Thursday, October 18, 2007

The Magic Potion That Saved My Life

My good friend, Mary, sent me this beautiful Halloween card, and it's most appropriate for my Halloween story, which is about a good witch! Thank you so much, Mary, you are a dear. I hope you enjoy: The Magic Potion That Saved My Life

When I was seven and still living in a small village in my homeland, Hungary, I had a close encounter with a witch. The village was right on the Serbian border, and both Hungarians (which we were) and Serbians lived there. My maternal grandparents, who were raising me, owned the only general store in town. My grandmother ran the store while Grandfather, the towns judge, attended to his duties at the courthouse.

There was an ancient Serbian woman in the village named, Tekla, who lived in a shanty at the edge of town, and was rumored be a witch. People said Tekla had strange powers and could put curses on people who made her mad. They said she made powerful potions and chanted strange-sounding chants, and everyone knew her only friend was her black cat.

Most children were warned to avoid her, which wasn’t hard to do, since Tekla was quite reclusive, rarely leaving her shanty. On those occasions when we did catch a glimpse of her, hobbling along with her cane, a black babushka on her head, we’d run to avoid her, and then tell scary stories that we had heard about her. My grandmother didn’t approve of the stories, and told me often that they weren’t true.

“She is not a witch. She is just an odd old woman who lives differently from most people, so they call her a witch. You don’t have to be afraid of her,” Grandma would say.

Weekdays usually found me in school, but this one day I was in the store. It was raining and I had my nose buried in a book. At noon, after feeding me, Grandma got ready to take Grandpa his lunch at the courthouse, as she usually did.

“Since it’s pouring out there, you might as well stay here. I’ll be back in 15 minutes,” Grandma said. “Everyone knows the store is closed at noon, so no one will come. But you lock the door behind me, and if you get scared, run next door.”

“Uh-huh,” I nodded as Grandma went out the door, and promptly stuck my nose back in the book. My cat, Paprika, was curled up under the counter, snoozing contentedly. The rain continued pounding the roof; the door stayed unlocked.

Suddenly, I was startled by the ringing of the store’s bell. I looked up and saw the bent figure of Tekla, the witch, entering. My mouth fell open, while my heart began to race. I wanted to flee out the back door, but my feet seemed frozen; so I just stood there and stared at her.

“I’ve come to buy some flour and sugar,” she said, breaking the silence.

“We...we are closed,” I said shakily. “If you come back in 15 minutes, Grandma will get what you need.”

“It’s a long walk to the store, and I’m wet and tired. I’ll just sit down on this chair and wait,” Tekla said, lowering her bent frame down and adjusting the knot of her black babushka. .

Paprika, the cat, began to stir. His curiosity had been aroused. So he got up, stretched, and walked around the counter to investigate the visitor.

“Oh, what a pretty orange kitty,” Tekla crooned, breaking into an almost toothless grin. “Here kitty.” Paprika walked over to her and rubbed against her legs, while a bony hand reached down to pet him.

I was still on alert, ready to make a getaway, but the scenario in front of me had somehow mesmerized me.

“I love cats,” Tekla continued. “I have a cat, too.”

Of course she had a cat. A black cat! Everyone knew that.

“Cats are wonderful friends. They never care about how you look, or about the lies others say about you. They just love you for yourself.” And as she uttered those words, she sounded so sad and forlorn that I had the urge to somehow comfort her. So I picked up some candy from a box on the counter and walked over to her. “These are for you,” I said, holding out my hand, even though I felt like giving her a hug.

“You are a sweet girl, little one,” she said taking the candy, her bony fingers touching mine. “Thank you very much.” Just then, the door opened, and in walked Grandma.

“Tekla came to buy some flour and sugar,” I announced to my surprised grandmother.
"I told her she could sit and wait for you.”

“Yes, your little one has been most kind,” Tekla said, raising herself out of the chair. “Now if you could get me what I came for, I’ll be on my way.” When she walked out the door, she looked back and waved her bony hand at me.

The following week, on a lovely fall day, my grandparents and I went to visit a relative in the country who grew grapes. While the adults were busy in the house, I stayed outside and got reacquainted with the resident chickens and ducks. After a while, I came to some stone steps leading into the cellar, so I snuck down those steps and entered the cool, sweet-smelling world of the cellar. There, I discovered something forbidden-fermenting wine filling the air with a sweet musky scent from some barrels lined up like soldiers.

