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A Visit to the Dentist by Shaun IvorySubmit Your Memories
Hands up those who like school dentists! Is there even such a person these days? There certainly was back in the 1940s. Just as the seasons rolled around in the great world outside, in National Schools there were exams, inspections… and the annual school dentist visit.
We had dentists in our town already, of course, but you had to pay for those and to be fair, oral hygiene simply wasn’t high on a working class parent’s priority list back then. Nor was kissing girls for us boys either, so where was the problem? Well, actually it wasn’t so much a perfectly normal aversion to having one’s mouth explored by a complete stranger; it was the size of the needle and the fact that fillings simply were not considered – out they came! Every year that went past meant at least one tooth less – for ever! No implants then. Oh, he had a dental plan all right; the slightest decay meant extraction and any extraction(s) meant the tooth adjacent to it invariably lost some enamel too in the process. So come next year… you guessed it!
But one year was particularly memorable, for our class was in its last year (in those days we left at age 14) and we had vainly hoped to escape his pliers. When headmaster announced the dreaded words and names for tomorrow the groans were almost as bad as the real ones would be after The Yank (our name for him) had finished with us. He was only skinny but he had a terrible strong wrist action. Not for nothing was he known as The Yank!
We all trooped glumly through the town to the dispensary, hardly anybody talking, completely occupied in probing our teeth with our tongues. It was a bright summer’s day, too, completely at odds with what was in prospect. The dispensary was L-shaped and as we sat in one room we could see the next room running at right angles to us and his window with the sash up.
He called the first one in. It didn’t take long; some mutterings, a scraping of boots, the sound as of someone being strangled and then PLINK! as something dropped into a bucket. Seconds later the victim would re-appear, holding his jaw and shaking his head, sometimes with a trickle of blood running down his chin. We all looked uneasily at each other but before anyone could speak his voice rang out.
And so it went on – mutter, scrape. Argh! PLINK!
Next up was a boy called (let us say) Mooney. Someone nudged me and winked. Mooney was big for his age where the rest of us looked like greyhounds on a diet. “Your man will give ould Tugger a few rounds!” he whispered.
Sure enough, the muttering lasted longer, as did the floorboards scraping. Then a mighty roar came out of Mooney. Suddenly the window in the room across the way shot all the way up and a boot appeared, swiftly followed by a long leg, then the rest of Mooney… except he had half a broken hypodermic needle jutting from his lower jaw, his lower lip forced down by it enough to allow some blood to run down his chin. Then he was all the way out and without a backward glance legging it down Church Lane as fast as he could go.
We all sat motionless for maybe four, five seconds. Then – without a word – we promptly followed suit; out the door, hurtling past the receptionist before she could even stand up.
We made it down Church Lane, too, turning left towards the school, until Matty got a stitch and we all slowed, coming to a stop by the Bridge Bar, heaving and straining, our hands on our knees.
“What… what do we do now, lads?” gasped Mashie Reilly.
“Aw, Jaze, we daren’t go back to class, ould Macker’ll murder us,” panted another.
But what was the alternative? Go back to the dispensary, there to endure the wrath of old Tugger at being thwarted in his torturous trade?
Then someone came up with the idea – born out of desperation – that we do indeed go back to school… and pretend we had had our teeth out! Would Tugger complain? The school had no phone. It was Friday. Tugger would be gone to the next parish come Monday. Would he write a letter… complain?
So that’s what we did, quaking in our boots, our tongues firmly in our cheeks and clutching our jaws, nodding dumbly when asked if we’d all been to Mr Temple.
“Well, sit down… and no talking!”
Was that a hint of a smile on Macker’s face?
That was it, no comeback. Tugger had taken the money and an early afternoon off, and we’d hung on to our teeth for at least one more year!
(c) Shaun Ivory
About It Hardly Ever Rained:
Ireland 1940-50. Age, six to sixteen. Probably the most crucial ten years in anyone’s life. The brain during those years is like a sponge, soaking up both good and the bad, some of which inevitably and unknowingly influences the rest of your life. Most of what happened at that age was beyond your control; some of it you would willingly swap for someone – anyone! – else’s. But you can’t; events can never be replicated, no matter how much you may try.
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