The Summer of the Teeth

I don’t usually name summers, but sometimes they name themselves.

Summer 1997 was the Summer of the House Guests — a season of a seemingly endless procession of people who came and stayed, then stayed some more. We didn’t know why. In 2007, we had the Cool, Wet Summer — and we’ve been paying for it ever since. I knew that would happen.

This summer, 2011, had already named itself when I made my emergency trip to the dentist and heard all sorts of grim and threatening news. This was going to be the Summer of the Tooth — or maybe it would be the Summer of Paying for the Tooth. I hadn’t decided. That’s what happens when you find out you’re a candidate for a tooth implant.

“Guess we’re going to be firing up the blender to make your food this summer,” my husband said, chortling. He seemed to have forgotten all the long lectures I’ve given him over the years to be sensitive to my needs.

“Don’t be an asshole,” I said.

He went on cracking a few heartless, toothless jokes. I ignored them, since I have the deeprooted belief — stemming from a highly religious childhood — that suffering will make me a better person. Conversely, I always assume I will pay for good luck. (See Summer of 2007, above.) You can take the girl out of the Old Testament, but the Old Testament’s the kind of book that has a certain staying power, even when the girl gets old.

But then, out of nowhere, something happened that made me think there might possibly be karma in this cruel world. A few days later, my husband developed a roaring toothache of his own.

He took to walking around the house, holding his jaw and moaning. He was in more pain, he announced, than he’d ever been before — except for the time he had a bad earache in his 20s. (Since men don’t go through childbirth, it seems, their relationship to pain is pretty distant. An earache? Oh, please. Don’t bore me. Let me tell you about my labor pains.)

He complained nonstop. He called the dentist’s emergency number. He picked up a prescription for pain meds. When I came home in the afternoon, he was stretched out on the couch, looking surprisingly content. “I’m treating my toothache with bourbon,” he said, pointing to his empty glass.

It might have been time to make another crack about firing up the old blender — ha, ha, ha. But, as usual, I was trying to find a little meaning in our problems. (I spend half my life poking around for symbolism. This is probably what happens all the time when a religious child becomes an agnostic. She also becomes a nut case.) Anyway, the point was, I was kind of impressed by the synchronicity of our bodies.

“You know,” I said, “I think it’s kind of sweet that our bodies are in sync. And symbolic, too — like our both having bad right shoulders. We’re exactly the same age — and our bodies are crumbling apart at the same rate. It’s practically romantic.”

We sat there and contemplated the fact that his bad tooth was a lower and mine was an upper and decided this meant we were still individuals. And, just like that, the Summer of the Tooth had become the Summer of the Teeth.  Two people who spend a good part of their lives making wisecracks as often as they can had something else to joke about.

That’s what we do — summer, winter, fall, spring — as the years and decades pass. Sometimes, I wonder about it. We’re pretty good at laughing at our problems, our aches and our pains. But how long will we be able to keep it up?

Dust to dust, ashes to ashes — I got that all from my childhood, the beginnings and endings. As in writing, it’s the vast middle that mystifies me. The Bible, as I recall, said very little about humor and people who make jokes.

You’d better pass the bourbon, baby. This is too deep for me.

(Copyright 2011 by Ruth Pennebaker)


To read about marital trials and tribulations that do not involve teeth, please see Shut Up, She Explained





25 comments… add one
  • We too try to laugh at our problems. It’s hard sometimes, but it does usually help. I can give you the inside scoop on the implant. I’m in the middle of the process right now, with a metal screw in my mouth.
    And BTW I love your quest for meaning. I do it too. And I was raised agnostic.

  • Sheryl Link

    Only you, Ruth, can make a funny, engaging story out of a dental implant. I’m on implant #2 – chalk it up to middle age, yes – but dammit, my husband has nary a cavity. I think I’ll come over to share some bourbon with you and your hubby. And then we can all sit down and re-write The Bible.

  • Love this.

  • It’s true–you do seem to have in sync aches and pains. Let’s see, I wonder what this summer could be…

  • An earache? HA!

  • We’ve had the laugh and laugh and laugh the past 3 years or we would have gone stark raving mad and probably would have divorced. The aches and pains that we’re experiencing now that we’re nearing 50 is only part of it. It seems we’ve both spent more time in the dental chair than with each other lately. I enjoyed laughing at your post!

  • Nothing worse than dental pain. I hope both of you are on the mend (and pain free) soon.

  • Well said, Ruth. I can identify. On our recent trip to Italy, I found myself frustrated at my husband’s geriatric walking pace (a former hiker, he’s been forced to use a cane by a bum knee that’s not getting better). Then I thought about my arthritic foot, my complaining back. What really irks me about my husband’s unexpected disability is the constant reminder that my own could be next. We’ll just have to laugh our way through this, as we have everything else. You’re setting a fine example.

