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Red Oil is a purely Southern invention

There are things in our lives that constantly remind us about how people, their history and their contributions have developed in this part of our nation. There are things of rare value that we never even think of honoring or mentioning in a laudatory way. They are just a part of our existence, and we accept them without even thinking that someone, somewhere, worked and strived to make this thing or place better for us. Such was the case of a fellow named Cleo Everhart, who developed and patented a product named "So-Fas-Co Oil."

It is a thing of valuable history that this gentleman concocted a product that no one has been able to borrow from us, probably because Cleo Everhart got a patent on it when it was named "So-Fas-Co Oil."

That was its name in the late 1920s, when Dr. Everhart first started his search for the perfect cure for cuts, bruises, scrapes and other happenings that affected our Southern population. He wanted to create a solution that would heal without the burning and terrible pain brought on by alcohol or iodine. He worked on his medical development day after day, adding and taking away various pharmaceutical products until he had the proper mix. He wanted a formula that included something that warded off bacteria, aided in the management of pain, reduced swelling and helped healing. At last, he found it, and in 1930, he put it all together. It became a rich oil, and then he added the color of red. He probably used that color to honor his wife, who was known to wear that pleasant shade with great pride. She was a flapper and did not need scraped knees or banged-up shins when she wore her flirty skirts.

He approached doctors and, by talking to a surgeon one day about all of the healing properties of the oil, the doctor agreed to try it on his surgery patients. It was with them that a constant problem existed. The days of laparoscopic surgery were eons away, and the surgical procedure was a long incision that ran many times from the breastbone to infinity. The patient recovered, but the process was slow and unpleasant, not from the operation but from the drying out of the poetic-sounding "cat gut" that was used to close him up and in the seven to 10 days of healing began to dry out and itch.

Everhart asked the surgeon to try his miracle oil, and the die was cast. A little more than 75 years ago, the name was changed to Red Oil, and it became known in operating rooms across the South as Surgical Oil, and folks who had given up their appendix and were put back together with feline gut enjoyed an itch-free and moist-stitch recovery. Everhart's simple but effective formula was on its way to making Southern health history.

Soon, the age of the Detail Man came along. They were men who covered the medical population across certain counties and cities. They carried the story of new drugs and medical potions, who made them and how they were to be used. They were given various nicknames, some flattering and some downright insulting. But no matter, they told the story of new medicine and all that it could do for doctors, druggists and sometimes local farmers who used the same stuff on their cows and horses.

The "pill man," as he was sometimes called, sold to cotton mill bosses, telling them of the wonderful properties of this amazing oil. They bought a bottle and, on his return, ordered a half dozen more. They had witnessed the success of the oil, and their employees were in love with the results.

Cotton mills offered many ways of being injured. When machines are involved with the daily work, people become careless, and soon they know their jobs so well that caution is thrown to the wind and that, of course, is when the operator is wounded.

The lacerated man or woman would make their way to the office at the Manetta Mill, where they were immediately treated with a good dousing of Red Oil. Almost to the letter, the injured person went back to work, relieved of a scorching pain and armed with a healthy belief that he was his way to being well. Infection was hardly ever reported, and the person was left without the dread of being out of work. Red Oil was the cure for almost anything except hurt feelings.

Soon, even the dogs and cats were treated with the same medication that was used on their owners. The old cat waited to be dosed after a nighttime fight with one of his daytime buddies. The dog well understood the goodness of that Red Oil and waited to be treated from a nighttime of hunting through briar patches.

Children learned that it helped with the hurting of a skinned knee or a rug burn that could keep you limping for weeks. Marble players who suffered an injured knee welcomed its soothing effect. It became a staple in all Southern homes, especially those located close to a cotton mill.

One of my closest friends endured laparoscopic surgery a few months ago. The spot where the tool entered her abdomen was slow in healing. She returned to the doctor a number of times, and he assured her that it would take a little longer. She went back time and time again, always to hear the same thing.

One evening her husband, who was born in Chester County and knew mill life well, said, "I've got an oil that will probably heal that place if you want to try it.

"What kind of oil?" she questioned in a very uptown manner.

Her husband, who is not given to poetic speech, said, "Well, it is just Red Oil, but it cures everything." He handed her a small bottle and added, "It doesn't take much, a little bit will do it."

She stared at the bottle and said, "It's made in North Carolina."

So, he said, "Would it be OK if it was made in New York?"

She left the room, and the injury was never mentioned again, nor did she return the bottle of oil until this column was being written and I called her. "How is that place that wouldn't heal?" I asked. "What place?" she questioned. "The one from the surgery," I replied.

"Oh, it's all well" she answered in a surprised kind of way, and I thought, how quickly we forget all the good things in our lives.

Soon, those very folks who relied on its healing properties began to say its name in a Southern cadence. It was not said in a two-word form -- it became "Redal" and has stayed that way for more than 75 years. It is ours, and we honor it and say its name in our very own way.

Long live "Redal." It was born below the Mason-Dixon.

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