rememembering my long in the tooth whistling dentist

On Monday she’s having her favorite Vietnamese noodle salad with crisp Saigon spring rolls at her favorite Indochinese Bistro, and she takes her leftovers home to finish later. A microwave warmup turns those spring rolls into little pebbles hours later, and by nightfall the whole side of her face is beginning to ache. Something in the noodles–probably those rocks–made her teeth grow a mite on one side. She takes ibuprofen and tries not to think how expensive this munching malady may turn out to be if she doesn’t feel better tomorrow. Maybe all she needs is a good floss or a good shampoo. Something. Anything but a dentist. She spends a fitful night, getting up for another handful of ibuprofen around midnight and goes back to bed thinking about poor Dr. Burns who used to whistle classical tunes and ask about her travels while he worked on her teeth.

She knew from the beginning (2006)  Dr. Burns was well past his prime but she liked him anyway because he didn’t push expensive cosmetic procedures on her like the dentist in Las Vegas tried to. Did I mention she doesn’t have dental insurance? She bragged about him to her daughter, who conducted a study on cognitive aging years back. Rather than being impressed her daughter urges her to find a new dentist but she didn’t. She’s struggled with her bite for years, always a little long in the tooth, literally. She knew she might be facing tooth trauma someday, but it became mind over matter. Even when she picked up the local paper last July and happened to see her dentist’s obituary there. Not only is her one affordable link to dental health gone, but she learns her dentist was his 90s when he worked on her teeth a year and a half ago, not his late 70s as she’d believed. As he’d written his own obituary, quite a creative one as she remembered,  she realized that he must have known the last cleaning appointment she kept with him would be the last one. He never said a word, just whistled while he worked.

Maybe she had a sinus infection. Come to think of it her eye on that side had been paining her as well. She’s pretty sure hopes she didn’t have a tooth problem. She’s sure it’s just her sinuses again now that she thinks about it. She calls her  GP first thing Tuesday and gets a mid-afternoon appointment. The doctor takes a look in her ears, down her throat and makes her say Ahhhhhhh.  Can’t see anything going on in there. When was the last time you saw your dentist? The dentist died she answers. He was 92. She gives you the name of hers and tells you he’s really nice and gentle, and you really ought to have that checked out first. And he’s only about 60, by her calculation at least 30 working years left. She wouldn’t have to find a new dentist for a long time to come.

At home that afternoon Hubby makes that call she can’t make herself and viola, she has an early Thursday morning appointment. In the meantime, she washes down her third dinner (or fourth, she can’t remember) of mashed potatoes followed by water and ibuprofen. The early morning dental appointment with the new dentist led to an early afternoon one with an endodontist for a possible root canal! All the time she kept struggling to remember what she’d read recently about the Four Immutable Laws of the Spirit: Whoever is present (in your life) are the right people, Whenever it begins is the right time, Whatever happens is the only thing that could have happened, and When it’s over, it’s over!

In a nutshell, that’s  how the whole week goes by until she found herself–quite unexpectedly–in a situation similar to this one later that afternoon for more than two hours.That was as long as the endodontist could hold up, wiping the sweat from his brow and telling her how tired he was getting. He also said hers was the hardest root canal he’d ever done, and he’d been in the profession quite a few years. There are three major roots in a series of canals and he could only find two. He’d have to close up and finish it up in a few days. He and his assistant both mentioned how they’d never had such a hard time before. She told them both how special it was to be at the top of somebody’s list. Made her feel so special even though the pain for the six days made her worry she would lose that tooth, No. 14, and still wind up in the poor house.

The week wasn’t entirely horrible. She’s had enough drama in her life so as to have learned how to take life’s lemons and make as sweet a lemonade as possible from them. She decides to use not feeling up to par as an excuse to do as little as possible the rest of the week and the next. No blogging. Just enough cleaning so as to make a path to her favorite easy chair and the television remote. No gym. As little cooking as possible. When mama can’t eat, it’s hard for mama to be enthusiastic about cooking. Only soft stuff to eat. No ice cream. Alas! Cold made her mouth ache. Hubby pitched in and either got his own dinner together or scraped up dried foodbits from the dirty kitchen counters after the leftovers were all gone. Once he was desperate enough to look up a recipe on line for Migas (a Tex Mex scrambled egg dish with salsa and tortillas) like he’d eaten years ago in Albuquerque or Austin. When he found a meatless that looked like the one he remembered, he made some for both of them for dinner one night. It was soft so that all sge had to do was roll it over and around her tongue a few times and swallow. It was delicious and easy, an unbeatable combination. If she decides to make it herself some time, she’ll find it here.

