My, how times have changed

Those of us who know Barry are left in no doubt whatsoever that the greatest influence in his life has been his mum. Here is another memoir about Bridget Edge nee McMahon – the girl from Smallthorne.

My, how times have changed
For several weeks my upper ride side gum had been tender with the short bursts of pain increasing in intensity when eating or drinking anything hot or cold.

It was the iced confection that finally did it. I had just started to savour a delicious chocolate coated triple flavoured ice cream on a stick. The excruciating pain that followed saw me hurriedly picking up the ‘phone to organise an early visit to the fang doctor.

The lady explained they were very busy and could I hold out another week to see my preferred dental therapist. Somewhat reluctantly I said that I could. She signed off by saying I should contact immediately should I consider I needed emergency treatment.

The remainder of my ice cream had now melted away down the kitchen sink.

As the week went by my upper gum became infected and very painful. But in the great scheme of things my discomfort paled compared to others less fortunate. By the time I was sitting in the dentist chair my swollen gum and puffed right eye needed no explanation.

My ‘Clinician’ – a posh name for a dentist – is a young man with a very pleasant disposition who always takes time out to explain the procedure of examination before saying ‘Open wide’. He asked if I was in pain and to indicate on a scale of 1:10 what I thought it would register. I said around 4:10. I noticed his raise his eyebrows as he looked across at his assistant. Then he touched my jaw. The pain I felt intensified and it took all my reserve bravado to conceal the unbelievable discomfort. But the dentist was not fooled.

Before he would do anything he ordered x-rays and immediately began to place an instrument in my mouth to facilitate the process. I’ve got to tell you folks it felt as though I had half of Shelton Bar stuffed between my teeth. In no time at all it was all done and dusted with the results computerised for all to see.

That was about it for the day because the dentist would not proceed until the infected gum had cleared up so that he could see what he was dealing with. So, with a course of penicillin in hand I was told to return in 8 days time. But I declined his offer of a certificate for time off work.

All of which took me back to a time when things in the dentist chair were so vastly different.

I was ten at the time and we were still living in 17 Millward Road, Bucknall. Our mum, the centre of our universe and the strength in all things for our family, had casually mentioned she may need to go and have a tooth pulled because it was causing her some discomfort. She rarely complained on her own behalf, but was always the first to respond to the health and welfare of her husband and brood.

Like others of her generation she had experienced the horrors of two world wars and The Great Depression and, like many of her peers, was never daunted by the hard times life presented. In fact, when others around her were still focussing on the problems faced, my mum was focusing on solutions available.

Mum was begrudgingly given the nod from her supervisor at Johnsons Pottery to take Monday off to attend the dentist and to be back at work on the Tuesday if she wanted to keep her job. After all it was only one tooth. The year was 1952.

Over the weekend mum went about looking after her family as always. Any mention of the pending dental appointment was quickly silenced as being nothing more than nuisance value. It was not unusual for mum’s youngest sister, our Aunt Nora – who lived in Langford Road, Bucknall, to call in to say hello. What was unusual was Aunt Nora’s help with the cooking and other chores. Come Monday afternoon all would be abundantly clear.

On that particular Morning mum organised us off to school with the message she would be home by lunchtime minus one of her molars. My sister wanted to be with mum. Mum didn’t think it was necessary. So off to school we went.

What transpired that day still leaves me totally bemused. But that was, it seems, how things were done back then. Or were they?

When we got in from school mum was already organising our evening meal. She was wearing a blood stained bib on her chest, and around her face was a blood stained towel. According to the note left by Aunt Nora we were to eat our tea and clean up afterwards because mum was going to have a rest. Mum mumbled something along the lines the dental visit hadn’t gone as planned and then went upstairs to bed.

Dad was just getting in from his afternoon shift at the Michelin as Aunt Nora was calling in to check on mum. Any questions my sister and I may have had we kept to ourselves, but it was blatantly clear something was amiss because Aunt Nora was very clear when saying to dad that mum was not to go to work the next day and for him to take time off to be near her. As for the Johnsons’ foreman, Aunt Nora said she would deal with him.

Now I’ve got to tell you readers, when our Aunt Nora needed to have ‘words’ with anyone they were left no doubt whatsoever as to the clarity of her displeasure.

On the Tuesday morning mum was up and about getting ready for work. She was shaking, pale and very drawn. Fortunately it didn’t take much persuading from dad to see her go back to bed again. Our lovely Aunt Nora came by to see us off the school. Only then were we told the truth of the matter.

It seems mum’s dentist visit turned out to be nightmare for her because each and every tooth had been extracted. Not only that, she was told to take it easy before going back to work the next day. With that she had made her way across Hanley to the bus stop outside the Town Hall and rode home on a Beckett’s bus. Getting off in Werrington Road Bucknall she walked home to Millward Road – all the time holding a bloodied flannel to her mouth. On the way home she had called by to let Aunt Nora know what had happened.

There was no post dental care like today, other than to be told to rinse regularly with a salt wash and maybe take an aspirin for the pain.

As my sister and I were making our way to school neighbours called out asking how mum was. Even the Beckett bus drivers and clippies wanted an update. That’s how it was back then.

Wednesday morning came and by the time my sister and I had made it downstairs for breakfast mum had already gone to work. Dad had been unsuccessful in trying to keep her home. Anyway, Aunt Nora was going to call by Johnsons later to check on mum and to make sure the foreman wasn’t giving her a tough time.

It would be several days before we were to learn that the Johnsons’ foreman had been less than impressed that mum had taken the Tuesday off and that she did not have a ‘sick note’. Further he was going to deduct two days pay. However, that decision was quickly reversed after Aunt Nora’s visit to see that mum was okay and to have a word or two with the foreman.

Years later, when mum and I were recalling the episode, she laughed out loud before saying that at the time she thought the dentist didn’t really know what he was doing.

My, how times have changed.

See you later…

Barry Edge
Western Australia
February 26, 2007

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