreon!


  1. I enjoyed walking down memory lane with you Miss. Jean! This is our first winter in Alabama (we’re California escapees) and have loved the chilly weather. We bought a log home so as of right now, our only heat source is our fireplace and portable heaters. I’m predict there will be central air and heat in our future! 🙂

  2. Each new day brings anticipation of our Alabama weather. Glad you are enjoying. J

  3. I remember well. I never went to bed warm in the winter.
    We always had either a fire place or a big round heater but that was only in the living room.

  4. i think about it often also, we would have so many quilts on us in the cold bedrooms, that it was hard to turn over.

  5. at my grandparent’s house, they would turn off the gas space heaters after the rooms warmed. the windows would have ice on the insides some mornings

  6. remember how HOT is was before air-conditioning? We never had that until I was well into my teens. We all seem to have survived.

  7. I remember sleeping in my grandparents’ uninsulated house in Walker County that was heated by two coal fireplaces and a wood stove in the kitchen. I have gone to sleep under about 10 of her hand-stitched quilts to wake up in the morning snug as a bug, to find my glass of well water on the nightstand frozen solid. 😉

  8. I remember the wood stove in the kitchen and the coal burning heater in the living room. On Christmas morning, my older brother was the one who got up first and got the fire going in the heater and we had to wait till it got warm enough before we could see what Santa brought us. That wood burning stove in the kitchen made the best biscuits, pies, cakes, cornbread I have ever tasted. Hog killing time during the first cold weather and all the activities involved with that and the smell and taste of fresh fried pork chops. I’m thankful for my central heat and cooling but oh how I miss my simple childhood, being wrapped in beautiful, colorful quilts and dresses and underwear made out of flour sack material. LOL

  9. I remember so cold that the gold fish froze in the living room.

  10. I member we had only a fireplace for heat you could see the outside of the house by looking trough the cracks in the walls we would get up in the morning and ice would be frozen in the water bucket in the kitchen.

  11. I still live in the days of no central heat (or air). 8|

    1. Yikes, I guess there are many people in Alabama that don’t have central heat and air. Thanks for reminding us.

    2. My house is 80 years old. Electricity and indoor plumbing were afterthoughts, much less climate control. 😉

    3. The house I live in was built in the 1920’s. I do good to not freeze. Lol

    4. My house is probably 60 – 70 years old. It used to have a huge floor furnace and each room had a coal burning fire place. Now we have gas heaters that install on the wall.

  12. There are plenty of folks in Alabama that don’t have central heat and that still use Vicks Vapor Rub.

  13. I remember! How could I forget? We didn’t have inside water either!

  14. We had electric but no heat and air.Fireplace,coal heater.

    1. No inside water,We had to draw water.Heat water on stove.

    2. I drew water and on Saturday helped my Mama carry buckets of water up a hill for our wringer washer a tin was tubs.

  15. i remember ice storms as a power,school was out..

  16. we didn’t have power then

  17. It was rough and tough but we were happy. My Dad and Mom did a wonderful job. Nobody had much but was happy with what they had and made do. Those people were amazing. Miss them so much.

  18. My Mom used to use tar on a warm cloth and used whatever she had in the house to put on there and you pin it to your shirt and that cut all that in your chest. She had all old time remedies.

  19. I sure do remember those days. And we made it just fine! Never had to go to Hospital either! My mom used all th home remedies, and they worked.

  20. I appreciate central heat — when I was a kid, we only had a space heater which was turned off at night — but the number of quilts and blankets piled on you, kept you warm — you couldn’t move too much but you were warm!

  21. First one up had to start a fire in the fireplace……

  22. We used gas logs when the power went out.

  23. We had a coal furnace with registers in every room

  24. Pretty much my childhood.

  25. coal heater blankets and quilts on bed

  26. Odd. The hot Vicks cloth, heated by holding over a stove burner and safety pinned to my pajama tops, always seemed to really help. I remember waking up in the morning with a now cold and now uncomfortable cloth but feeling much better.

    1. I still do the same. Lover me some Vicks.

  27. My mother would heat the flannel cloth on the heater, rub our chest with Vicks, then put the warm cloth over it. What a wonderful, comforting and loved feeling I would get & still do when I think of it. The smell of Vicks Vapo Rub brings it all back! . Wonderful memory!

