After a long winter largely cooped up in the little farmhouse heated with woodstoves, my long hair would show the effects of the dry inside air and lack of nutrients from fresh fruits and vegetables.

Grammie Mable usually kept my waist-length hair tightly corralled in four braids. Some of you will remember the four-braid system: the hair parted down the middle and then each side separated into two equal sections. The side sections were braided and then pulled back and braided into the back sections, resulting in two braids hanging down the back. No wisps escaped.

Every spring, Grammie dosed us kids with tonics like sulfur and molasses, maybe a big spoonful of — ugh — castor oil and a little extra Father John’s Tonic. Remember Father John’s? We were given that on a regular basis.

Father John’s actually didn’t taste that bad. The tonic was originally introduced by a Massachusetts apothecary in the 1860’s, using a formula developed by a priest, Father John O’Brian. The tonic became such a hit that the firm was renamed Father John’s Medicine Company. Some 120 years later, the company sold. It is now located in Wyoming and is still bottled and sold on the market.

The original formula we had as kids was a “Nutritive Tonic and a Wholesome Medicine” for use during cold season. The ingredients included: “cod liver oil of high vitamin A and D content, gum Arabic and glycerin — scientifically compounded with sugar, licorice and flavoring oils.”

It was recommended as a tonic for coughs and throat irritations but also “for the correction in deficiency of vitamins A and D.” (We, in the north, are subject to a drop in Vitamin D by this time of year, due to lack of the “deficient” Vitamin D delivering UVB rays. Vitamin D is referred to as “the happy vitamin.” When we don’t get enough of it, we can get depressed, hence the February affliction, aka “Cabin Fever” that gets many of us down after months of not getting the sun’s Vitamin D rays.)

Father John’s, today, still contains the original ingredients but the addition of dextromethophan hydrobromide renders it a medicine, versus a tonic, to take only for colds and sore throats after symptoms have appeared.

It’s no longer a preventative tonic but something to take after you get sick — although I’ll pass, thank you. My rule of thumb is “If I can’t pronounce it, I don’t take it.” (Too many things, particularly in the over-the-counter remedies, have had to be recalled after years of doing damage.)

But the best of Grammie’s “preventive” concoctions was her vinegar candy. I know, it sounds puckery. It is, however, quite yummy, made with vinegar and a goodly amount of sugar, pulled into a taffy — maybe the first sweet-and-sour candy? In any case, we kids didn’t suspect that it was good for us as well. Vinegar in a great germ killer, so sucking on a piece of candy that bathed the throat with vinegar was a great, natural preventive “medicine.”

Come a gray, damp, cold day this time of year, Grammie would announce a taffy pull. This was an event my brother and I anticipated with glee. The days were still short and it was dark before supper was over and the dishes done in the cozy farmhouse tucked deep into the Maine forest. The kerosene lamps pushed the blackness back into the corners of the “cookroom.” We were snug and warm from the fire in the black Clarion cook-stove.

In addition to tonics, Grammie would sit me down next to the cook stove and give my hair a good oil treatment — with warm bean grease.

I used to complain loudly to this yearly spring session until one time when Grammie offered to use what the Indians used: bear grease. Thereafter, I sat silently through the greasings.

Turns out, Grammie was ahead of her time. Beans are one of the purest protein foods. Women the world over now spend big bucks on protein hair treatments and protein shampoos. Grammie just saved a little grease from Saturday night’s bean pot.

Beside the monetary advantages of following Grammie’s home treatments, there are no adverse side effects. I must confess though, I have not put bean grease in my hair since those long ago days on the farm.

Marion Tucker-Honeycutt, an award-winning columnist, is a Maine native and graduate of Belfast. She now lives in Morrill.