Gary uneasily stood, and somewhat squirmed, as he leaned against the old leather dentist’s chair. The noises were those of the old dentist moving about the room, and those of metal instruments used by the mural painter as they came into contact with one another. But, although Gary was aware of those distractions and what a disaster that night might be, his eyes were focused on, and his mind thinking about, those two large mason jars of freaky teeth perched on the cabinet affixed to the far wall.
In the summer of 1960 it seemed as though every doctor and dentist living in, or practicing their trade in, the small rural southwest Missouri town of Noel must have been the oldest people in town. Gary, a seventeen year old resident of the town popular with summer tourists who floated down Elk River in their canoes, suddenly and desperately needed the help of a dentist.
The seventy-eight year old dentist, Doctor Otis McMillen, had an office in a one-story house on Main Street in Noel. The exterior of the house provided no hint that a seemingly out of place looking door provided entrance into a realm most feared by children, a dentist’s office. Every child knew, without any doubt, that dentists delighted in inflicting pain on anyone foolish enough to pass through the door to their secret house of terror.
A single room just beyond the entrance had been converted into Dr. McMillen’s office. It was home to all the ordinary tools of the dentistry trade, including one lone leather and metal dentist’s chair. There was only one window that never seemed to allow light to enter, as the blinds were always closed.
A few years earlier Gary, like most of the children in Noel, had been trying to impress his friends by demonstrating his expertise as he used the swing behind Shadow Lake to launch himself into the cool waters of Elk River. Shadow Lake was the local venue for those seeking a place to listen to music and dance at night. Well, as Gary’s luck would have it, a misjudged movement with the swing resulted in an unwelcome impact to Gary’s upper teeth causing several of them to fly through the air and into the water, never again to be seen.
Gary was much younger then and, although he tried not to let it show, he recalls being frightened as his parents walked him through that out of place looking door and into Doctor McMillen’s office. After some time spent there that day, and following several return visits to the doctor’s office, Gary eventually received an upper plate with new teeth affixed to it. Gary got used to the new teeth and, after some time, he couldn’t even remember how the old lost teeth felt or looked.
In the heat of the summer of 1960 Gary again found himself in need of Doctor McMillen’s services. One of the adhesively affixed teeth on the partial plate came loose and lay loosely inside Gary’s mouth. It was Friday afternoon and normally Gary would allow the now empty gap where the tooth once resided to remain empty until Monday of the following week but there was an urgent need to have that gap filled.
Gary had asked an attractive young lady if she would go on a date with him that evening. This was the first time he had gathered up the courage to ask this particular girl out, and now that she had accepted his invitation he wanted to make the best possible impression. He was certain that the young lady would not find a gap between his teeth, seen clearly when he smiled, to be overly attractive.
Gary rushed to the old dentist’s office and entered unannounced. Doctor McMillen was in another part of the house so Gary called out, “Doctor McMillen, are you here?” A few seconds passed when from another room the old doctor asked, “Who’s that?” “Gary”, the patient replied while standing alone in the room with a tooth in the palm of his right hand.
Doctor McMillen entered the office and before he could ask the purpose of the visit Gary held out his hand and displayed the lone tooth. “Oh, I see”, said the doctor. Gary explained the urgent need to have the tooth reattached and removed the upper plate with the gap clearly visible. Doctor McMillen said, “Give me a couple of hours to fix this, and then come back”.
Gary drove to his house and while he washed the dirt from his grey primer covered 1954 Ford he often looked at his watch to see if the two hours had yet passed. Gary paid particular attention to the sides of the Ford as he wanted to make sure the words “Rockin Robin” painted there could be clearly seen and appreciated by his date.
The painting had been done by Smitty the Jumper, as he was called, of Sulphur Springs, Arkansas. Smitty liked the nickname as he considered himself to be the oldest living skydiver. Unfortunately for Smitty, a few years later while parachuting from a plane near Wichita, Kansas he fell onto the still smoldering ashes of a recently burned house. The ash covered Smitty, although somewhat embarrassed, was otherwise unscathed in what was to be his final jump.
After the passage of about two long and anxious hours, Gary returned to the dentist’s office hoping the needed repair had been completed. When he entered the room, Doctor McMillen was standing in the middle of the room holding the dental plate which now had no spaces, but something looked odd.
Before Gary could utter even a single word the doctor’s son, Otis, a talented painter of murals, entered the room and upon seeing the expression of disbelief on Gary’s face, looked at the denture. “Dad, the tooth is upside down”, he disgustedly declared as he grabbed the plate from his father’s hand. The mural painter took the plate to a countertop where he began to work on it.
The old doctor, unmoved by his apparent mistake, asked Gary if he wanted to see the freaky teeth contained in two mason jars resting atop a cabinet. Gary said “sure”. The doctor removed the jars and opened each one exposing unusually colored and oddly misshaped teeth taken from the mouths of previous patients. Gary had been aware of the jars and grotesque teeth contained within for years and, although he found their presence fascinating, he couldn’t stop thinking about how he would look that night with the upside down tooth.
Relatively quickly and without exerting a great amount of effort the doctor’s son was able to remove the tooth and with the aid of an adhesive compound, reattach it, this time correctly. Gary, with a smile on his face and a sense of relief in his mind, thanked both the doctor and his son as he hastily exited the office.
Even now, Gary doesn’t remember the name of the young lady or where he took her that night, but he does vividly recall the upside down tooth and the jars of freaky teeth.