Monday, October 11, 2004

Treasures Lost

This week’s call was mostly about lost treasures and teeth.

“The thing that hurts the most about this root canal is what it’s going to cost me! Imagine! I have to go to the regular guy, then the root canal one, then back to the other one!”

“Did you think to ask about getting a bridge for those lower teeth?”


“You know, you might find you enjoy food more if you could chew it.”

She laughed. Every tooth conversation with my mother ends with her chuckling at my, what? My humor? My silliness? The sheer insanity of the suggesting she get a bridge? Yes. That one. See, she’s getting ready to die. She’s been preparing for this journey for every one of the 46 years I’ve been alive. Now she’s 80. She is ready to reunite with my dead father. And her parents. And her younger sister, who died years before it was her turn. But evidently my mother’s god has other plans and here she is, with two or three teeth left in her bottom jaw.

She’s not poor, my mother. She has dental insurance, Medicare, the works. But, “It doesn’t pay for everything, you know.” And given her fervent hope that she’s dead next year at this time, dental work just doesn’t seem like a sound investment.

“You might live to be 100, Mom!”

“Oh, I HOPE not!”

We have that conversation every month or two. Sometimes it’s 90 she doesn’t want to see, sometimes 81.

I grew up hearing a lot about the fluoride in Idaho’s drinking water. Every time I got a cavity, I heard about that fluoride. My mother had beautiful teeth – bright white, hardly a cavity. Mine? Rotten. Virtually every one of my baby teeth had a filling. So crooked they required years of orthodontia. “Your father’s teeth” she’d pronounce. “But the water in Idaho was fluoridated. We all had good teeth because of that fluoride.” Now her teeth are darker. Yellow, slightly gray. They are even a little crooked now because of the loss of bottom teeth and because it turns out she grinds her teeth when she sleeps. That’s a habit I’ve had all my life. Only in the past few years did we see evidence that Mom has the habit.

Maybe she’s grinding over her lost treasures. On the phone I asked her about the weather in Arizona – a weekly joke that still makes us both laugh. “Sunny!” she tells me, week after week. She talks about being homesick. “When will I start feeling better?”

“I don’t know, Mommy. I am just starting to feel at home here and I’ve been here six years. It can take a while.”

“I keep thinking of things I miss!”

“Like what?”

“Like, my camera.”

I laugh. I don’t mean to laugh, but the laugh escapes before my brain can stop it. Mother has Macular Degeneration. She’s legally blind. She can’t see well enough to drive or to care for herself any longer. That’s why she’s living in an “assisted living facility” in the desert. “How would you see to take a picture? And after you took it, how would you see it?”

Now Mom laughs. “It’s not that. There were still some pictures on there. I don’t know what they were. I think there was about half a roll of film left.”

Honestly, I don’t know where the camera is. I’m fairly sure we didn’t sell it at the massive garage sale in July. And I don’t remember any of her kids or grandkids taking it. Did we pack it up with her stuff? Doubt it. We probably thought we were sparing her some pain by making the decision for her. Better not to remind her of her disability. So she sits in the desert and wonders what happened to that camera and what was on those undeveloped pictures, lost forever.

I’m sure she’ll ask me about the camera again when I call next weekend.

Mom's beautiful teeth, circa 1948

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