As somebody once said, it ain’t over until it’s over. She’ll be visiting her new dentist, Dr. Dickson, who is nice–but doesn’t whistle while he works–in a week or two to have the crown fixed now that the endodontist, who was nice enough to  file down those long teeth that were making it painful for her to chew, had drilled the heck out of the crown. It’ll all have to be done over again when the crown gets fixed. And she still doesn’t have dental insurance. In the meantime, she tries not to think too far into the weeks ahead now that she can eat again. Dr. Burns, god rest his soul, won’t be soon forgotten. In fact she thinks of him every time she flosses her teeth.

reuminating on feminism and old habits

Earlier this week a friend sent me these basic rules for clotheslines–bringing up memories of a past life–that I’ll bet many of you remember as well. Judging from the tacked on comments and additions, this apparently made the email rounds many times over. I tried a web search in order to find the original so I might provide a source, and it was pretty near impossible. It’s too good not to pass along, and somehow I doubt whoever started it won’t mind too much. I added my own thoughts in parentheses at the end of the lines. Younger readers, or those who grew up in the city apartments, or those whose family was rich enough to hire your laundry done, it’ll be a good chance to glimpse the “good ol’ days.”


1. You had to hang the socks by the toes. NOT the top. (They were always hung in pairs to conserve clothespins.)
2. You hung pants (trousers) by the BOTTOM/cuffs. NOT the waistbands. (Years later, Mama bought these “stretcher” frames she placed inside each leg, so that creasing down the leg centers–made by the stretchers–meant she didn’t have to iron them.)
3. You had to WASH the clothesline(s) before hanging any clothes–walk the entire length of each line with a damp cloth wrapped around the lines so you didn’t get smudge marks on the damp items. (That was MY job. There was a long wooden pole with a cut in the top that was used to prop and push the lines up. That way longer items like sheets and pants couldn’t brush the ground and get dirty.)
4. You had to hang the clothes in a certain order, and always hang “whites” with “whites,” and hang them first. (The “whites” had to be WHITE. That’s how Mama judged the level of housewifely skills of every woman in the countryside, always quick to point out how “dingy” so-and-so’s “whites” were getting.)
5. You NEVER hung a shirt by the shoulders – always by the tail! What would the neighbors think? (Besides, you didn’t want little stretch bumps–caused by the weight–sticking up on the shoulders.)
6. Wash day on a Monday! NEVER hang clothes on the weekend, or on Sunday, for Heaven’s sake! (Iron on Tuesdays, and so on.)
7. Hang the sheets and towels on the OUTSIDE lines so you could hide your “unmentionables” in the middle. (Nobody else needed to know or observe as big hers were or how tiny mine were.)
8. It didn’t matter if it was sub-zero weather… clothes would “freeze-dry.” (Starch had an effect, too. Sometimes a Sunday shirt was so stiff with boiled starch, you could almost hold the sleeve and it would walk into the house by your side!)
9. ALWAYS gather the clothes pins when taking down dry clothes! Pins left on the lines were “tacky”! (Plus they would last a lot longer too! We had an assortment of three kinds, all wooden, one with a little spring that made a better grip , and the others, both–one rounded and one flat–a little plainer & cheaper, plus they made great clothespin dolls if you could filch a few.)

(Photos: Wikipedia)   

AND some of you may remember the dhobi-ghats in my post about the Dhobi Ghats in Mumbai where they don’t even use pins (!), and they hang the clothes according to color too.

10. If you were efficient, you would line the clothes up so that each item did not need two clothes pins, but shared one of the clothes pins with the next washed item.  (AND you made sure the items were taut and not dragging in the center.)
11. Clothes off of the line before dinner time, neatly folded in the clothes basket, and ready to be ironed. (They smelled wonderful!)
12. IRONED???!! Well, that’s a whole OTHER subject!

