September 11: Remember the Love

Everyone who’s old enough to remember has a 9/11 story.  Mine is probably fairly typical of those of us with no personal connection to the events, and I’ve never written about it because it feels too much like trying to hop on the tragedy train in order to capitalize on the pageview potential.  But on this 15th anniversary I have some reflections I feel compelled to share.

My memories of that day are fragmented.  I was standing in my sunny yellow kitchen, chunky six-month-old William on my hip, when the phone rang–my husband, telling me to turn on the television.  A couple of hours later I picked him up at his downtown office and we went to lunch–at the top of the tallest building in Knoxville, which I remember feeling nervous about.

In the lobby of the building they were selling extra editions of the Knoxville News Sentinel, something so out of the ordinary that it was frightening.  We were all so desperate for news and there was no Twitter or Facebook to provide the instantaneous updates we’ve come to expect when a crisis strikes today.

On the elevator ride up to the 27th floor two men in business suits were discussing a mutual acquaintance whose son was in one of the towers.  At the time everyone still hoped he would be found alive.

I was worried when it was time to pick up the kids from school.  What did they know? What would I tell them?  Emily was ten and already knew.  Jake and Teddy were six and seven.  I remember at first just telling them that some bad people had done a very bad thing.  Because of my kids, I did not obsessively watch the television coverage for days as so many did.  I did not want them to see the towers falling.

The house we lived in back then was in a flight path.  We were accustomed to hearing noisy airplanes on their descent approach.  For the next few days, it was eerily quiet.  Once we heard an airplane and we all ran outside, terrified, to see a military plane overhead.  We were all on edge.  For some time after 9/11, loud noises made me jump.

Flash forward to the 10th anniversary, September 11, 2011, five years ago.  Six days out from our own personal tragedy, we were homeless–John and I and the little kids living with my sister Betsy, Emily away at college, Jake and Teddy staying with school friends, even our dog being farmed out to my other sister.  We had lost just about every material possession.  I didn’t have the emotional energy to think about 9/11.  I remember writing on Facebook that I felt guilty posting about our circumstances with all the posts about the anniversary reminding me that our tragedy was small by comparison.

Since its launch in 2004, Facebook has become a fixture in our society, the way most of us keep in touch,  read news, express our feelings on matters both personal and political.  I can’t help but wonder how our experience of 9/11 would have been different if Facebook had existed back then.  I know that in the case of our September 2011 disaster Facebook was how we shared the news and received encouragement and help.  This year, on the 5th anniversary of the fire, I was looking forward to seeing those old posts in the “On This Day” feature that Facebook helpfully notifies me about first thing each morning.  I braced myself a little because those memories are painful, but recalling the support of friends, family, and acquaintances is uplifting.

Imagine my surprise, then, that even though five years ago I was posting about nothing but the fire and its aftermath for probably two weeks, my Facebook memories are a cheery collection of memes and articles and comments from every year but 2011.  Facebook has apparently decided without any input from me that the events of September 2011 are too traumatic and I couldn’t possibly want to revisit them.  Presumably if 9/11 had occurred in the Facebook era, it would also be scrubbed from everyone’s “On This Day” feature as something too dark to recall.

And while I am in awe of Facebook’s algorithms and appreciate their intent (as I know people in particular who have been blindsided by unexpected and unwanted visceral reminders of such events as the death of a child), I don’t WANT to forget September 2011.

I don’t particularly want to remember the sight of my burned down house and the destruction of all my treasured possessions, but I do want to remember the offers of shelter, the months of meals, the clothes and toys and gift cards, the love and the prayers.  I won’t forget them, not ever, but I also like seeing them on Facebook.  It’s worth seeing the pictures to see them, and the pictures provide the context for appreciating them.

Today my newsfeed is flooded with “We Remember” and “Never Forget” memes.  Some show the Twin Towers in ruins, some show them intact, bathed in heavenly light.  I’m sure when some people say they won’t forget they mean they won’t forget the terrorists, the hated enemies who committed this vile and cowardly attack, the outrage of being attacked on our own soil.  Our country has changed since 9/11 and I don’t think it has changed for the better.  We have become an angrier country, a frightened country, a deeply divided country.  That’s not the America I love and that’s not what I want to remember about 9/11.

