Stories we could tell

A one-armed boy in my kindergarten class knocked out the first baby tooth I lost. Considering the time, I’m sure he was a thalidomide baby, as they were called, but no one explained anything to children when the baby boomers were little.

And, oh, the stories we could tell* about childhood. It was a more innocent and in some ways darker time. We were sent out to play in the mornings and expected to stay out of our mothers’ hair. We ran in herds and broke the rules, often getting hurt in the process.

Those were the good old days in many ways, not so much for women, but for kids – we had a freedom children today lack.

We spent my kindergarten year in Fort Smith because Daddy was transferred for his job – he had to oversee some building project. I don’t LennonSistersremember a lot, but some of it is quite clear, like my Lennon Sisters paper dolls, my bedroom with the dotted swiss bedspread that matched my record player and learning to ride Ricky Young’s red bike.

Anyway, back to the teeth and what brought this up: John has had temporary crowns for a while and last night they came off. This morning I woke up with sympathy tooth pain, I guess, and that brought back some memories that led to others that led to others.

I was a young kindergartner, being a September baby, so my teeth probably weren’t ready to come out the day the boy whose name I can’t remember came charging at the little circle of kids with a wooden cart of large kindergarten blocks. We were always a bit scared of him because he was pretty mean, but we kind of got why he was mean and accepted him for what he was.

Little Laura with a full set of baby teeth.

Little Laura with a full set of baby teeth.

The day it happened, I was in the corner of the room “reading” to a group of girls and couldn’t escape as he came hurtling at me – and the end result was one of my bottom front teeth popped out. I’m sure he got in trouble, but no one made too much of a fuss. Mother didn’t throw a fit or threaten to sue, and the tooth fairy brought me money.

The next day, as I was wiggling the tooth next to the gap during nap time, it came out, too. The tooth fairy did double duty that week.

My next tooth loss was a twofer and a little more violent. We’d moved back to central Arkansas by first grade, only across the river to Bluebell Drive, which was the last street in Levy at the time – our back yard gave way to woods. (We lived there for a year in a rent house until my parents bought one on W. 52nd St.).

In that backyard was a huge, flat-roofed dog house, way more than our mid-sized Augie required. My parents forbade me to climb on top of it, which was my instinct, of course. The day I most bloodily lost my two front teeth, I was on top of the dog house with the big boys who lived on our street.

I’m reasonably sure I never told my parents one of the boys put his hand in the middle of my chest and pushed, sending me flying backward. I hit the ground on my back so hard that it knocked my teeth out, and blood, lots of it, commenced. I guess the boys ran, because my screams brought my parents flying out back.

They comforted me while scolding me most sternly about how it wouldn’t have happened had I not been disobeying. If they did know I was pushed, it didn’t matter, since I was in defiance of them, I guess. (Those same boys tied a small snake in my shoelaces once, too, and I don’t think I ever told on them for that, either.)

The worst thing to me, after I calmed down about the copious bleeding, was that we couldn’t find my teeth anywhere, and I knew those would be high-dollar with the tooth fairy. Mother finally determined that I must have swallowed them.

That set me to wailing more than the fall itself. Mother calmed me down by announcing that the tooth fairy would surely pay me anyway if we left her a note, and she did. She was generous.

I’ll save my 1959 Barbie’s violent death at the hands of a younger neighbor girl that same school year for another day. (I was a Barbie-fiend tomboy.)

One last thing about those boys (and sexism of the early 1960s): My daddy had a brown ’49 (I think) Ford pickup with running boards. It was high value for playing World War II (I didn’t even realize that was what we were doing in my 6-year-old innocence; I just called it “army” since I didn’t watch all those TV shows the boys did). The truck made a good tank.

Daddy's truck was brown and I think "Ford" was painted in white. We thought it was super neato for the short time he had it.

Daddy’s truck was brown and I think “Ford” was painted in white. We thought it was super neato for the short time he had it.

They had to let me play to climb all over my dad’s truck so they did, but begrudgingly. All I could be was a nurse or a fainting lady who needed rescue. I never could scream on command, to everyone’s disappointment (my husky voice has always prevented it), but I got quite good at the toss-a-dramatic-hand-across-the-brow-and-fall move.

I always “fainted” on the grass, but if I’d been asked to faint on the street, I might’ve lost lots of teeth.

Second-grade Laura with big teeth. We'd moved to kinder, gentler North Heights by the time this was taken.

Second-grade Laura with big teeth. We’d moved to kinder, gentler North Heights by the time this was taken.

*John Sebastian wrote it, but I prefer TP’s version. Love me some Lovin’ Spoonful, though.

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