I was thinking on this as I caught up on my own laundry this week, using my automatic machines that not only does my washing but the drying as well. It took me only part of my day and in between I had time to snack and read and sit in the swing. How different life is for women to do their own wash these days.  I’m reminded of a poem by my favorite contemporary poet, Marge Piercey, brought to my attention by Garrison Keillor on The Writer’s Almanac PBS. Her poem,  The Good Old Days At Home Sweet Home, goes a long way in expressing the sentiment behind her feminist views. In it she speaks of a vivid scene as she was growing up in the ’50s and ’60s just as I did (she’s a few years my elder). In the final four lines of a poem that simply and eloquently describes her mother’s life of drudgery, she writes:

It could have been any day, as she did again and again
What time and dust obliterated at once.
Until stroke broke her open, I think it was Tuesday,
When she ironed my father’s shorts.

I have the same bittersweet memories of laundry days gone by, years and years of example from the lives of my own mothers and grandmothers. Suddenly this morning as I was ironing the towel that likes to hang out at my kitchen stove., yes you read that right, I like my towels to hang neatly, and unfortunately I’d left mine in the dryer too long and it wrinkled so badly, it wouldn’t hang right. So I got out the iron and ironed it so it would lay straight because it has a message I hold dear. Did someone say IRONIC? Don’t mind what I do, just listen to what I say with the things I use:

when I’m an old woman I shall wear purple

So much has been going on I hardly know where to start. Last Friday the hubby disappeared–he does that a lot since it must be a great challenge to live with an older woman (he’s exactly 10 months younger, you see).    I was in the office because there had been a telephone call a few moments before that I expected Hubby would answer, as I was sure he knew I was busy catching up on my ironing in the bedroom. But he didn’t. After four rings, the answering service picks up. I wondered why he hadn’t answered–so I went looking for him, deciding first to check to see if the missed call had been important or if there was a message. The doorbell rang. I waited a moment for Hubby to appear because I was still in my pajamas even though it was nearing 11:00. Then it rang again, this time more urgently.

What to do? First I called out to Hubby. No answer. Where was that man this time? I can see the front stoop from my office window, so I glanced out and saw the back of a young man’s head, but I could tell from the voices there was at least one other person with him. My first thought was missionaries. Or Jehovah’s witness.  Now I have nothing against either group, but I was so behind on seasonal switching out chores I truly didn’t have time to chat. The doorbell chimed again, then the banging began. I started to the bedroom to find a robe, but when I saw the heavy winter fuzzy hanging there, I thought it would look sillier than the white tee-shirt with blue fish (yes, the very one I was forced to wear in Edinburgh in September when the heat wave hit) and the blue plaid pajama bottoms I had on.

I was so rattled, maybe startled is a better word, as I opened the door and saw the black haired young man was Ben, my NY daughter’s Significant Other, and two women. Time seemed to stop! What in heaven’s name was Ben doing here? It was when shouts of “Happy Birthday” or “Surprise” or something like that it hit me! The next day I would be having a significant birthday–the big seven and O! Hubby has always said that’s an important birthday in India, but he usually had such trouble keeping secrets and he gets so excited that I always know something’s afoot. I’d already figured out that he and the daughter who lives down the street were possibly planning something bigger than the usual dinner and cake she usually prepared. I even told him please don’t throw a surprise party or making a big deal out of it. Particularly this one! His answer was Don’t worry. You know we aren’t party people! Suddenly Hubby appears out of nowhere, and chores and everything else were forgotten. For this birthday and Mother’s Day, the whole family would be here; they’d all been planning it for months! It was the first time I ever remember being totally taken by surprise in almost my whole life.

Of course everyone came bearing gifts–themselves for the festivities (dinner out at our favorite Indian restaurant that evening and dinner with favorite cake at daughter’s house onn Saturday), books, a new linen blouse, and lime green sandals with such pizazz I’ve hardly taken them off my feet since. I am one hot mama–or grandmama–as the case may be! I’m planning to post a picture of my feet in the new shoes just as soon as I can get to the store and buy some nail polish and paint my toenails! Crimson or Cerise. Or how about Hot pink?

As for birthdays, I think 70 is a good time to start getting funky. You probably remember the book and cards from the 70s, so you know the drill. When I’m an old woman I shall wear purple! I’ve even begun to plan a new color scheme for the big room of our house that we plan to have repainted next year. One purple accent wall–with a natural gray or light charcoal walls all around with white wooden trim! (Let’s see if I still have the gut nerve next year when the time comes!) I got the idea from the new Community Center (gym, library, cafe) that opened in our township just a few weeks ago. Just in case it’s clear what that artwork is made of, here’s a close-up:

As for birthdays, especially the really really big ones, I think 70 is a good time to start counting backwards. Next year I’m going to be 69. Again. And I’m really looking forward to 21!