What I want to remember are those who gave their lives in service to others, the way foreign countries rallied around us, the incredible feeling of unity as Americans.  And what struck me most at the time and remains with me now and what I want to remember most of all is the same thing I want to remember about September 2011:  the love–that when people were afraid they were going to die, the last thing they did if they could was call their spouses and parents and children, to say I love you just one last time.

september-11-remember-the-love

 

My Grandfather’s Chair

Growing up, I spent every Friday night at my grandparents’ home, only a few blocks away from my own.  And we were often in and out of their house during the week as well.  Like as not, when I walked in, I’d find my grandfather sitting in the living room in his favorite chair.

My grandfather wasn’t what you’d call a smiley man.  His resting face was grim.  But he’d beam when I entered the room.  “Hi, Granddaughter!” he’d say.

Always I remember him in that chair, his ash tray stand to one side, the table with the reading lamp and the clock with the numbers that flipped on the other, his feet propped on the ottoman while he watched the nightly national news, or Lawrence Welk, or his soap operas, or as he read Time, Newsweek, or U.S. News and World Report.

Sometimes I’d watch t.v. too, with him cautioning me not to sit too close to the big cabinet television with the record player in one end of it. “You won’t be able to have children when you grow up,” he’d warn me.  Sometimes we’d play checkers on the ottoman.

Granddaddy died on September 24, 1980.  It was my first encounter with death.  I remember entering the house for the first time and dreading the sight of that empty chair.

Granddaddy's Chair 2

When my grandmother decided to relocate to a retirement community, my mother moved into the house, and the furniture Mima couldn’t take was given away.  My little sister got the chair.  I took the Naugahyde recliner from the basement (which I believe was the predecessor of the chair I’m writing about).  It didn’t last long–my kids have always been hard on furniture.

I love old things and I love family things, and over time I had filled my house with items from my grandparents’ house.  I was the one who took that cabinet t.v., even though it didn’t work anymore.  I had the oil pastel portraits of my grandmother and great-grandmother, the Seth Thomas clock that used to hang in the living room, and so many other treasures that I took because I appreciated them and had room for them.  When our house burned down almost five years ago, I lost it all.  And felt guilty for being such a poor steward of family heirlooms and memories.

We’ve lived for five years in a house furnished by the love of friends and family.  We’ve even added a few heirlooms from John’s grandmother’s house.  Over time, the furniture has become ours, safe and familiar.

My sister moved at Christmastime.  She decided she didn’t have room for Granddaddy’s chair and she asked me if I wanted it.  She knew how much it would mean to me to have it.  It found a new home in our family room.

I had visions of spending time sitting in it, but honestly it isn’t a very comfortable chair, at least not for me.  Emily sits in it sometimes, but more often than not it’s inhabited by cats.  Still, it makes me happy whenever I see it.

 

