Friday, January 8, 2010

In the Teeth of the Evidence

January 8, 2010

Oh, happy day, everyone! I am still sticking to my pre-New Year's resolve of keeping up with a daily blog. Now, granted, I am probably the only one reading this, but it's about creating that body of work that I've been threatening to do for quite some time. It certainly keeps your writing chops up when you need to contribute daily, so I'm writing like a "Mo Fo." (See? That's the benefit of writing for yourself. You can use an inappropriate allusional reference like "mo fo" and no one gets offended because, well, there is no one else.)

Today's missive comes as a result of a little walk down ye 'ole publishing memory lane as well as thinking about my dad, noticing that this grief thing is a fluid deal. It's been three years since my daddy died and I'm reflecting upon the fact that one of my first "ultra, totally cool, heavy hitter" publishing credits was as a result of a little humor column I wrote about the fact that every time I tried to have a conversation with my father he'd inquire about the state of my teeth. When someone dies, I don't know that it's so much that we "get over it," or that "time heals" as folks are fond of saying, but rather that we've found a way to go on, in the face of the pain. One of these ways is by remembering them. A fate worse than death for my father was not being remembered. Prone to the maudlin, we used to kid him saying, "How in the world could anyone forget you, dad?" Certainly a memorable, charismatic, brilliant and accomplished man, his greatest accomplishment was living to see his own grandchildren launched into teenage-dom. Here ya go, dad. As a Depression-era kid, World War II vet and cop, it sure wasn't easy to understand his "Let's put on a show, hear everybody's story" daughter, but the positive influences he provided are always in teeth being no exception.


In the Teeth of the Evidence


Monday, September 7, 1998

AS A KID, before I knew better, I tried to converse with my father about a variety of topics important to me: school, friends, bad test scores, bony knees, kid stuff -- the kind of things that really need to be talked out in order to make sense of them.
I remember the first time I tried to establish verbal contact with my dad. He was reading a book at the dinner table. Unfortunately, I hadn't noticed my mother's waving arms, signaling that what I was going to attempt to do -- communicate with my father -- was not advisable and, in fact, had never before been attempted at the dinner hour by any living family member. I recall thinking that my mother resembled Martha Graham in her fluidity of movement, obviously missing the point of her well-choreographed warning.
I pulled up a chair, briefly gave my mother one last puzzled glance and cleared my throat to get the patriarch's attention. Slowly he looked up at me, and I was met with the intense look that felons have often encountered as my lawyer father prosecuted them for the crimes they had committed but never admitted. For moments on end I held on to the belief that I had this hero's undivided attention and that we would soon engage in meaningful dialogue.
Our eyes locked. I held my breath, waiting for the cue to share my life. I was willing to take whatever sage advice he was ready to dispense. He seemed to know my every thought, my every feeling. We were bonded through our shared heritage. This was a memorable moment, and his words would be formed in the Etch-A- Sketch that was my mind.
I'll never forget what my dear papa said to me: ``Have you brushed your teeth today?''
NOW I KNOW that fathers and daughters have a tough time conversing, and I suppose my father wasn't usually in close enough physical proximity to get a dental report from me. But, be that as it may, he seemed to be avoiding the issue, as they say in psychology classes. I wanted communication, for Pete's sake, not an Ultra Brite commercial!
Now, speaking of logic, or not having any, I continued to approach my father with a variety of concerns throughout my youth, and I got the same response time after time. Pretty soon when I wanted to talk to my father, I just went ahead and cut out the middleman, as it were, and brushed my teeth instead.
Meditating in the foamy oblivion that is the tooth- cleaning process can actually provide one with an ample amount of time for mulling over problems and concerns, as well as making substantial headway in the never-ending fight against demon dental decay.
By the time I had rinsed, spit and tapped my toothbrush on the sink twice, I generally had come up with some sort of conclusion -- usually that I was almost out of toothpaste and that I really needed to get a hobby.
I'VE NEVER TOLD my father that he is wholly responsible for my tantalizing smile and that it is the first thing that folks notice about me when we meet. When I was a kid I just wanted my dad to allow my teeth their fuzziness so my mind could be a little less so.
I know that four out of five dentists probably recommend the ``Did you brush your teeth?'' approach to parenting and therapy and that their kids more than likely never get a straight answer either, but the approach defies logic.
I now live two hours away from my father, and I'm not able to see him as much as I'd like. (I'm too busy telling my daughters to brush their teeth.) He no longer prosecutes felons but still comments on my teeth, just not as frequently. He may not have dispensed the sage advice that I sought, but to this day, when I miss my father, I can almost taste the fluoride.

Diane Dean-Epps is a writer in Grass Valley.


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