Every person growing up has those moments when they wish they could crawl back into the womb and start all over again. Visualize that for a moment. Anyway, some of us have more of these situations than others. As you follow my blog, you will realize I should have started over a long time ago. Again, for many, these situations seem to pop up during our teenage years. You remember them, the days when you thought you were mature and sophisticated only to find that you were still just an over grown baby stumbling over your feet.
There were numerous traits that followed me into the teen years which I wish would have disappeared. Two of them were crooked teeth and gagging. Real qualities every teenage boy wants, especially if he is trying to impress any one of the opposite sex unless it was the girl next door that you grew up with and was more like a sister. Of course, she was probably going through the same transition period.
Crooked teeth. Today, kids get braces as soon as their baby teeth are out and I guess even sooner in some cases. When I was growing up I think they were hoping that gravity or a fist would straighten them out before money needed to be spent to do the job. In my case, neither of the mentioned options worked. My front teeth were crossed like two scissor blades. You guessed it, I was the famous “scissor tooth” I am sure you’ve heard of me. The formation was great for one thing. I could launch water out through the hole made by the crossing. Unfortunately, this was not a talent that was in high demand.
Dr. Hoban finally convinced the folks that if this boy is going to have any kind of acceptable social life or career, it might not be a bad idea to fix those teeth. I also think Dr. Hoban knew priesthood was in my future and he did not want to be looking at his potential future pastor and know that he could have fixed a major distraction to Sunday’s homily.
There were several options presented by Doc to the folks. Pull some teeth to make room for the expansion and then place permanent wires all through my mouth. An expensive option at that time. The other option, the “dime store” version, (remember Dime Stores) was a removable retainer that would slowly move the teeth into a somewhat respectable position.
Now the folks loved me. Mom would often say I was her special child. She passed without ever clarifying what she meant by that. Dad, never seemed to argue with her on that description. Anyway, they chose the Dime Store route for their special child, only because that is what resources allowed.
Most kids today, as mentioned before are getting their braces at seven or eight, but not me nooo, they waited until those transition years of the teens. Like I needed one more thing to add to my scissor toothed fame. What I did possess at this time was a job. When most kids my age were running newspapers or car hops and Mutt and Jeff’s, I had a real job with a major corporation. I was the after school floor sweeper at the J.C. Penny store. I walked the four blocks down the hill, not really a hill but we called it that, drop my books off at home, and walk the four blocks up in the opposite direction to the Penny store. I stayed there until closing time, sweeping the floors, dumping trash, cleaning windows and whatever Mr. Comfort assigned me to do.
I was good at my job and the work ethics instilled by the folks soon earned me a promotion to weekend shoe salesman. I loved my Penny’s family. I was a kid in an adult world and they depended on me. I was so important that for my weekend work, I wore a tie and took breaks with the rest of the employees in the break room, which was really just a table in the stockroom next to an old refrigerator. You bought your pop right out of the fridge, leaving your fifty cents in the coffee can on top.
Ok, let’s jump back to the teeth, just keep in mind the Penny store duties. Dr. Hoban prepared the retainer that would eventually stretch my teeth like a muscle man pulling apart the bars of a jail cell. This was accomplished after several attempts at sticking oozing globs of paste in my mouth to construct molds for the oral device. This process was agonizing for me and Doc. Remember, I was a gagger. He would stick that glob in my mouth and leave the room while it harden. Meanwhile, I could feel my little toe trying to work its way out of the back of my throat. When he came back in the room, moving slow t do to his advancing age, I was all but standing on my head trying to ward off the impending gut wrenching that was coming. After two or three attempts, we got it done.
Early on a Saturday morning, the device was ready. I walked up to Docs office prior to going to work to sell shoes. He wanted to fit me with the retainer and make the final adjustments. A great plan until I walked out of the office.
The office was two blocks south of the store. It was early Saturday morning, the sidewalks were busy with shoppers and people just out to socialize. Even to this day, downtown Falls City is a hub of activity compared to other small towns. I am one player in this crowd. Dressed in the best style of the day, white shoes, white belt, plaid slacks, probably a silky shirt and a tie wide enough to use as a tablecloth. I didn’t stand out at all next to the bib overall, blue jeans and chambray shirts.
Now, let’s go back to the gagging bit. I am walking up the street with this new gizmo stuck in my mouth pulling at my teeth. Right about in front of Brown’s Shoe Store the gag kicks in. I look like someone mid-way between and epileptic seizure and being shocked by a cattle prod. I am hanging on to the light pole talking myself out of losing breakfast right there in front of all of Falls City. Sweat is dripping from every available pore as well as drool coming from both corners of my mouth. Mothers were moving their kids away from me, politely ducking into stores they never intended to visit. Thank God cell phones and You Tube was not even imagined at this time. I would have been trending social media for sure.
I finally composed myself and made it to work. My tongue was bloody from being cut from all the wires in my mouth and my whole mouth felt like a fist was shoved inside of it.
So you think this is the worst of it. Not even close.
I was standing at my post, just inside the shoe department. I am practicing the slow breathing exercises Doc taught me to ward off the gags. I sounded like a man practicing to make obscene phone calls. In walked probably one of the prettiest girls I had seen up to this time. She was definitely and out of town girl, most likely a college girl and all she had on were bib overalls. Let that sink in, only bib overalls! Make things worse, she was walking directly towards the shoe department. Now you have a heavy breathing, gagging teenage boy, dressed like a seventies used car salesman being approached by what looked like a girl right out of the pages of Playboy, the College Coed edition. Now we have a story.
With half a gag being suppressed I was able to mouth, “Can I help you?”
She told me her size and what she was after. In those days, shoes were stored in backrooms with racks of shoes from floor to ceiling. You could always kill some time looking for a pair of shoes which gave you the advantage to plan your conversation with the customer, a sales trick taught to us by our manager. I needed the time to compose myself, let alone figure out what I was going to say.
I found her size and style and made my way back out. Again, these were the days when the sales person actually fit the shoes on the customer. We positioned ourselves in front of the customer so that we could slide the shoes on with our ever handy shoe horns. Okay, now on this stool I am level with the bib portion of this Delilah’s overalls. When she bent down to inspect her new slides, my treat was, well you can imagine, remember nothing but bib overalls.
So far I was able to maintain a level of professionalism required by the code of shoe salesmen. But then, I was painfully reminded that I had an extra piece of plastic in my mouth. The saliva that was being held back by the second artificial roof of my mouth needed somewhere to go. In a very professional manner, I leaned over to check the fit of her shoe, the gag kicked in. With a gaping open mouth providing the exit, the biggest wad of spit slid out from behind the plastic, trailed down in a long stream and landed perfectly on her beautiful bare ankle.
It’s all part of growing up.