Graddaddy's Chair 1

Cuttin' Footloose

When I was a teenager, the poster below (or one very like it) hung on the back of my bedroom door.
footloose kevin bacon
It wasn’t because I had a huge crush on Kevin Bacon, although I did think he was cute.   What I loved was the movie–Footloose.
As I checked my phone before bed last night, I learned that Kevin Bacon, who remains incredibly cool 30 years later and has aged better than most of us, appeared on the Tonight Show and was not too stuck up to engage in a little self-parodying here.
This was serendipitous because at the very moment he was doing this, I was watching Footloose with my big kids (well, two of them) who HAD NEVER SEEN IT.   John picked it up for me the last time he was at the video store, knowing how much I love it, and I’d been waiting for a good opportunity to share it with them.  This weekend, with John and the little people off on a quick visit to Baltimore, was the perfect time.
I was a little worried that they wouldn’t like it, that it wouldn’t stand the test of time or “translate” well across the 30 years that have passed since I saw first saw it.  I even wondered it I would still like it. (Yes, I did, for the record.  Just as much, with maybe even a little more depth as I now have a lot more understanding of Pastor Shaw’s point of view!)  Why should I care so much?  you ask.
I can’t even think of a way to describe the way I feel about this movie and the night I first saw it without resorting to the worst kind of cliches.  I was 17 in February 1984, just like Ren in the movie.  Like many teenagers then and now, my life was completely wrapped up in my group of friends.  I could not imagine a future in which I did not see or talk to them every day and I dreaded the thought of going away to college and leaving them.  We saw the movie at what was then the Cinema 6.  These days it’s an artsy place showing lots of foreign films, but back then it was our favorite theatre, perhaps because of its close proximity to the Downtown West location of Mr. Gatti’s (gone now), which for some reason was our high school’s acknowledged hangout even though the school itself was on the other side of town.
We were having a slumber party at one friend’s house and it was the birthday of another friend, and I don’t remember how we came to the decision to go to the movie, if it was spontaneous or part of the plan from the beginning.  But perhaps it’s worth noting that I remember anything about it at all.  I mean, I know some of the other movies I saw in high school, but no other evening at the movies maintains this much space in my memory, or evokes so much feeling.  I clearly remember watching the opening sequence–all those feet–and feeling excited about what was to come.  But what I remember even more is coming out of the theatre after the movie.
There were, if I remember right, six of us there that night, five girls and one boy.  I can remember coming out of the movie almost dancing–maybe actually dancing, there on the sidewalk to the south of the theatre.  I don’t remember what we talked about, other than how much we liked the movie.  Probably we were discussing what we were going next, which might have been back to the slumber party, or maybe to Gatti’s for pizza–that part I don’t remember.
What I do remember so clearly though is how I felt.  Maybe it wasn’t the movie itself.  Maybe it was just the joy of being young and with close friends, out alone at night under our own steam, having friends who were driving and a couple who even had their own cars.  But for me the way I felt that night is inextricably linked to the movie and always will be.   I felt . . . empowered.  Like I could do anything.  Like life was good and all of it was ahead of me (that part at least was true).

Spring Break!

My Facebook feed is filling up with pictures of beach views, because both Knox County public and Catholic schools are on break this week.  Were I to post a picture of my view, it would be the same one everyone has seen before:  my back yard.  I’m not complaining, though, because I do have some future travel plans to look forward to (more on that later!) and  a week at the beach would bore me to tears anyway.
The Spring Break that’s been on my mind took place last week, when both Jake and Teddy were frolicking at Panama City Beach.  Now that they are back safely (well, Jake is back safely; Teddy was here briefly and is driving back to Notre Dame today) I can let out that breath I was holding and get back to thoughts of my own “vacation”–a break, at least, from getting up before dark and spending hours driving kids around.
Teddy went to Panama City last year, and seemed surprised and irritated this year when I texted the boys occasionally to make sure they were okay (I did not hear from Teddy ONE SINGLE TIME last year). “Stop texting Jake,” he said.  “You are killing his vibe.  I didn’t die last year and I won’t die this year.”  Jake, on the other hand,  called of his own accord a couple of times to tell me how much fun they were having and ask how I was doing, and to assure me that they were being safe.
Now there was never any question of my going on a trip alone with my friends sans parents while I was still in high school.  I remember begging my mother to let me and a friend drive to Coalfield to watch a basketball tournament, returning the same evening, and she wouldn’t even allow that.   (My sister got to go on Spring Break with friends HER Senior year.  Go figure.)
My first year of college, I came home for break, bringing my roommate, who was from Seattle, eager to share Tennessee with her.  We spent one day in Gatlinburg (which back then was more or less shut down that early in the season) and one exploring the mountains.  I don’t remember what else we did.  Sophomore year we decided we wanted to go to Daytona Beach.  Even as a sophomore in college, I had to beg to be allowed to go, and promise to stop and call my mother every two hours while driving to let her know we were okay.
From what Jake told me when they got home last night, the scene at Panama City sounds something like what Daytona Beach was like back in the day.  Not that I would know firsthand or anything, because my roommate and I and our friend STAYED WITH THE FRIEND’S GRANDMOTHER.  We took a day trip to St. Augustine, and another to Disney World.  Oh, we were such good little Catholic girls (typed completely without irony).
The next year we went to Charleston, and John came along.  I was the only one who’d been there–it was the last vacation I ever took with my family, the summer before I left for college–and I was excited to go back and to show them the beautiful and historic sites.  Charleston remains a place I want to get back to.  Senior year I was busily planning an August wedding and I think I went home for Spring Break to conduct wedding-related business.  Since having kids, Spring Breaks have usually been Easter Breaks and occasionally included a few days in a hotel in Gatlinburg with an indoor pool.
Below are some pictures from a couple of those college trips.  Please excuse their condition, remembering they’ve been through fire and flood and that I have them at all is a minor miracle.

