Dental Mishaps Before Insurance

Mike and Molly and I were waiting for Dad at the top of the hill.  Dad called our five acres “Run Down Ranch” because the hill down to the peach orchard was steep and twisty.  We didn’t have watches but knew from Mom that Dad was on the ferry and coming home with a brand new 1953 Chevy station wagon.  When he stopped at the top of the hill all three of us kids jumped on to the rear bumper and hung on for the trip down our driveway.  I don’t think Dad saw us or he would have put a stop to it.  One of our cats tried to run across the road in front of Dad and he slammed on the brakes to keep from running it over.  To this day, Brother Mike carries the tooth he chipped on the luggage rack.

John Sweetman got into a lot of trouble the day he dumped his younger sister into the gravel driveway and chipped her tooth.  Laitris saw John trying to hitch up a four- wheeled “flyer” wagon with no handle to the back of his bike.  He had a stick for a “single tree” and it was tied in a jumbled fashion to the bike seat with hay string that John had found in the dirt around the barn.  It was prickly sisal of various lengths and questionable reliability and John tied pieces together to create the “tugs” that ran from his stick to the sides of the wagon with no handle.  The strong new hay string was off limits.

After the recruitment of Laitris, who was overjoyed to participate in a “big brother” action, they headed for the top of the gravel driveway to let gravity do the work for a change.  With his small charge in the wagon, John began the high speed downhill run amid faint noises of distress from the rear, muted by the sound of flying gravel.  The plan failed as one of the rotten twine sides broke, throwing the wagon to one side and jerking the bike sideways in a “jackknife”.  A second later, the wagon was in front of the bike and tipped over sending a squalling sister into the gravel. John didn’t notice the pain his sister was in at first, because he had been thrown over the handlebars and face first into the sharp rocks.

They came back sniveling to their Mother who sent them after mercurochrome and band aids.  “What could you have possibly been thinking,” their Mother asked?  “It seemed like a good idea at the time,” John replied.  His Mom grounded him for a week with extra chores, one of which was picking up and burning any old baling twine.

“Why did you trip me?” I yelled at Marcus Law.  “I thought we were friends.”  My mouth was full of dirt and something was wrong; there was a big gap where my front teeth should be.  Marcus and other sixth graders laughed as I picked myself up out of the gravel.  It was a three foot drop from the grade school porch to the ground.  I was a Vashon third grader rushing to recess when Marcus stuck out his foot to send me careening.  He and his friends guffawed at the damage they had done.

We would do anything we could to get out of going to the dentist, except brushing our teeth twice a day.  Dr. Coutts never smiled and his drilling machine was run on black rubber strings over pulleys which made much noise. Dr. Coutts used no Novocain and the drill hurt like hell because it was so slow.  He would drill and scrape a cavity clean and fill it with a silver amalgam which squeaked when he mixed it between his fingers before tamping it into the cavity.  I listened to the water go around the bowl we spit in, as it took time for the silver to set.

Pretending to fly a plane when it was only two boards, one for the fuselage and the other for the wings was easy, but pretending to be a dentist was harder to imagine.  We dressed in white butcher aprons and t-shirts.  The patient, in this case Sister Molly, was lying on a plank between two chairs and I pretended to be Dr. Coutts and imitated his rough voice.  “Open wide now, so I can see way in the back,” I said.  Mike was the assistant holding the already chewed ball of gum that would be used to fill the cavity.  Using a nail and Mom’s upholstery hammer, I tapped away at the imaginary cavity until the side of Molly’s tooth broke off.  I think that I was eventually forgiven, but because I was guilty, I really don’t remember.

Dr. Coutts was an avid member of the Sportsman’s Club and on Saturday night, he played cards there until the wee hours of Sunday morning when, Neil Dufort delivered the paper all around the island.  We were living at Cove and Dr. Coutts would pick up the paper from our paper box, sneak his old Buick down our driveway at 5:00 AM and wake all three of us kids to read us the funnies; while Mom and Dad slept through our giggling. He was a good friend of our folks and we never locked our doors anyway, a part of Vashon tradition.

One day, Dad told us the story of the demise of Dr. Coutts who had shot himself.   Neil Dufort found him on his kitchen floor and called Dr. Osborne who walked in the door and saw that Neil was in a state of shock and trembling all over.  He was standing there with Dr. Cout’s pistol dangling from his hand.  “Why did you do it,” he asked Neil and slapped him across the face to bring him out of shock.  Dr. Coutts had taken his own life and left all of Vashon without a dentist.