In the kitchen of my childhood home, Grandpa and Dad stand having a shot of brandy and a beer after working on their old Model T Ford. Dreaded stinky liver dumpling soup simmers on the stove. My Mother summons me away from playing with my dolls.
“Show them your loose tooth,” she says. And I oblige by wiggling my front tooth back and forth.
Dad and Grandpa chuckle. “Get some string,” Dad tells mom.
I’m cajoled into one of our vinyl kitchen chairs. Dad crams his big motor oily fingers into my mouth to tie the string around my loose tooth. Grandpa measures out enough string to tie the other end to the open kitchen door. I’m frightened.
They count “One, two, three,” and Grandpa slams the door and I bolt out of the chair.
I’m made to sit back down and they tie me to the chair with Dad’s bathrobe sash.
They count again, “One, two, three,” and Grandpa slams the door and the string breaks.
Dad rummages around in a drawer and pulls out some butchers twine, crams his oily hands in my mouth again and ties it around my tooth.
They count for a third time, “One, two, three,” and Grandpa slams the door and my tooth flies out in a huge arc. Dad retrieves it and holds the tooth out for me to examine. I’m crying, there’s blood in my mouth, and the awful smell of liver dumpling soup is making me gag. The quarter I receive from the tooth fairy the next morning helps to lessen my PTSD but in the future, I learn to keep my loose teeth a secret until I can pop them out myself.
Seven years or so later, I’m babysitting for my younger sister and brother and use the opportunity to snoop in Mom and Dad’s bedroom while they’re watching TV. I have a vague notion that I might find some mysterious adult “sex” things in their dressers. But instead, I come upon a cache of teeth in an old watch box—tiny white baby teeth, molars and incisors, that Dad must have collected while on tooth fairy duty. I use my findings to terrorize my sibs but because I don’t want them to know that dad and the tooth fairy are in cahoots I say, “Maybe dad is a witch doctor!” Their mouths drop open in astonishment.
Forty plus years later, I’m at my parents condo alone waiting for a repairman while they are in Texas, taking a break from Wisconsin winter. Bored, I use the opportunity to do some snooping thinking I might find something amusing to poke fun at them with. I find my Mothers’ collection of about 40 belts in a night stand drawer arranged by color. A rainbow of belts. In the closet are shelves lined with shoe boxes meticulously labeled with dates of purchase and the color and styles of the shoes within. An assemblage that would make Imelda Marcos proud. Both finds are interesting but not notable. And then I open Dad’s dresser drawer and spot an old watch box. There they are! That cache of teeth! Dozens of them! I had completely forgotten but Dad hadn’t. He kept these artifacts of our childhood all this time. And the memory smell of liver dumpling soup thickens my throat.