Dentists

How does someone choose to be a dentist? I mean no disrespect, I’ve spent plenty of time in the chair, but it’s a little like choosing to be a proctologist, just at the other end. Really. Now that I think about it, a proctologist just might have an edge.

I can’t imagine staring into mouths all day. Tongues look disgusting up close. Decay causes bad breath. Infection smells worse.

Why, why do hygienists want to talk about everything under the sun, ask questions they answer themselves, and look down into my eyes like I’m supposed to have an opinion? All I can say is, “Uhhhh-gah-yahh-gahh-yah.”

“Only floss the teeth you want to keep.” Who came up with that? Of course I want to keep my teeth, but snapping string between my teeth to make my gums bleed doesn’t seem like a good idea.

My career with dentists started with Verne. He was big guy with horn rimmed glasses. His inner sanctum smelled like science class and the music sounded like a funeral. Mine.

Drills hanging above my head looked like Godzilla’s claws. Next to my face was a white glass plate where deadly weapons waited. The paper towel under my chin was for catching drool, tears, and flying pieces of my life.

The funeral dirge got louder as Verne came at me with a needle five inches long.

“Open,” he said.

I tried. My mouth didn’t work.

He forced it open by pushing on my chin with his big thumb.

“This might pinch a little bit.” Verne lied.

After pumping my jaw full, he stared at me to increase the misery of my impending doom.

With bare hands he reached in my mouth and started excavating. He sprayed water in just because he knew it would hurt.

“Empty,” he said.

Empty meant spit in the tiny toilet bowl flushing in front of me. Watching me trying to spit was his entertainment. My lips were no longer under my control, so spitting was more like shoving with my tongue. There was a sticky spit string stretching from the toilet to my lip. When it broke, it swung from the bowl like a grape vine in an episode of “Tarzan.”

When Verne was finished, I walked toward the door. The nurse said, “Have a good day.”

“Phlankth,” I said.

The dentist office has changed drastically since I first met Verne. I miss the little toilet bowl. Now a gadget hangs from my chin to suck everything out. The drills sound but don’t feel different. The needles are only three inches long instead of five. One thing that hasn’t changed is the contest between dentists to see which one can put the most stuff in a patient’s mouth.

Root and canal are two words that strike terror in minds everywhere. I can tell you by experience, at least seven times over, there isn’t anything to fear. I had another one just last week, and I almost fell asleep while my dentist worked. No, I’m not kidding.

Crowns on molars are a little harder to endure. The worst part is the wad of playdoh the dentist uses to make a mold. Waiting four minutes while the gagging reflex kicks into overdrive is tough. I have nine crowns.

Verne once told me that if I didn’t take better care of my teeth, I wouldn’t have any when I got old. I showed him. I still have all my teeth.

There’s a verse in the Bible that says something about casting our crowns at Jesus’ feet when we get to Heaven. I might look funny with a bunch of little stumps in my mouth.

Maybe Verne was right.

Cars We Loved and Hated – Part 2

The ’79 Olds 98 we purchased at Superior Olds Cadillac in Flint, Michigan replaced the tiny Escort. It had a few years and a bunch of miles but the price was right. It was big, solid, and comfortable.

In December of 1983, we learned Mary was pregnant with twins. In January, the doctor told us we were not going to have twins. It was going to be triplets, due April 10.

In February, we took the Olds 98 for a ride we will never forget. During our weekly visit with the doctor, he told us Mary was in labor and we had to go to Hurley Hospital in Flint, immediately.

I don’t like driving fast. Even when I was young, I never cared about seeing how fast a car could go. But on that cold winter day, I drove 90 miles per hour on Interstate 69 from Lapeer to Flint. I was sure a Michigan State Trooper would see me and help us get to the hospital with lights and siren, but we were alone on the highway the entire time.

By late afternoon, we were proud and terrified parents of triplet sons, born ten weeks early.

The big Olds carried us through the first several months of life with three tiny babies and a seven-year-old girl. Three car seats, three diaper bags, three everything.

We sold the 98 after my grandmother gave us a 1976 Ford LTD. Grandpa died in 1980 and left my non-driving grandma with the beautiful, green four-door, with tuck and roll upholstery, AM radio, air, and those cool flaps that come down and cover the headlights when they’re turned off.

I wondered if Grandpa was watching when I drilled holes in the bumper to add a trailer hitch. Probably not.

I think lots of people watched after Sunday dinner at Bill Knapp’s when I opened the hood and beat the starter with a tire iron. I put the weapon back in the trunk, straightened my tie and suit jacket, got in, started the car, and left.

The LTD hated winter. The front door latches didn’t work on extremely cold days, so we held the doors shut and drove until the car warmed up enough to thaw them.

A young couple from our church said they believed God wanted them to give us their car. No kidding. It was a 1979 Olds Cutlass. It was a nice car that still had a lot of life. We used it for several years.

