The Princess and False Teeth

I called him the Pillsbury Dough Boy because for as long as I can remember he was chubby and would chuckle when I found the tickle spot under his chin.  I also can’t remember a time he didn’t have false teeth. Back in the day I guess dentists were quicker to put teeth than they are now. I’m glad.

One morning when I was in high school Mom and I decided to play a trick on Daddy. While he was sleeping, I took the false teeth he soaked in cleaning solution every night out of the container in their bathroom and replaced them with a set of miniature plastic teeth I paid 25 cents for from a vending machine. Mom hid his real teeth and I headed to the shower to get ready for school.

When I got out of the shower Mom said Dad was in his shower and would be discovering his miniature teeth soon.  We waited. And waited. Finally, I had to leave for school disappointed that I hadn’t heard the “Elsie! Sheree! Where’s my teeth?!?!”

I couldn’t wait to get home to hear what happened. But Mom was stumped. After I left that morning she went downstairs to help my paralyzed older brother get going for the day. When she came back upstairs dad had left for work. The little teeth were still in the solution and his regular teeth were still in the hiding place Mom had chosen.

Dad had gone to work toothless?!?

I heard his car pull up and called for Mom. She and I ran to the kitchen to pretend we were finishing up dinner. I had taken the 2 feet long chunky wooden fork and spoon off the wall in the kitchen to put beside his dinner plate just to finalize the day’s antics. She and I stood grinning, waiting for him to come in.

He came in; yelled a greeting; and headed back to their room to change. Soon he appeared at the dinner table, sat down without saying a word, offered a small smile at his huge cutlery (making sure to maintain pursed lips), bowed his head and said “let’s pray.” He thanked the Lord for his family…and for the extra set of teeth he had picked up last week at the dentist.

That was Daddy.

He had a wonderful sense of humor and was the most chivalrous man I knew. He didn’t want Mom or me to mow the lawn; took our cars to get gas as often as he noticed or heard the gauge was low; opened doors for all the ladies; and named me “Princess.” In fact, I don’t ever remember him using my name.

He “dieted” by heaping loads of salad clumped with dressing on his plate and snuck food from the kitchen while we weren’t around. He even liked to chomp on frozen hotdogs! Yep. You read it right. He liked his coffee “blonde and sweet”, said with a twinkle in his eye. He probably lost 400 pounds during the last 10 years of his life but each time he lost weight his “dieting” put it all back on before long.

He served. Oh, he served. For years, he drove an old school bus to pick up kids for church on Sunday mornings…and believe me, that was the cleanest bus on the church lot. He was the first “sound man” I knew — driving all over the Washington, DC area to lug equipment and make sure New Covenant (the little Christian band Benny and I sang in with a few friends in the 70’s) sounded good.

Daddy was also very generous and caring. Money was tight in our family growing up and Mom depended on Dad getting a work bonus to buy Christmas gifts. It was about a week before Christmas in 1971 and Mom was eager to get ahold of that $300 bonus Dad said was coming. The day he got it our little church had our Wednesday night service. One of the deacons stood up and spontaneously said he thought we should take an offering to bless Pastor Day for all his hard work starting a new church that year.

Mom’s Christmas money ended up in the collection plate that night. When Dad came home to tell her, he was beaming. He felt so good about blessing Pastor Day and just knew Mom would be, too.

He was wrong. Mom was mad. She was a wonderfully generous person who gave incessantly to others, but giving away the Christmas money she had been depending on put quite a damper on Dad’s gift. I, too, was thinking, “You gave away our Christmas?!?!?” Poor guy. He really did think we would all rejoice along with him!

His caring heart extended to animals, too. Let’s see, there was the “brown” mutt he brought home that turned white after his first bath; the hound he promised wouldn’t grow into his paws that ended up being nearly the size of a Great Dane; the stray poodle mix with bladder issues that tinkled everywhere she went; the boxer we named “Trumpet” because…well…that doesn’t take much explanation…to name a few.

And then there were Charlie and Sam, the two “male” cats he brought home one night from the gas station he was working at several nights a week.  He cut a cat hole into the storage area on the carport for them, and two weeks later they each had 7 kittens.

My favorite memory with dad was learning how to drive in his little Volkswagon bug, his first and only company car. In his younger years he raced stock cars, so Daddy knew cars inside and out.  His idea of teaching his daughter to drive was to wait for snow. He wanted me to learn in the worst of conditions, knowing it would make good conditions easier. The lesson ended with me doing donuts in the parking lot as Dad congratulated me for being “a chip off the old block.” Years later his lessons paid off when he found a pretty black Chevelle 396 convertible for Benny and me. No guy who tried could out run me and my Hurst shifter.  (Sadly, we had to sell it after 4 months because of Benny’s 4 speeding tickets…smile.)

If you’ve made it this far, thanks for honoring Daddy by reading a little about his life. His death when I was 23 was one of the hardest things this Princess has faced. Today I’m reminded that I will see him again…soon and very soon.