As we ease into the holiday seasons, let’s not forget to give thanks for the little things. For example, I’m thankful I still have all my own teeth. According to my late mother, who’d lost most of hers to gum disease, I should do whatever necessary to keep my natural teeth, even if I had to mortgage my house. Her ill-fitting dentures caused her pain and discomfort the rest of her life.
The only advantage, she said, was being able to remove her “choppers” and click them like castanets as she chased her great-grandchildren until they screamed in laughter. One of them once asked if she could borrow Mom’s false teeth for “show and tell” at school. Mom had to remind her, “Honey, I wouldn’t be able to eat all day if you took my teeth to school.”
The year she had her teeth pulled, it became her sole topic of conversation. Anything we said reminded her of the ordeal. We, her grown children, were submitted to blow-by-blow descriptions of the extractions, the painful gums, and ill-fitting dentures. Finally, my sister had enough. “Mom,” she joked, “if you mention your teeth one more time, I’m going to knock the rest of them down your throat.” Mom, who had a terrific sense of humor, laughed until her sides hurt as much as her swollen gums.
Mom practiced good dental hygiene, but grumbled about her annual trip to her dentist. “Your stepfather and I have only about four teeth between us, but we still have to fill out two full pages of questions, many of them about possible pregnancy. For Pete’s sake, I’m 70 years old and he’s 80. Is that really necessary? If that happened, the three wise men had better saddle up their camels and follow the star, because there’s about to be another miracle.”
Another lesser blessing for which I am grateful is that, now that I am grown, I can choose my own clothes. The main criterion is that they be silent. When I was growing up, Mom always dressed her daughters in full skirts, stiff and scratchy crinoline petticoats, and vinyl-soled Mary Jane shoes. I lived in dread that I’d be called to the chalkboard at school. As a painfully shy child, my primary goal was to obtain an education while remaining as nearly invisible as possible.
But it’s impossible to go unnoticed in a crinoline petticoat and cheap, noisy shoes. Whenever I was called to the board, I slowly and carefully eased out of my seat. My petticoat and skirt sprang from the confines of the desk and burst into full bloom like those time-release photos of a budding cactus flower. I moved toward the front of the class, my stiff crinolines crackling loudly, protruding from the narrow aisle and invading the rows of seats, mussing my classmates’ hair, knocking off their glasses, and sweeping the books off their desks like the wagging tail of a stray dog rushing through a cluttered curio shop.
The crackling of my petticoat was punctuated by the staccato snapping of my shoes against the tile floor. Crackle, crackle, snap, snap, crackle, crackle, snap, snap. All I would have needed was for some kid to pop her bubble gum a few times and I’d have sounded like a Rice Krispies commercial.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention one of my greatest blessings: that I was raised in a loving home full of laughter by parents who gave me a stable start in life. So, thanks Mom, even if the wide-wale corduroy pants you gave me made me sound like a pioneer wagon rolling over a log road.