One of the barrels had a long, tube-like object conveniently on top of it. I pushed it into the barrel and sucked up the sweet liquid, smacking my lips in appreciation. Then I sucked up some more of it, and more still. Suddenly, my world began to spin, and then everything went black!

When I opened my eyes again, I realized I was back in my own bed. I could hear people talking to each other in hushed voices, while my grandmother wailed pitifully somewhere in the room.

“She has alcohol poisoning,” a voice I recognized as our doctor's, was saying. “And she is not responding to treatment.

“Someone go get the priest,” Grandma wailed. “I don’t want her to die without the Last Sacrament.”

I realized they were talking about me, and tried to sit up. But I couldn’t move or talk. I seemed to be imprisoned in my own body. Then I lost consciousness again.

I was told later what happened next. Tekla had heard the news that I was dying, so she hurried to our house carrying something. When she knocked at the back door and Grandfather saw her standing there, he almost slammed the door in her face.

“I have a potion. It will help the little one get well,” Tekla announced loudly.

“Go away, old woman,” Grandfather told her gruffly, but Grandma came to the door just then. Tekla told her about her potion, adding, “It will help the little one get well.”

So my desperate grandmother took the jar containing the dark liquid and-despite the objections of both the doctor and priest, administered it to me on the spot.

“It wasn’t easy to get it into your mouth,” she told me later. “We had to pry your mouth open and spoon it in slowly. Then we laid you down again and began a prayer vigil at your bedside.”

The following dawn, I opened my eyes. I heard murmuring in the room and realized people were praying. Then I heard Grandma crying softly somewhere nearby. I turned my head to see if I could see her and realized I could move! I wiggled my fingers and toes. They all seemed to be working again! But what was that strange feeling in the pit of my stomach?

Then, recognizing the feeling, I suddenly sat up and cried out, “Grandma, where are you? I’m sooo hungry!”

“It’s a miracle!” someone in the room shouted, as Grandma ran to my side.

“It’s Tekla’s magic potion,” Grandma said joyously, holding me close. “It worked just as she said it would.” Then she hurried to the kitchen to bring me something to eat.

A few days after my “magical” recovery, my grandparents loaded some groceries, and me, into our wagon, and we went to thank Tekla for saving my life.

When we got to her shanty, she seemed very surprised to see us.

“Thank you for saving my life,” I told her self consciously, looking down at her wrinkled face.

“Yes, we are most grateful,” Grandma said, while Grandfather unloaded the groceries they brought along. “If there is anything else you need, just let us know,” he said.

“Oh, but you are not beholden to me in any way. I was happy to be able to help,” Tekla said.

“People say you gave me a magic potion. Is that really true?” I asked her.

“Well, little one, my potion is just an old remedy taught to me by my dear, departed Papa, a long time ago. He had a lot of old remedies that I have used over many years, and they have kept me healthy for over 89 years.” Then turning to my grandparents she explained, “I mixed the charred pieces of some wood with a little water. Nothing to be concerned about.”

“I wasn’t concerned,” Grandma said firmly. Then, as we were leaving, I looked back at Tekla and waved. It was the last time I ever saw her, because World War II intensified in our region and we left the area for upper Hungary. We finally were able to flee our war-torn country in the fall of 1947, eventually immigrating to the United States in 1951.

Years later, I was having coffee with a friend, when I told her the story about the magic potion that saved my life.

“Interesting” the friend said, jumping up from the table we were sitting at. “I have to show you something.” She lifted a huge book from her bookshelf and laid it on the table. It was a Medical Encyclopedia. She opened it to the first page and showed me the first entry. “Ancient Universal Antidote for Poisoning.” It listed charred wood mixed with some water as the ingredients.

Of course, today the potion is well known as Activated Charcoal. But in 1943, when I was seven, it was still considered a magic potion that only a select few, like kind hearted witches, knew about.

Have a safe and Happy Halloween, everyone!


Michele L. Tune said...

Hi Renie,

I really enjoyed this story! I could NOT pry my eyes away for a second!

It was action packed, a little spooky for a little girl, and such heartfelt nostalgia all wrapped up into a short, pleasing read!

I'm so glad you were ok, and that you learned Tekla was a dear, sweet soul ;0)

Thanks so much for sharing, Renie! I could read about your life endlessly....


Renie Burghardt said...

Hi Michele,

Thank you very much for your always kind, encouraging comments. You are a sweet, dear friend, and I'm fortunate to know you. I hoped the story would be appropriate as a Halloween story. I'm glad that you enjoyed it. I hope you've had a productive writing day!



