Among the many rites of passage that youngsters experience is the one related to teeth.
I'm not talking about routine trips for dental care; I'm referring to braces.
If you're among the fortunate few born with perfectly aligned teeth, say a prayer of thanks. You missed a time that only those of us who have been there and done that can fully understand.
There's the basic discomfort the braces cause, but there's also the embarrassment. There was a long period when I refused to smile. Or if I did allow a grin to form, it happened only behind my hand.
Eventually, I resigned myself to the two-or-so-year ordeal, but I never enjoyed it.
Living in Cotton Plant, it was necessary for us to see an orthodontist in Little Rock. Because of the distance, it took a full day. There was the drive itself, plus the examination by Dr. Alstadt and the usual tightening of the apparatuses, then lunch and, of course, shopping for a while. My mother was not about to waste an opportunity to go to Pfeifer's, Blass and the like.
Occasionally, I got to go to a movie while she indulged her fancy, but it wasn't that enjoyable for me because I was having to miss the Saturday afternoon serial at James Theatre in Cotton Plant, which was a highlight of my week. But I digress.
One of the things I hated most about wearing braces was the retainer that came along with the wires. Having a strong gag reflex anyway, it took a lot of getting used to for me. From my perspective, it was akin to a modified form of dentures.
Later on when my daughter had to wear braces, we were more fortunate to live in closer proximity to an orthodontist. Dr. Koppel's primary office was in Hot Springs, but he would come to Benton periodically to see the hundreds of patients he had in this area.
Once when I happened to speculate on how long Karen's braces would have to stay on, my spouse philosophically conjectured: "They'll be ready to come off when they're paid for."
I scoffed at his comment, but later on ate my words since it worked out exactly that way. Maybe it wasn't deliberate, but it happened nonetheless.
Karen went into the braces period with about as much enthusiasm as I had had. A case of the apple falling not far from the tree, I suppose.
And the retainer became a problem for her, like it had for me and many others.
The folks in the dental office routinely caution the patients and their families to be careful about keeping a retainer out of the reach of pets and small children. For some reason, animals â€” dogs especially â€” are attracted to them. (That probably says something about what is used to make them, which I probably wouldn't want to know.)
Each braces-bearer was given a plastic container (much like those used for dentures) to protect the appliance during its removal (for only brief periods, if one follows the professional directives).
I don't remember how many times Karen lost her retainer, but it happened more than once. It took a quite unpleasant experience to cure her of her carelessness.
She had removed the retainer, wrapped it in a napkin and placed it on the table while she and Janet Lynch had lunch at a local restaurant.
Remember there was that container she had been given for such times, but of course she hadn't brought it along. An hour or so after leaving the eatery, Karen realized the retainer had been left behind. Following her moment of panic, she called me.
I told her to go back immediately to the restaurant and check with the staff. "Maybe you'll be lucky and somebody noticed it right away," I said, not for one second expecting this to be so.
She and Janet returned to the restaurant, where their hopes were quickly dashed. No one had seen the appliance. The consensus was that it had been dumped with the trash.
Karen called me again, horrified to hear me tell her to "tell them you want to go through their trash."
She was afraid not to do what I said, but it turned out to be a failed mission.
However, it did make an impression. She never lost another retainer.
All families have stories about various "teeth experiences," which was true for my Aunt Bessie. "Auntie" wore false teeth and, as far as I know, usually was careful to put them in a safe place when she went to bed.
One time she failed to do so, however, and the family was enlisted in a search. Every nook and cranny was explored, all to no avail.
When it appeared the teeth simply were not going to be found, my cousin Paula suddenly thought about the pet Cairn terrier: "Pepper! Come here and let me see your mouth."
Pepper responded to the call, but her mouth was shut tightly. When Paula pried it open, the search was over. She was greeted by a full set of human teeth.
Everyone thought it was hilarious, except Auntie. She never laughed once.
Lynda Hollenbeck is senior editor of The Saline Courier.