My roommate, Renee, in the Gatlinburg wedding chapel, March 1986
My roommate, Renee, in the Gatlinburg wedding chapel, March 1986

Me in the cantilever barn in Cades Cove, March 1986
Me in the cantilever barn in Cades Cove, March 1986

John in Charleston, not doing a very good job at simulated hopping, March 1988
John in Charleston, not doing a very good job at simulated hopping, March 1988

 
What about you?  Are you going somewhere special for Spring Break this year?  Do you have any memorable trips from your past you’d care to share?

Joey

That’s what I always called him, and how I will remember him, even though he was long since “Joe” to everyone, even his brother and sister.  But he was Joey to me, my big grown-up cousin, more than a decade older than me so seeming like an adult even in my earliest memories.  Always sweet to his little cousins, showing off how big and strong he was (though he was as skinny as a rail) by offering to let us punch him in the stomach as hard as we could.
He died early this morning, his illness quick, unexpected, and brutal:  strokes, possibly a heart attack, amputation, gangrene.  It’s hard to believe someone could be driving around on Monday and be terminal by Thursday, but that’s what happened.  Nothing could save him.
His life was not unmarked by suffering.  His father died tragically in 1976, when he was barely into adulthood.  His first wife died very suddenly almost 13 years ago, leaving him a widower with three children.  His mother, whom he was counting on to help with the kids, died just two months later.
There were some tensions in his family, and his illness offered an opportunity for healing to begin.
He died on All Saints Day, the first day of this month which the Church dedicates to the remembrance of the dead.  I like to think there is a wonderful heavenly reunion taking place this morning.
Please pray for his wife, for his three children, and for his brother and sister, the last ones left in their family.
Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him.  May his soul, and all the souls of the faithful departed, rest in peace.  Amen.

He who does not weep does not see

les mis poster
Y’all, I am OBSESSED with Les Miserables right now.   Searching Twitter and Tumblr tags, listening to every soundtrack I can find on Spotify pretty much nonstop, reading reviews and analyses online . . .  I cannot WAIT to see it again.  Let’s not call this a review, exactly–it’s more of a tribute (or a gush) because this movie is WONDERFUL.   It rose to the top of my favorite movie list like a rocket.
Here’s where I would normally tell you that if you aren’t interested in this movie and don’t plan to see it, you should move along.  But I won’t say that, because everyone should see this movie.  You just don’t know what you are missing.   Some are avoiding it because they think it is depressing.  No.  It’s sad.  Very, very sad. But SAD and DEPRESSING are different.  This movie–this story–is UPLIFTING.
I learned about catharsis in high school English, but I didn’t understand the point of it then.  Why seek out emotional experiences in fiction?  Aren’t our tears over the reality of life enough?  Now, though, I love me some catharsis and Les Miserables has been a source of it for me for many years.
I saw the musical on stage probably 20 years ago.  I purchased the soundtrack–on cassette–and when my big kids were little I was in the habit of listening to it regularly.  I remember clearly standing in my little yellow kitchen, chopping vegetables for supper, tears rolling down my face.  It was Fantine’s death scene that always got me then.  I only had to hear the opening line for the tears to start.
As for my kids, they grew to love the songs as well, especially “Master of the House” because of the bad words (okay to sing but not to say!).  I was so excited when almost 12 years ago the play came back to Knoxville.  I wanted the kids to see it, and we spent over 80 dollars we could ill afford then on the tickets.  My dream was squelched when I (nine months’ pregnant with #4) got put on bedrest for high blood pressure just days before the show.
John and the kids got to go, though, and in the years since we’ve kept the magic alive, frequently bursting into the initial sung conversation between Javert and Valjean. (Things like that happen around here a lot.)
I’ve never seen it since, and I was beyond excited for the movie, and especially to finally get to experience the story with the big kids. (They loved it too.)
You always wonder and worry a little about seeing an adaptation or a remake of a much-loved book or show or movie.  You know there are going to be changes.  And the newer version is going to stick in your head.  Will it spoil the old one?  If you haven’t seen this movie yet for those sorts of reasons, don’t let it hold you back.  Of necessity, a film is different from a play.  And there are some small changes.  But the changes add rather than detract.  Where additions are made they come from the book or reflect its spirit.  Here is the first of several blog posts I’ve been reading that explain this beautifully, along with quotations from the book.  Read them all.
Having experienced the story onstage and onscreen and through the music now over so many years, one thing that has interested me how my own reactions to the material have altered.  Part of that has to do with the differences in media but I also think it reflects where I am in my own my life.  As I said earlier I used to find Fantine’s death the most devastating part (it’s still sad!).  I think that was because I was empathasizing with her as we were both mothers of little children.  This time I was most moved by the death of the young men on the barricade.  Why?  Because I am now the mother of two almost grown up boys.  They reminded me of Jake and Teddy and their friends.
young rebels
 
