It was sometime in 1969 when my dental hygienist, an attractive, middle-aged single Italian woman who was also a family friend, peered into my molars and asked me if I was smoking pot (which I was but I didn’t want to confess to her). Immediately thoughts raced through my head: I am in trouble. My secret was out of the bag. My teeth were stained and she knew what caused it. I hadn’t thought about my teeth giving me away. She undoubtably looked into a lot of teenagers’ mouths and knew what I knew, but I hadn’t expected her to question me.
To my chagrin, I had to think fast and figure out how to maneuver out of answering her question because my mother was in the adjacent waiting room; she had driven me to the appointment. I didn’t want to admit the truth and compel the dental hygienist to tell my mother. My mother was the type of parent who had joined the PTA just so she’d be in the loop about the issues effecting her children, just like this one. This incident would put me in jeopardy.
So while still in the comfortable dental chair I didn’t directly answer the question; I promised the dental hygienist I’d cut back and do a better job of brushing my teeth if we could just make it our little secret. Leaving the room with Ms. C behind, she was true to her word; she smiled and with a twinkle in her eye said I was doing a fine job but had to cut back on the sweets or I’d have a mouthful of cavities in no time.
Whew, I dodged that bullet.
Pot was not the only thing I liked. And her warning didn’t really do much. I was already on my way to a mouthful of cavities. I really liked candy: NECCO wafers, Chunky, SkyBars, licorice and Milky Ways. (Chunky Candy: What a Chunk of Chocolate!). I was a regular at the drug store candy counter on the corner of Speen Street and Route 9 until I got caught stealing a couple of Chunkies. The store manager apprehended me and escorted me into the dark stock room behind the counter and threatened to call my mother unless I promised to give up my errant ways. He had me empty my pockets with the goods on his desk. Again, I had thought no one could apprehend me; my friends and I had been stealing candy with a scheme that would have made Whitey Bulger proud. Until I got caught and kicked out of the store.
I had a sweet tooth and sixteen cavities to show for it. My candy cravings might have been in response to the obsessive preoccupation for healthy foods that was intrinsic to my family of origin. Now that I’m older and no longer stuffing my face with chocolate on the sly, I look back and feel fortunate that I had been taught how to eat well.
We rarely went out to eat as a family; my mother was an excellent cook with a flair for healthy foods. She juiced broccoli into a refreshing drink and made her own yogurt nearly sixty years ago. My father was in the food business manufacturing snacks and health foods. Soy nuts. Fava beans lightly roasted. Pepitas. I knew about saturated fats, the evils of fried foods, the dangers of carbohydrates, the difference between whole wheat flour vs. the empty calories in Wonder Bread.
Eating and drinking and munching and talking was who we were as a family. Even professionally, everyone in the family except for me, seemed to work in occupations centered around the mouth – making their living through eating, drinking, lawyering, and caring for teeth. My first cousin sold liquor to bars and restaurants. My second cousin was a sales manager with a large East Coast liquor distributor and sold cordials. An uncle was a Pabst beer distributor in Maine; and sold cigarettes to American Indians in the southwest. I have uncles and their sons who owned and operated liquor stores and groceries. My grandfather was a dentist. My father manufactured snacks and health foods. My brother argued cases in court. My mother was a great cook.
And then there was me. I broke ranks as my occupation was not oriented around the mouth. But I did smoke a lot of pot, so I guess that qualifies me.