We moved to Tennessee in the summer of 1988. I drove the LTD with our three boys and golden retriever, Lady. She climbed up behind the rear seat next to the window and slept. My wife drove the Cutlass with our daughter.

During that one year of struggling to survive in the south, I drove a brand new Dodge minivan. I didn’t make enough money for our family to live on, but we had a shiny vehicle provided by my employer. Bittersweet. Heavy on the bitter.

The LTD was becoming more unpredictable, so we let it go for five hundred dollars. We moved back to Michigan in the Cutlass with three in the front seat, three boys and our big retriever in the back.

I was hired as the youth pastor and choir director of a large church in our hometown. The pastor told us about a car an old couple had for sale. We bought the hideous yellow ten thousand pound Chrysler New Yorker, with every possible unnecessary option. The only thing the car didn’t have was a bagel toaster in the glove box. When it rained, a large stream of water poured from the sunroof unto my wife’s lap, which first happened on the way to church.

It was an omen when we picked up a new puppy and he promptly pooped on the back seat as our boys scrambled to get out of the way. The stench was unbelievable. I told our daughter we were going to give her the New Yorker as a graduation present. She cried.

We let the Chrysler go for a few hundred dollars and bought a LeBaron from my aunt. We put lots of miles on it, first as Mary completed her degree in education, then when our daughter left for college in Indiana. We had two major rebuilds on the LeBaron because of different cooling rates with two metals used in the engine design.

One day, my aunt called and said, “I have a friend who is selling a car you might be interested in. It’s a 1976 Chevy Caprice Classic with sixteen thousand miles on it.”

“Did you say, sixteen thousand miles?” I asked. She didn’t hear well and I was sure she misunderstood.

“Yes! Sixteen thousand miles!” she hollered.

I was unmoved. There was no way a car that was sixteen years old could have so few miles on it.

I grumbled and complained as we drove forty miles to see the mistake. When we arrived, a little old lady came out of the house to greet us.

“Hello, I’m Hazel. The car is in the barn. Here’s the key, you can go look at it,” she said.

I was still mumbling to myself as we walked to the old barn. To my great surprise, the car looked new! Dark blue body, light blue vinyl roof. Not a scratch, anywhere. It still had the original tires and exhaust. I unlocked it and we got in. Cloth seats. I swear, the interior still had that new car smell everyone loves. I put the key in the ignition and the engine fired easily. The odometer read 016134.

We walked back to Hazel. “My husband died a year after we bought the car in 1976. I only drove it to church and to the store,” she said.

Hazel sold the treasure on wheels to us for two thousand, three hundred-fifty dollars. We loved that old new car and we were sickened a year later when someone rammed us from behind. A year after that, I was hit again while I waited in a drive-thru line. Three years later the engine had to be completely rebuilt after someone I loaned the car to fried it. I sold it for eight hundred dollars.

In the following years we owned a Classic Jeep Grand Wagoneer Woody, a Chevy Geo, a Ford Taurus, a Dodge Caravan, a Honda Civic, and a Buick Rendezvous.

In 2009, we bought a 2000 Chevy Silverado Pickup. It had sixty-two thousand miles. My pickup is the vehicle we have owned the longest. I’m still driving it with 176,000 miles.

We purchased a brand new Dodge Journey from Curtis Chrysler in Cass City, Michigan. It was a beautiful minivan and we enjoyed trips to Florida, Tennessee, and Illinois without a single problem. One month after paying it off, my wife was returning home after a birthday party when a driver blew through a stop sign, hitting Mary broadside, rolling the van. She was released from the hospital the same afternoon, but the Journey was destroyed.

The insurance company paid ten thousand dollars and we bought a used Buick Encore from Al Serra Auto Plaza, in Grand Blanc, Michigan. The red Encore was a cute little car, great for errands and driving to work. We took one trip to Tennessee and knew we should probably find something with a little more room.

The most heart-wrenching vehicle we ever owned was a used 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland, purchased from a dealer. I ignored three warning signs: no warranty, fifty-one thousand miles on a ten-year-old car, and a pushy salesperson.  

We bought the car and within two miles of leaving the dealership, a warning message appeared. “Immediate Air Suspension System Repair or Maintenance Needed”. 

After many trips to the Jeep dealership, they agreed to completely replace the system, at $2400.00 with no cost to us. It was a miracle. A year later the compressor had to be replaced again, another $700.00 paid by the dealership. A few months later the system was acting up again.  

We unloaded the Jeep at Al Serra Auto Plaza in Grand Blanc, when we traded it for a 2022 GMC Terrain. Associate Jason Donaldson patiently walked with us through the entire process. That was nineteen months ago, and I still remember his name. 

That’s a lot of cars, but it’s been almost fifty years. I haven’t counted, have you?