Here is a fun fact--okay, actually a dull fact--you probably don't know about me: I have been going to the same dentist my entire life. For 34 years, Dr. Morton the Younger has been rooting around in my mouth twice annually. It's a family affair: his father, Dr. Morton the Elder, tended our mom's teeth from the time she was about 12 until his retirement in the early 1990s. Dr. Morton the Younger inherited a lot of his father's schtick, such as holding the little water-squirty thing further...and further...and further from your mouth. "Don't move," he'd say mildly, spritzing your ivories from three or four feet overhead, just to see if he could make the shot.
Thirty-four years. I have vague memories of sitting on the floor of the exam room, coloring, waiting my turn while Sis was in the chair. Dr. Morton is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a geezer...but I'm wondering now if he simply ran directly from his commencement ceremony to my first appointment: yanking off his mortarboard and peering into my toddler mouth. Was the ink even dry on his diploma?
Several years ago, Dr. Morton's office was switching to a new filing system; during my appointment, they had my entire old file, all the old records, there in the room. I mentioned the unusual longevity of my dentistry arrangements, and the hygienist began flipping through the file. "Oh, my GOD," she blurted suddenly.
"Oh, it's just...well, you had your first appointment in 1973. Cleaning, fluoride, and exam..." she said, hesitating, her voice still hushed with awe.
"It cost eleven dollars!"
I may have harbored a bit of a crush on Dr. Morton during my prepubescent years. This is not as odd as it might sound, because for decades now he has been doling out slightly oddball compliments, every six months like clockwork: "Beautiful teeth!" he'll exclaim, in conclusion. "Gorgeous gums!" I don't know. I didn't get a lot of flattery from male authority figures in my youth (and don't, pretty much, in my present middle-youth). So I kind of relish the praise when it comes. I cling to it, a little. Once, after the "gorgeous gums" incident I believe, I remarked brightly "That's what every girl longs to hear!" and Dr. Morton became flustered. Heh. On the other hand, I still remember a visit, years past now, where it was plain that Dr. Morton was having a lousy day and was crabby as hell and, after a cursory exam, he didn't say it. He stomped out of the office without a backward glance and I have to tell you, I was a little hurt. For a couple of days.
"Pretty teeth! Pretty gums!" he exclaimed to me, after this morning's exam. It was a happy relief. Secretly, I do still long to hear it.
I stopped to say goodbye to Barb the receptionist on the way out. She has likewise been a fixture there for an eternity; this summer, Sis discovered that Barb lives something like three blocks away. She came to Sis's housewarming party.
"It was nice to see you on the outside, too!" she told me today.
"Yes! You look different, holding a beer," I told her. "And not in a little box."--indicating the sliding window that enclosed her little countertop and reception area.