  • I’m two years into my dental woes and my husband discovered last week that he needs his first implant. So, does that mean we are in synchronicity with you both, too?

  • I’m waiting with bated breath for someone to point out a joke in the Bible, but other than Revelations–surely somebody was KIDDING–I can’t think of any. Of course I’m not exactly a biblical scholar.

  • I find that a sense of humor gets more and more important as we get older. Otherwise we’d all curl up in a fetal position and hum quietly to ourselves while rocking back and forth.

  • You were far kinder to him than he deserved, I think! You should at least have made him eat his earlier words. But this is a testament to how good your relationship is. (I sure hope my husband doesn’t start having stomach troubles!)

    So sorry for both of you about the dental problems. I, too, think tooth pain is among the worst I’ve ever experienced, and that’s even including childbirth!

  • But the Bible does give us this:

    A merry heart doeth good, like medicine.

    And it’s a lot cheaper than anything you’ll find in Walgreen’s.

  • Great piece, Ruth. Last summer my permanent retainer, installed years ago to keep my lower teeth from “crowding,” broke as I chomped on a rib, and I opted not to replace it. Now I see that the teeth are moving back into their old pre-retainer messiness but I don’t care as long as I can still gnaw on ribs. Jerry and I both have terrible backs but so far we’ve managed to avoid being immobilized at the same time. As Walter Cronkite used to say, “And that’s the way it is…..”

  • Steve Link

    Scripture is full of humor, but it relies on sarcasm, irony, and exaggeration. It is subtle and nuanced, and much gets lost in translation. The OT is full of wordplay and puns, for example, but what’s funny in Hebrew just causes us to scratch our heads and say, “What?” when we read it in English.

    Jesus relies a lot on sharp sarcasm. He surely elicited a laugh from the crowd listening when, having compared a religious person to one who shined the outside of his cup but forgot to wash the inside, Jesus told him “You pick a gnat out of your cup, but swallow a camel.” (Or in the translation The Message, “You write a story that’s wrong from start to finish, but nitpick over commas and semicolons!”)

    It’s amazing how language-dependent humor is. The most humorous rendition of the NT is Clarence Jordan’s Cotton Patch version. Written in southern vernacular, you can’t read it–it’s even better listening to it–without laughing.

    Jesus spent most of his short ministry poking fun at the religious folk who took themselves oh-so-seriously. Unfortunately, were he walking among us today, many of his nominal followers would be his targets.

  • I KNOW you’ll be laughing at your own funeral, Ruth. That’s just the way you are. And I suspect your DH is the same way. It’s good to have a sense of humor in the face of … cracked teeth.

  • Ruth, I see a book of columns on the, ah, joys of aging on the mind and body in your future. It would be a hoot.

  • Don’t you hate spending a small fortune to return your teeth to normal? It seems like such a waste–you could spend a couple of weeks in Tahiti, first class, for what it costs for one implant. But alas, for the dental work always wins out over Tahiti. Now I’m wondering if there are a lot of happy people in Tahiti with bad teeth.

  • After I read the words “dental” and “implant” I initially thought about not reading the rest of your post. (I have a terrible dental phobia.) But I’m glad I forged ahead. Who knew you could laugh about implants.

  • I love this…your bodies in sync. I have a horrible knee right now, my husband might be on his last legs with his good two. And having the Old Testament stuck in you might not be such a bad thing…if it’s submerged in grace.

  • I sympathized so much with this post; I just visited the dentist and discovered I need braces — again — at 50! I too am trying to have a sense of humor about this as my kids and boyfriend rib me about a second adolescence. Thanks for the laugh!

  • Carol Link

    Hi. A friend sent me your blogsite, which I enjoyed very much. As I told him, though I thought “geezer” was for guys. One definition I found: An old person, especially an eccentric old man. I may be old & eccentric, but I don’t think I’m a geezer. How about gazelle (or geezelle) for female version? But then I am reminded Poet Audre Lorde’s comment about gender-specific occupations:
    “Being called a poetess brings out the terroristress in me.”

  • Loved this post. It takes a great writer to weave humor into aging and toothaches.

  • I guess I’m in sync with you guys since I am also in the summer of paying for the tooth. A couple of months ago I had the teeth out and 2 little screws drilled into my upper jaw. That was a few thousand. In a couple of weeks I get the actual teeth — a few thousand more. In the meantime friends politely pretend they don’t notice the big gap in my mouth (I can’t stand the flipper), and my family looks at me aghast and says, “What’s the matter with your teeth?”

    I wish I could think of some good wisecracks.

  • I can relate to the teeth problem. My winter was the winter of teeth with missing work for a week. Then a heart attack in May for a follow up. Needless to say, I still have the gap in my mouth. Lucky for me it is on the side so I don’t smile very big. Thank you for making me laugh.

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