  28. We had a double side fireplace, lots of quilts, and kids all sleep in the same beds. What fun that was!

  29. It is still the best cure!

  30. coal heaters is what wr used

  31. Got a jar by the bed …

  32. We had a wood burning heater,a gas stove, and a gas hot water heater growing up.We didn’t care if the power went out.

  33. We had heat and air/cond in Mississippi in the 1950’s… Why did it take Alabama so long?

    1. We were poor too but we had heat and air/cond.

  34. Warm morning wood heater, loved standing in front of it when i got up…momma used vicks on my older sisters, and me until my baby sister was about 2, she had an asthma attack everytime she was around it, but i use it any time i have a cold or tired achy feet

  35. my mother would put bricks in front of the fireplace and cover them with a towel to keep our feet warm at night

    1. We did that also as the fire would burn out in the night

  36. Coal & wood heat are the warmest

  37. Cold when your grandmother had to put quilt under the door and towels around the door and windows. To keep wind and snow out of the house.

  38. Every room had a fireplace. One big oil or kerosene heater. Eventually we had gas heaters. Vicks was a standby for a lot of ills.

  39. Gas heat, And windows up in the summer. Or a fan in the window

  40. Put more wood in the heater.

  41. I just woke up and put. Vicks in my nose bout ten minutes ago

  42. Having to go out side to the outhouse and a coal heater in the middle of the living room

  43. Vicks is still as effective as any cold medicine, and I can see mama when I smell it!

  44. A lot of quilts on the bed

  45. and the gas heaters were turned off by the first person to get up or maybe they were off before the last person got in his bed – frost every winter morning on the inside

  46. When I was ten I got up at 4:30am to go outside and go in the basement dirt floor to what looked like a monster. It. Was our coal fired central heat of the time. Shake the grate to uncover the red hot coals and put the wood kindling in once the fire was going shoveled coal in and all the while trying not to smoke my family out of the house! Then get dressed for school on returning from school I had to make more kindling for the next morning. As I look back now it wasn’t a pain but learning for the future. I miss the old days!

  47. Momma would rub Vicks on my chest, heat a rag in an iron skillet put it against me, put on flannel pj’s and socks then put so many quilts on me I couldn’t turn over.

  48. I don’t even like to remember those cold days and nights! I really know how to appreciate central heat and air!

  49. I remember the Vicks Salve with a hot cloth over it. When the cloth got cold, the Vicks would be twice as cold. BRRRR

  50. I remember the propane heaters at church that had the bricks in them, they would glow orange/red. there was only 2 of them to heat the whole sanctuary but they did a great job!

  51. My father would come in first thing in the morning and light the gas space heater so my room would warm up. I would hang whatever dress I was going to wear on the mantel over the heater so it would be warm when I put it. Lucky I didn’t set the house on fire!

  52. I remember. My children was age 3 & 1. Most people was out of power but ours never went off

  53. Yep. I slept in unheated room/house and mom would wake me up after starting breakfast so I could wake up dad to get heater going in living room. Hopefully I had remembered to bring in a scuttle of coal the night before to be ready. Good memories regardless.

    1. Yep. Most had a job to do to get the house up and running.

  54. My house (built in 1935) has never had central heat. Or air.

  55. Oh yes! I remember the cold mornings when I would rush downstairs and stand over the gas floor furnace to get warm! My long nightgown would blow up and that warm air felt soooo good! I kind of miss that!

    1. Oh yes, and it would soon get you so warm you had to move!

  56. Yep. Remember 1 winter, in Alabama, it got so cold the gas lines froze. True. Luckily we had caoal burning fire places in the dining room and everyone wrapped up and stayed, and cooked in there. Ever had tater cooked in ashes?

  57. I remember standing in front of the wood stove to warm my pillow before bedtime…still stand in the same spot while visiting on a cold day…but the wood stove has been gone for 40 years

  58. 1974 18in of snow in Phoenix City.
    That was fun

  59. We bought an old 1100 sq foot house in B’ham. The floor furnace was fabulous.

  60. That’s when the Vicks salve bottle was glass. My Momma would boil water and take a old towel and run it over the boiling water. She had already “greezed” us up with Vicks. Then she’d take that hot towel and put it on our chest. Pin it to our nightgowns. That was the best feeling ever!! ❤️❤️❤️

Leave a Reply to Peggy Cravens Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.