One virtue of the movie format is that you get to know the minor characters so much better.  Even with the best seats in the house you can’t see individual faces at a play the way you can on a screen.  The young men on the barricade were humanized and individualized in the movie version.  The tragedy and waste of their deaths became personal.
Some reviews I read criticized what I saw as a strength:  the way the movie showed the characters in closeup while they were singing their big numbers, never leaving their faces for the duration of the song (which by the way were actually sung while filmed, not lip synched and added later).  Me, I thought it was amazing.  THEY were amazing.  No, they didn’t always belt out the tunes, Broadway fashion, because this was a different format, and not necessary in a film.  They ACTED the songs.  The feelings they showed were amazing.  They cried while singing.  Their voices broke with emotion.
Anne Hathaway should get an Oscar.  What everyone is talking about is The Song, and The Song is amazing, but to me her acting was just as moving in the small parts.  The way her lips trembled and her eyes filled when she knew she was about the lose her job.  The way she cried while her hair was being cut.
fantine hair cut
 
I’ve got nothing negative to say about the casting or the music, although plenty of people seem to.  I concede that Russell Crowe’s voice isn’t on the same level as the rest of the cast.  However, I liked his Javert very much and I think his softer singing shapes his depiction of the character.  His Javert was meditative, thoughtful, driven but not fanatical, trying to do what was right but getting it all wrong.  I understood this Javert.  I felt sorry for him.  I didn’t want him to die.
Hugh Jackman’s transformation from convict to Monsieur Madeleine was impressive.  We couldn’t figure out how they could possibly pretty him up!  I only knew of him before this movie.  If you’ve thought of him as an action hero he will surprise and delight you here.
I won’t go through all the characters because you can read about them anywhere.  But I will say that I am a critical person, trained to be that way as an English major, and I wouldn’t–couldn’t–criticize anyone’s performance in this movie.
I have more to say–especially about the music and the religious themes.  Because this is a profoundly Catholic movie–more than the play–and I loved it for that as well.  But I will leave that for another day and here end with a plea:  GO SEE THIS MOVIE.
P.S.  If you have a heart, you should approach Les Miserables prepared to weep.  Don’t see it with people you don’t want to cry in front of.   I had to stifle an actual sob at one point.  You’ll cry because it’s sad, and you’ll cry because it is beautiful.
 

