Tooth fairy charging arm, leg too

“Because I Said So” column for The Commercial Appeal

Sept. 12, 2013

Tooth fairy charging arm, leg too

My youngest lost another tooth. A particularly tenacious tooth, it clung to her upper gum like a barnacle refusing to be scraped from the bow of a ship. With another growing in behind it, it had taken on the angle and proportions of a tusk, and everyone who saw it longed to grab hold and yank. Teachers, friends, family, strangers — we all wanted to be the one to pull that eyetooth Excalibur from her head.

How odd is it that our children’s ages and milestones are measured by the parts that fall from their body? Umbilical cord stump, first haircut, lost teeth.

Genevieve finally lost that tooth last week when, she said, “I bit Joshua’s leg, and it came out!” Thanks to her brother’s bony shin, we no longer have to pretend we’re not a little freaked out by the looks of this saber-toothed sibling.

The Associated Press recently ran a story on the economics of today’s tooth fairy, reporting that “kids this year are getting an average of $3.70 per lost tooth.” A quick glance at the U.S. Department of Labor’s website tells me that the federal minimum wage in the 1980s was $3.35 per hour. This was when I got my first part-time job making just about that amount. In those days, I would have rather pulled a tooth and taken the next 59 minutes off work for the same money.

Like a family member who visits and refuses to leave, Genevieve’s tooth was special and stubborn. And though it was special, I still wish that this new 21st century tooth fairy had consulted with me before making the outrageous pillow payout of 5 dollars.

Back when I was a kid and lost a tooth, I got a quarter. That’s right, I’m one of those fathers. We got a quarter, and we were happy about it because I was looking at an interest rate of 9 percent on a 30-year fixed mortgage in 1977, and the cost of a gallon of gas pushed up over 50 cents for the first time ever. Now, I didn’t own a house, of course. Nor was I responsible for the Ford Pinto sitting in the driveway. I was 7. But I did want to see “Star Wars” in the theater again and again, and a movie ticket would run me more than eight quarters. That was almost half my teeth.

Many of those teeth were pulled and all of my orthodontia needs were handled by Dr. Sadler. In my memory, Sadler was short on mercy, yet long on attractive hygienists. I was a confused 13-year-old.

I remember him as a cowboy dentist, rough and familiar with pain, and I can still feel the sole of his dusty boot against my forehead when the time came for extraction. He would have had Genevieve’s tooth out in seconds. In his arsenal were a pair of rusty pliers, a rasp, needles, a ball peen hammer and an ice pick. On the walls, if memory serves, were displayed the bleached-white jaws of former patients.

His office, at the corner of Poplar Avenue and Perkins Extended, is no longer there. That space is now filled by a Chili’s restaurant, where an order of loaded potato skins will set you back 28 teeth from 1977, or 1½ at the current rate.

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