Back before people had money to go to the dentist, I heard all kinds of tales about people pulling their own teeth.
I had a friend in high school at the old Boys High. Our permanent teeth hadn’t been with us too long. He began to have the toothache. His people, like ours, were poor. The boy, complaining with his tooth, went home. His father, who had been on the bottle all day, made him open his mouth and he pulled the tooth with a pair of pliers.
The last time I saw him he carried a mouthful of bad teeth. The experience with the pliers held such a bad memory that he would not go to a dentist.
I remember an incident that happened back when I was getting rid of my baby teeth. It was the first one to get loose. My father wanted to pull it, but every time he tried I would holler like he was killing me. That went on for several days until the tooth was about to drop out.
My father told me to pull the tooth and put it under my pillow and the next day there would be a penny in its place for me. I walked around all day thinking about all that candy a penny would buy. That night I agreed to pull the tooth.
He took a piece of sewing thread and tied it to the tooth. He opened the door and explained that he would shut the door and the tooth would be pulled. But every time he reached for the door I would holler.
He moved his chair away from the door and began to talk to me. I never noticed my sister move over to the door. My father was talking when she slammed it shut. I looked at the string hanging from the doorknob. Then I saw the tooth and let out a yell that could be heard a block away.
My father calmed me down by showing me that the tooth was out. I put the tooth under my pillow that night and found a penny in its place the next morning. That was the only tooth that I ever got a penny for.
I remember another incident involving my baby teeth. My sister was five years older than me. She was a big girl, going to school, when I came up with two loose front teeth. I would catch my mother not looking and I would take my tongue and wiggle them at my sister. She would holler and my mother would take a swipe at the seat of my pants with her hand. I didn’t like that but kept up the teeth-wiggling anyway.
My sister had a friend that I will call Maggie Lou. My mother told me to go and get my sister, that she was at Maggie Lou’s. I went and knocked on the door. A voice said “Come in.” I opened the door and stepped inside. I knew then that I had made a big mistake.
My sister grabbed me and held me. I began to struggle and holler while Maggie Lou pulled my teeth. She said, “If you don’t be still, I am going to kiss you.” I didn’t want any old girl kissing me so I held still.
I got out of there as fast as I could and went and told my mother what they had done. I opened my mouth and showed her where the teeth had been. She started to laugh and I went out on the front porch and sat down. I don’t recall wiggling any more teeth at anyone, especially my sister.
Once I got a call at the police department to a house where a fight was going on. I walked up to the front door and an elderly man met me there. He invited me in. An old lady sat in front of the television. He told me to overlook her, she wasn’t important.
He sat down and began to talk. Than he pointed — “The woman is the problem. She knocked out my teeth and now I can’t eat my supper.”
I looked him over but didn’t see any blood on him. He kept on talking, telling me about her and his teeth. I stopped him and asked, “Where are your teeth if she knocked them out?” He got up and went into the kitchen. He held a plate to where I could see it. There was a set of broken false teeth on it.
The old lady stood up. Looking me square in the face, she said, “Hit the road, Buster, before you will have to tangle with me.” I laughed about it later. “Lady, I sure don’t want to tangle with anyone as mean as you.” I closed the door very gently as I left.