The Future Is in Her Hands

I recently wrote about how cool it is when your kid is good at something that you aren’t able to do at all.  But how about when your kid is BETTER than you at something you are pretty good at? 🙂
My family are writers from way back.  My mother has a journalism degree; a former journalist for the Catholic press, she’s tried her hand at everything from children’s books to plays to feature articles on a variety of topics.  Her great-grandfather was the founder of the Kentucky Irish-American newspaper.    I know there are more and if she’s reading this she will probably chime in!
I like to think I am a good writer.  I’ve been making up stories before I could write them down.  I was co-editor of my high school paper and won awards back in the day.  I churned out A papers throughout college and got an Honors degree in English.  I was a reporter and columnist for the Catholic press for many years.  I wrote some pretty good X-Files fanfiction a few years back.  And of course there is this blog.
But my daughter Emily is the real writer.  She writes all the time–it’s necessary to her.  She fills up notebooks with partial stories, lists of names for characters, character sketches, story ideas.  She’s written two entire short novels.  She’s majoring in Creative Writing and plans to go to graduate school to continue studying writing.  All she wants to do is write.  I have no doubt that she will be a published author some day.  She is amazing.

And I’m not the only one who thinks so, because last week she was awarded the Rev. Andrew C. Smith, S.J. Poetry Prize at the Honors Convocation at Spring Hill College, where she is a Junior.
I cried when I read the poem, which hit pretty close to home (you’ll see) especially considering what I had just written myself the day before.  But Emily doesn’t think it’s that great, and I had to beg her to let me publish it here.  If you disagree with her, please leave some love in the comments.

The Future is Out of Reach When I am Holding the Past in My Hands
Nothing turns my stomach like the acrid odor
Of charred photo albums
And the five waterlogged childhoods
Lying smeared and ashy within.
The leather of the albums cracks
Like a battered body,
Housing secret pain.
What the flames did not get to,
The hoses made short work of.
Scorched snapshots
Bleed ink and memories
That my mother cannot face.
Twenty-two years of marriage
A life
A family
And a history
Leak into the whorls of my fingerprints;
My newborn face
Grandmother’s blouse
The green of the hospital walls
Swirl together and muddy the waters
And stain the skin on my hands
Coloring my calluses
Losing this picture feels like losing her twice.
There is mildew on my first birthday card
And I could drown in all this roasted ink;
These charbroiled mementos
Of a time when we had no idea
what real suffering was.
I salvage the past two decades that no one else will touch.
Great-grandmothers grandfathers friends cats Christmas trees rocking horses china dolls wedding gowns school uniforms jack o’lanterns baptisms
Form a fine layer of ash beneath my fingernails.
My hands are black with what we’ve lost.

A Breath of Smoke and Ashes


It’s there every time I go into the garage.  The smell of fire.  It’s there, and then I’m here:

That’s not a place I really like to be, figuratively or otherwise.  In fact, it’s become a bit of a thing:  I don’t drive down that part of Northshore any more, no matter how inconvenient the detour.
But I can’t avoid the garage.  And the boxes of pictures and books that survived the devastation.

I’ve decided that the books will stay in the garage.  We will put them on shelves, and whenever I decide to read one I will attempt to clean it then.  Occasionally I will pick one up and flip through it, and leave the garage with sooty hands that smell of fire.


Then there is the box of photo albums and baby books, miraculously rescued from a cabinet in the office.  The pictures need to be removed from the albums.  They are probably deteriorating.  I can’t make myself do it.  Emily will finish the job she began over Christmas this summer, I’m sure.

Right after the fire I worried that I would always be haunted by the smell of burning, that I would never be able to enjoy the scent of a campfire again.  But that’s not the case.  Campfires, smoke from a barbecue, the aroma of someone’s fireplace in winter, even the mulch fire running amok near downtown right now–that doesn’t bother me.  It’s the singular scent of our own personal fire that I find uniquely disturbing.
Seven months later it both seems long ago and very close, especially when another loss makes itself felt, when I suddenly think of something that I have only no, I don’t have it anymore.  It’s a little joke around here, saying, “I had that, but IT BURNED UP!”  But there’s a morbid part of me that keeps me lying awake some nights going room by room (not of the burned house, which to be honest never really felt like home, but of my Victorian house), looking in each drawer at things that are gone, remembering even what the drawer pulls felt like, torturing myself with my incredibly clear visual memory and discovering new things that I haven’t had a chance to feel sad about yet.
 
