I was supposedly born into a middle class family in 1951, but by middle class, there had to be more of a definition.
According to my second generation Eastern European mother, money was always tight. It was not uncommon to follow Ma around the shopping center that had two different grocery stores, Loblaws and Star Markets. (names that have long ago faded into memory).
“Mom, why do we have to go to both stores every week for groceries?” came my simple observation. She never responded, but always had a fist full of coupons, clutched and ready to go from store to store.
Growing up, bath towels were always embossed with the name “Seneca Hotel’ and we had a lifetime supply of Seneca Hotel emblazoned hand soap bars. You see, Grandma worked at the hotel in housekeeping and seemed to have an endless supply of Seneca Hotel supplies. I’m sure that is not why the old Seneca Hotel went out of business, but I have my suspicions.
“You’re using too much toothpaste, just use a very small drop,” would clamor my ultra-money conservative mother.
As I hit the pre teen/teen stage and Ma decided it was time for her youngest boy to get braces for some crooked teeth. Luckily, I guess, I apparently only need them on the top row of my chompers.
Our dentist lived only a few doors away and we made trips to the office in the Temple building in the heart of downtown Rochester. A single bus from the Town of Irondequoit delivered me almost to the door. A human- assisted elevator took me up to the neighbor tooth doc’s door and small office.
Little did I know Ma had pled with the neighbor dentist to fix my supposed crooked teeth, who was obviously not a teeth straightening expert. She said it was necessary to “save money” on a very costly project and I should be grateful.
I knew I was in trouble, when I arrived, by myself, for the first of many, many trips to the dentist’s office for it seemed like an eternity. Actually, it was probably for over a year, but my mind has pretty much disregarded that portion of my life.
Now mind you, this was the same old dentist who previously slipped while giving me a novocaine shot and stuck my tongue instead, with the numbing fluid. “Oops”, was his only acknowledgement of the tongue drooling incident.
Back to the braces. When I arrived for the first attack of teeth straightening contraptions, I was immediately put off by Doc unfolding and reading directions in the mail order box.
After many seemingly endless hours of mouth manipulation, I had a full set of upper braces, followed by instructions on how to apply the rubber bands on a daily basis. There were wires everywhere and yes, they cut into my tender inner lips and cheeks.
Every morning came the twisted attempt with various forks, knives and whatever to attach the series of small rubber bands that traversed the metal attachments.
All too often those nasty rubber bands flew off in every direction across the room, sometimes hours after their insertion. Every day I felt wires cutting into my precious flesh and I simply moaned to myself. Every day of the trial-by-blood and labor I became conscious of how they looked and felt.
After uncounted trips by myself to downtown Rochester, the day finally arrived. The braces came off and it was a quasi-successful attempt at teeth straightening by a guy who had no idea how braces should be applied or worked. The day would also arrive when Seneca towels and soap was exhausted. No problems, Ma would take those fistful of coupons and make multiple trips for the best deal.