PS. Hope our dark and stormy nights are done with for a while.

Tina Coruth said...


What a interesting and amazing story! I enjoyed reading it, it kept me on the edge of my chair. You have a wonderful way with words. Thank God for Tekla!


Mary said...


An amazing story. I kept my eyes riveted to my computer monitor. And you're right... the graphic goes perfectly with the story.

I always love your childhood stories. Thanks for sharing.


Renie Burghardt said...

Hi Tina,

Thank you for your kind comment on my little story. Always a pleasure to see you here.


Dear Mary,

Isn't the graphic perfect? Thanks again for sending it. And thank you for your nice comment. Having you and Tina visiting here reminds me of old times. Have a wonderful weekend!


Michele L. Tune said...

Hi again, Renie! Just wanted to drop a teeny comment and let you know that my Mother loved your story as well.

Considering she's keen on tonics in little bottles, too, she found this quite amazing ;0)


Renie Burghardt said...

Oh, tell your Mom thank you. (Thank you, Deborah!) What was amazing to me was when I found out many years later, that the tonic was activated charcoal! A very old remedy some considered a magic potion in the old days. It really did save my life, and scared me silly about indulging in alcoholic drinks ever again. Of course, when I was a little kid, I didn't know what I was drinking, just that it tasted good.

Thank you for telling me about your Mom liking my story. That's so sweet of you.



Michele said...

Well, thank God for "magic potions!" *Smiles*

Oh, I thought that was so cute about you lopping up the "sweet liquid!" he he ;0)

Your welcome, Renie. I just had to let you know that Mom just loved it and we're so grateful for Tekla and her magic potion because we've had the grand opportunity to count you as a cherished friend!


Renie Burghardt said...

Aww, thank you, my dear, you got me teary eyed now. God bless you both.


Mountain Mama said...

What a beautiful story and a wonderful lesson for all. Never judge a book by it's cover and you have to read it yourself if you really want to know what's inside.
Your life has apparently been a fascinating one. I'm so glad you survived and can tell about it.

audrey` said...

Hi Renie

Beautiful story =)

Renie Burghardt said...

Mountain Mama,

So very true about never judging a book by its cover. Thank you kindly for your nice comment and visit. It's always so nice to see you here.



Hi Audrey,

How nice to see you here. I'm glad you liked my story. Thank you kindly for visiting. God bless!


Tossing Pebbles in the Stream said...

I enjoyed your charming story, so seasonal with layers of meaning.

Renie Burghardt said...

I'm glad you enjoyed the story, Philip. Thanks so much for reading and commenting. Have a great weekend.


deborah wilson said...


What a great little story! It only goes to show that alot of people who were once thought of as witches were only herbalists or using ancient natural recipes for medicine.

If I drank that much wine, I'm sure that I would have died, regardless.

Renie Burghardt said...


Thank you for the nice comment. I'm not sure if I drank that much wine, but enough to make a seven year old pretty sick. And so true about the old remedies being used by herbalists.

Have a great weekend!


Marsha said...

I loved this story. Thank you so much for sharing.

Renie Burghardt said...

Hi Marsha,

Thanks so much for the nice comment. I appreciate it. Have a lovely weekend.


Merle said...

Dear Renie ~~ I so enjoyed your story and it shows how we should not judge by appearances or gossip. So glad your life was saved and you are here to write about it. Beautifully!!
Thank you so much for your comments
and I am glad you enjoy visiting.
Take care my friend and keep the stories coming. Love, Merle.

Renie Burghardt said...

Dear Merle,

Yes indeed, we should never judge by appearances or gossip. Or judge at all!

Thank you kindly for the lovely comment on my little story. I'm so pleased that you enjoyed it. Hope you're having a great Monday in Aussie Land.

Warmest regards,


2 LMZ FARMS said...

I really enjoyed your story. You amaze me with the stories of your childhood. Hope you and yours have a blessed day.

deborah wilson said...


To help promote your story so that more people can enjoy it, I'm going to spotlight it tonight after midnight (so it won't show up on the same date with the post I'm about to make). hehe

Renie Burghardt said...

Oh, my goodness, how very nice of you, Deborah. Thank you very much. People in blogland are just the nicest people one can be privilidged to meet.

Bless you!


Dear Laura,

Thanks so much for the kind words on my story. I'm so grateful to have gotten to know folks like yourself.

Blessings to you as well.


Leann said...

