My mother loved Gene Tierney’s smile. Tierney had slightly buck teeth that gave her mouth a pouty-hungry look. Her obituary in the Times noted “With her blue-green eyes, brown hair, prominent cheekbones and what many young men [and my mother] of the 1940’s regarded as the most appealing overbite of the day”.
After I was born Ma lost her looks and gained a lot of weight. Her belly was enormous. My dad’s pet name for her was Buddha Belly. She said it was from having all those damn kids. For Ma’s forty-fourth birthday she had all of her teeth pulled, and ordered slightly buck false teeth. It wasn’t like she had a mouth full of cavities or rotting wisdom teeth. She was just tired of all the fuss of having to brush her teeth every day and this was one more modern convenience. Instead of Gene Tierney’s pout however, Ma’s smile resembled the television horse Mr. Ed. She had a difficult time closing her mouth over the large hunks of porcelain sticking out of her mouth like a small shelf.
This was the beginning of many sets of teeth: lost, crushed, chipped and ones that were way too large for her mouth that made Ma gag. This was embarrassing, especially in restaurants. She couldn’t just spit them out in front of a diner filled with curiously repulsed onlookers, so she just gagged into a piece of Kleenex and her teeth landed right in her hand like she was performing a magic act. The bowed heads in the cafe hardly noticed. On several occasions my sister Betsy was elected to retrieve Ma’s teeth from the restaurant. More than once, Betsy entered the restaurant to piercing cries as an unsuspecting busboy or waitress grabbed Ma’s teeth. With practiced authority, Betsy boldly asked for them back, and deposited them in her pocket, like they were forgotten leftovers.
One time we were getting hot dogs at this place called Little Eddy’s. Customers just parked and ate in the brightly lit parking lot. It was a popular place for teenagers, and it was always crowded. After we finished our meal, we collected our wrappings and empty cups and threw them in the big trash can.
As we were driving home Ma shrieked, “Where’s my damn teeth?’ Once again, Ma had wrapped them in the hot dog wrappers, and I had thrown them out. Ma raced back to Little Eddy’s and convinced Betsy to go over and fish them out of the big trash can. Betsy was mortified because all the teenage boys saw her searching through the hotdog shaped garbage can. She heard the disgusted taunts and squeals of teen revulsion as she was swallowed up by the hot dog. “She goes to Maria High School” one of the boys jeered. Betsy claimed she couldn’t hear them over the screaming voices she often heard during moments of stress. When we got home Ma parallel parked in front of the house. She opened her door to make sure she was close enough to the curb and we heard a crunch. G&S
Queer Stories in G&S are dedicated in memory of Holden McCormack and edited by Robin Goldfin.