 

Things I Never Thought I'd Cry About: Losing a Dentist

A few weeks ago, I finally got around to calling William and Lorelei’s dentist to make appointments for them.  They hadn’t been there for over a year–I’d had to cancel one appointment, and then I got a little distracted by my house burning down.  Making those appointments had been on the list for awhile, and I as all prepared to take care of it quickly and cross it off with at least a small sense of accomplishment.

We’d had this dentist since Willie was a little over a year old and we learned he was going to need some serious dental surgery.  He had what they were calling “baby bottle decay,” but which was really no such thing–he never had a bottle, and there was something wrong with his teeth from the time they started erupting.  Regardless of cause, however, it meant extractions and pulpotomies and silver crowns, and we were lucky to find a dentist who would accept TennCare to do it. 

I fell in love with this dentist from the time he introduced himself to me by his first name.  We had to travel some distance to go to his office, but we continued to do so for nearly ten years.  Lorelei also has difficult teeth twice requiring outpatient surgery, and we were happy to have a dentist we trusted and were comfortable with.

So when the person on the phone said sorry, they weren’t accepting TennCare anymore, and told me how much a regular visit would cost without it, I’m embarrassed to say that I STARTED TO CRY.  Right on the phone. 

I spent the next hour consulting with the insurance, asking for recommendations on Facebook, and browsing websites till I settled on a new dentist.  William has already been, and Lorelei goes this week.  The office is nice, but everyone seems to expect parents to accompany the kids to the exam, which I consider unnecessary and “helicoptery.”  Also, we waited well over an hour to be seen.  And I always feel suspicious about dentistry in general when they tell you the kid needs a filling but it’s fine to wait until the next appointment in JUNE to get it fixed.

The fact is, I haven’t been truly comfortable–except for our lost dentist–with anywhere we’ve ended up seeking dental care since I was a child myself.  More on that in a minute.

The big kids have seen at least six dentists that I can remember.  The worst one gave them gas without asking me first and left all three of them in tears and unable to return to school.  The others were unremarkable.  I can’t even remember why we changed so much.  Sometimes we were self-paying, and other times we had insurance and had to go where they took it.  Sometimes we switched location due to a move, and sometimes it was the dentist who moved to an inconvenient locale.  I never felt crazy enough about any of them to make an effort to stay with them when circumstances changed.  As for John and me, we don’t go to the dentist.  We don’t have insurance; I’ve never had a cavity.  I think it’s been about nine years since I went.

The truth is, the dentist I want–and the kind of dentistry he practiced–is gone now, and was old-fashioned even for the times.  When I was a little girl (and until I went away to college) we went every six months to Dr. Clapp’s tiny, dark office just off Chapman Highway on Taliwa Court.  We sat quietly in the cramped waiting room where there was perhaps one other patient waiting, looking at the collection of dentistry cartoons someone had pasted in an album.  Dr. Clapp had been my mother’s dentist–still was–and he apparently hadn’t changed much since he started practicing.

I never had to wait long for the receptionist/hygienist (the same one, year after year) to walk me back to one of the two exam rooms where she got me comfortable in the chair and then left.  Then Dr. Clapp would come in, conduct the exam, and clean my teeth himself, while I watched my reflection in his glasses.  I was so surprised to learn that dentists nowadays don’t clean teeth themselves.  Every so often he had me take some water from a Dixie cup to rinse and spit.  I was grown up before I saw those rinse things they have these days–I didn’t even know they worked!

On the one occasion that my sister had a cavity, Dr. Clapp fixed it right then, none of this come back months from now nonsense.

So even after twenty-five years I’ve never been able to get used to these waiting rooms full of people, the un-private exam rooms, the dentist who appears at the end of the exam after the cleaning is done.  I’m sure there have been all sorts of advances in dentistry since Dr. Clapp closed up shop, but if there was anyone who still had an office like that, I swear that’s where I’d go.

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This is pretty much exactly what Dr. Clapp's equipment looked like except for the color--I think it was sort of pink,