I dont believe in wickes,but I do believe in angels.tekla is one of yours.she was there when you needed her.and because when she needed you on the rainy day,you helped and welcomed her.
let me tell you a story of the man I feared.
he was a little old man all bent and odd looking.and he didnt look right in the head.for some reason I was afriad of him.
Id see him every time I went to clock work Id see him with his lunch bucket, walking slowly down the street.
I would hurry by and get this scary feeling in the pit of my stumic.
Id always pray for him and speak salvation over him.
but I would not think of him with anything but fear.
it upset me cause I have nver been one to fear much of anything.and for the life of me dont know why I feared him.
but being a christain I felt bad to fear one of Gods creation.

one day I was driving into town and I saw him,it was raining and he only had a old cloat on and he was getting wet.
I heard the Lord say pick him up.
I said Lord please domnt make me pick up that man!!!he could be siral killer and I have a faimly to raise.
I drove on,but the voice said pick him up!
I got down the road and new I would be sorry if I didnt obey.
so relucktently I turned around and went back.saying well if he kills me its your fault Lord!!!!!

I stopped the car by him and in a scared voice said would you like a ride.
he must have seen the fear in my eyes and hear it in my voice.but he got in anyway.

I said where are you going?he said to the north part of town and I could just drop him off by one of the stores.
on the way I asked his name and told him mine.he said he lived in the south part of town,and came every day to sweep the parking lots.and the man at the diary Qween payed him for his work.

he said he lived in a group home,cause he was old and needed help to live.he said his wife was in a nursing home and he visited her every week.some lady took him to see her.

we got to the store and it was where my daugther worked.he got out and he went to get his broom.

I learned a lessen that day.
"all people are afraid of some thing they dont understand.but God has his hand on us all,and we are all part of his plan."

later my daughter told me more about the little guy.and Ill write it in my blog some day.

angels come in all shapes and sizes.we never know when we will see then or help them,but we will alway know when they help us....

HAPPY HARVEST TIME,its the time of year when Gods bountyful harvest makes us all feel thankfulness and praise to the God who gives us bountyfully.

some would have called him a gooblin,or a goowl,a twisted old man,or the the town fool.but Go showed me he was a friend.

God bless you friend.I enjoyed your story very much you are a gifted story teller.your work belongs in a book about your life.

I have a dear stemother who came from the Ukraine.and she was saved from a dream her grandma had.Ill write it one day to.I love to sit and hear her storys as well.

Renie Burghardt said...

Dear Leann,

What a touching story about the old man you were afraid of. Unfortunately, we are much too often scared of people who look different, act different, live differently because of circumstances often beyond their control. And you are right, we are all His children; He loves each and every one of us, and reaching out and helping one of of His children that need kindness and help, will be a real blessing to us in the end. I hope you write more about him. And also write about the story your dear step mother told you. I know you just came back from a visit with her, and I'm sure you enjoyed listening to many of her stories.

Leann, thank you from the bottom of my heart for your kind remarks about my story. My Guideposts Editor recently asked me if I would be interested in putting my World War II experiences in a collection, in a book. Perhaps I will one day.

I'm glad to see you back, and am looking forward to your posts. Thanks again, and God bless you!


Merle said...

Hi again Renie ~~ Thank you so much for your comments on The Crabby Old Man. And if we are lucky enough, we will all get to be Crabby old People...
The alternative is not so good. How about Olive at 108
blogging in Australia - she is very alert and looks good. She is in my Aussie blogroll, if you haven't seen or heard of her. Lucky you having rain !! Take care, Love, Merle.

pia.olano said...

thanks for the visit. really hope to see you around again soon. God bless!

Renie Burghardt said...

Dear Merle,

You are right, of course, the alternative is not so good to being crabby old people.

And it's still raining in my corner of the globe. It's good napping weather, and all the trees and flowers and plants are finally getting replenished, thank the Lord.

Thank you kindly for coming by. I always look forward to your visits. Hope you are having a nice Tuesday.


Hi Pia,

And thank you for the visit here. Hope you visit again.



audrey` said...

Dearest Renie

You're most welcome.
I always enjoy myself here =)
Your blog is so encouraging.

Renie Burghardt said...


What a pleasant surprise to find you here again! Thank you. Your blog is always encouraging as well. And informative, too. That's is where I found out about purple/pink color combination's meaning. Haha.



GardenGoose said...

what a wonderful story. really enjoyed reading it. thank you so much for sharing.

Renie Burghardt said...

Thank you so much for reading the story, and the nice comment, Tina.