#33 Humor


When I was twenty I took a party bus to the Rolling Stones concert—with my dentist. This was 2003, and even though the rockers were ancient in my young eyes, Jagger had swagger, Keith was Keith, Ronnie was epic and Charlie was ever the gentleman. The band was set to blow the roof off of Ford Field, to the delight of tens of thousands of Detroiters. (They did.)


I hadn’t known when I signed up for this excursion—which was to include booze, Jell-O shots, and an ample supply of then-highly-illegal marijuana—that the kind, mild-mannered man who had been inspecting my teeth since I was a toddler would be aboard this vessel of sin. Imagine my surprise when, hand-in-hand with my high school ex-boyfriend (that alone a story for another day), whiskey sour in tow, joint tucked behind my ear, I boarded that party on wheels and ran smack dab into the good doctor and his wife.


Here was a man who made me feel like a champ every six months of my life. “If all of my clients had teeth like yours, I’d be out of a job!” Everything about him was tidy, from his glasses to his perfectly trimmed mustache; his demeanor calm and collected. In all honesty, he looked like Ned Flanders. I had not, to date, had any cavities, and my gums were in good health—all facts I prided myself on.





“Heyyy…..” I stammered. Should I hide my contraband? I can’t smoke something in front of my dentist!


“Shannon! Fancy seeing you here. How’s your Mom?”


My Mom? My Mom! The doctor was friends with my mother—what if he spilled to her about my devilish, law-breaking ways? Surely she knew about my penchant for drinking (I went to Michigan State, for crying out loud), but the pot? The shots? The occasional cigarette I fancied when tipsy (which I would obviously not smoke in front of the dentist—but what if I did?)? My mother’s next check-in could turn into a devastating confessional of epic proportions, a point of no return, a—


Start me up! Start me up I’ll never stop….


Ah, screw it. This was the goddamn Rolling Stones. The music cranked, the bus took off, and the dentist and I respectfully coexisted the entirety of the night.


*

What I knew outside of the man’s dentite life was that he had a band. He’d started one in high school in the late sixties, around the time an electric voice by the name of Bob Seger was lighting up the airwaves. Bob was playing shows around the Detroit downriver area and selling out immediately. If there’s one thing you need to know about my mother, it’s that her love for that ole time Seger rock’n’roll is second only to her love for my sister and I. As a teenager, she saw him play at the Allen Park ice arena and other local downriver spots, a stories she loves reminiscing about.

Some weeks after the concert, knowing the risk of not telling, I confess.


“Dr. Clementine was there!”


“Dr. Clementine was where, honey?”


“On the bus! With Ian and his parents. He’s friends with them—you know how it is in Allen Park. Everyone knows everyone! Everyone is everywhere! I didn’t know!”


She burst out laughing. I slumped back. Had she already talked to him? I walked over to the paper calendar on the wall. No appointments this month. I eyed her suspiciously.


“Sweetheart, you know those Seger concerts I’m always talking about? What I never told you, and I guess you’re old enough to know now, is that this one time well, Clementine smoked Seger down after the show. They were out there on the lawn—I was only sixteen, but this was 1970, you know?”


“Smoked him down”? On the lawn? This was my mother speaking?


Whatever transpired in 1970—or the rest of that decade—I certainly did not know. I entered the story circa 1986, a guileless, chubby toddler plodding around the carpeted waiting area. Some decades later the dentist would move to a fancy, neon-lit structure with a long hallway of rooms he split with another colleague (and later, his daughter) on the other side of town. But it’s that old office I remember most fondly, the office in the converted brick house down the block from where my mom grew up; the office with the dim lobby lighting and frosted glass window behind which sat a woman with a kind voice who scheduled calls and handed out toothbrushes to well-behaved little girls and boys. Violet was her name and she treated me with grandmotherly care, just a touch nicer than my actual grandmother who meant well but grew up poor and Irish and had little patience for a three-year-old who whined over having to wait for the fish sticks to cook. “Hold your horses, young lady!”, she’d say, to my continual consternation, as I was nowhere close to a lady and owned no horses that I knew of.


(In stereotypical fashion, my Irish great-grandfather put his unemployment check to work at the bar counter before he put a cent on the kitchen table, and yet the man was something like the mayor around town—gregarious, affable, a guy you could pull your stool up next to and talk about anything. When my grandmother and her second oldest sister started working to bring in money for their mother and two young sisters, pop Rogan charged them for rides to work. I didn’t find all of this out until years later, after my grandmother’s sudden death when I was a sophomore in high school, and I’ve forever wondered what stories she would have shared with me, had I been old enough to understand.)


Fast forward to today—to a scene in which a nearing-forty female stares at an appointment card in a city thirty miles away. For even though she has moved on and away from her childhood home she is still loyal to the good doctor. She has to reschedule – she dreads the reschedule -- because it might mean Sheila answers.


Sheila started after the kind grandmotherly Violet retired and has been a staple in the woman’s life. For the past twenty-five or so years, she’s greeted the woman, her sister, and her mother with a familiar warmth, a stabilizing thread throughout time. Sheila knew the woman’s mother when she was young and healthy—vibrant and full of life. She knew her before the wheelchair days, before paralysis set in—and she knew her after, too. Because even though the mother didn’t get out much in her last decade of life, one place she could always count on going was to the dentist.


“Dr. Clementine’s office.”


“Hi, is this Sheila?”


“Yes it is!”


“It’s Shannon Gaydos. How are you? I need to reschedule my appointment.”


“Oh hi Shannon, good to hear from you.”


There will be no how is your mom doing, now. No trading stories of adventures in rock’n’roll, no remembering the times out at the arena, where Dr. C. smoked ole Seger down. There are gentle pauses, kind voices and placeholder niceties, now. But my memories remain, in that little brick house down the street from where my mother grew up, less than a mile from the little brick house in which I would grow up, in the town I call home to this day despite the miles and years between us.


Hearing Sheila’s voice gives me a sense of comfort, a window into a corner of life that has become distant but not inaccessible. Through that window I see a mother and daughter giggling, tearing up over the pot-smoking Ned-Flanders-look-alike that popped up at the rock concert, the girl finally at an age where stories can be shared, long held secrets disclosed—the age in which you first realize your parents aren’t so different from you, after all.