Wednesday, June 6, 2012

I'm No Anti-Dentite. My Daddy The Dentist

I woke up this morning thinking about my Daddy. My Daddy the Dentist. He retired from practice in 1995 after setting up his practice in Conway, North Carolina in 1959. He graduated from UNC Dental School, he and Mama moved to Conway, and I was born all in a few months span in that year.

While there are people who really dread going to the dentist, I always loved it. I knew Daddy wasn't going to hurt me and if it did hurt, it wasn't going to be his fault. Funny how folks think dentists love inflicting pain! They didn't design the mouth. They try to fix problems that they're presented with and often people come in already in pain.

I thought about how he came to Conway in the first place. People in Conway may  not know this, but Daddy graduated in the top three of his graduating class. He never has told us if he was first, second, or third. He acts like he doesn't even know himself. But he does. Schools tell rankings. But he doesn't tell them. He could have gone to Charlotte, NC and set up a lucrative practice. He could have gone anywhere to "inflict pain."

Instead, he and Mama chose to come to Conway to bring healing. For those who don't know, Conway is in Northampton County. A county chock full of great people but not enough monetary wealth to get us out of the bottom counties when it comes to poverty. Out of the 100 counties in NC, Northampton has always ranked in the bottom several when it comes to poverty and education. Currently, we are 92 out of 100. We have been as low as 97.

And Daddy was in the top three of his graduating class from UNC Dental School in 1959. He was also raised, for the first nine years of his life, from 1930-1939, at home. His Daddy was a sharecropper who was killed by a drunk driver when my Daddy was only 7. There were other children at home and times were tough. Really tough. My Grandma did her best for two years, but finally placed her younger four children in the Methodist Orphanage in Raleigh. Today it's proudly known as the Methodist Home For Children. Daddy was 9 by then and the oldest of the four sent.

He knew what it was like to not have medical and dental care. He knew. He worked his way through High Point College, went into the Army, came out and went back to Dental School on the GI Bill. And when he graduated, instead of taking in, he gave back.

He knew what it was like to be a child without dental care and he wanted to go someplace where he was needed. Needed. He wanted children to have the care he didn't. It's a long story of how they came to Conway, but let's say God had His people in place all along the way to make it happen. And it did.

I can remember many a time people would come to the house at 11 pm, 2 am, or call. Their child had been crying a week or two with a toothache and they could stand hearing it no longer. Would Daddy come to office and pull that tooth so they could get some sleep?

And, if it was a child, he always went. If it was an adult he'd tell them to be in the office first thing in the morning and he'd work them in. They had put up with that toothache that long and they could put up with it a little while longer. But he never made a child wait. And he always gave the parents "something to think about." He didn't like it when they made their children suffer.

When he retired, there's no telling how much of other people's debt he retired. I typed his statements every month from the time I was 16 or 17. Every month I'd type many of the same statements over and over. Sometimes the amount stayed the same and sometimes it had grown. He never took anyone to court and he never stopped treating someone if they couldn't pay. Or wouldn't pay. Especially if there were children in the home. He didn't like not getting paid, but we always had more growing up than he had ever had, so life kept on going on. He didn't get bent out of shape about it.

Because he came to Conway, NC, he had patients coming from all over, even from Virginia. We're a very rural area and dentists, still to this day, don't see this as a "desirable" area to come to and raise a family in. So, they don't come. But the people need them.

Another thing that Daddy did that has always made me proud is he worked with a small, one man, dental lab a few towns over. This lab was operated by a fantastically skilled man, who is Black. Daddy moved here in 1959 and gave this man a chance. To this day, though both are retired, they're still friends. Because Daddy relied on this man and his skills, people who needed partials and dentures got the best there was and they were affordable. People who got their work done by other dentists who used other labs and were astronomically priced, would often hear about Daddy and "his" dentures and come to him to get theirs' fixed or refitted or remade. I've worked in the office a little and would take phone calls from people pricing dentures and make appointments as soon as I told them what Daddy charged. People rarely brought them back because something didn't fit right either. He took great impressions and had a great lab doing the making. I don't know if people always knew "who" made their dentures, but they always knew they got the best anywhere around.

Father's Day is nearing and Daddy will turn 82 the day after. He'll get his Italian Cream Cake like always. I make him one twice a year and have ever since I was a teenager. He gets one for his birthday and he gets one for Christmas.

I've been blessed and I am