My grandsons are keeping the tooth fairy busy these days! Youngest grandson Gardner lost his first baby tooth recently. King, who is 7, would have a lot of trouble with an ear of corn, having now lost his two front teeth.
When I was a little girl, losing teeth was full of drama at our house. I was absolutely convinced that I would swallow any loose tooth and spent a lot of time jiggling and pushing any tooth that was loose, trying to get it to come on out. Probably because of that, I remember lots of blood when I lost a tooth and lots of tears.
Mother was up to trying most anything to try and help get an obviously not-ready-yet loose tooth out of my mouth, just to quell the commotion. I remember once when my uncle Lanoice suggested we try tying one end of a thread around the tooth and tie the other end to a door handle, slam the door and jerk the tooth out.
The funniest thing about that process – other than my wailing loud enough for the neighbors to hear – was that our 1960s house had these new, modern “pocket doors” that slid into the walls. Mother couldn’t find a good door until she spied the small closet at the end of the hall, which had a regular door and doorknob. It didn’t slam very well, but she decided it would work.
After three or four tries when the only result was broken thread, she called my uncle, who said, “Use fishing line.” Luckily, we didn’t have any, and the tooth was out before his next visit.
The only good thing about losing a tooth was the visit from the tooth fairy.
Mother wasn’t real creative about the exchange of tooth for money. It was pretty simple: Put the tooth under the pillow and a shiny quarter magically arrives in the morning. There were no notes from the fairy, no new toothbrushes or fairy dust or velvet pouches to hold the tooth or money. She only forgot once but covered it up in the morning when I complained by “finding” the quarter under the bed. “You must for been tossing and turning last night,” she explained.
When we lived in Germany before my father died, I got paid to do my “chores” around the house, which included not only things like “Make up your bed” and “Pick up your toys” but also “Mind your mother” and “Help with your baby brother.” Daddy kept a chart on the refrigerator and Mother filled it in each day with a check mark or an X. Once a week – or longer if Daddy was on a flight out of country – we would sit down with a roll of nickels. I got a nickel for every check mark and lost two nickels for every X. Miraculously, I don’t remember ever coming out in the hole, but that was probably because my Daddy wasn’t above doing a little creative math to benefit his “doodlebug.”
Getting an unearned quarter for a no-longer-useful tooth seemed like a great deal to me. I could buy a whole Hershey bar – always had a sweet tooth – and still have two dimes left over. Sometimes I would find something else at Ben Franklin Five and Dime store, but often the leftover dimes went into my beautiful piggy bank. I was always saving for something Barbie-related – Barbie car, house, special outfit – and would keep careful count as I worked toward the goals.
I remember when my brother lost his first tooth around 1964. He just jerked it out and proudly displayed it for Mother to see. The tooth fairy brought him a shiny Kennedy half dollar! I was 10 years old by then, so all my complaints went straight to the source – my mother. She did explain to Tim that usually the tooth fairy leaves quarters, but sometime will leave more for the first tooth.
I’m not sure what my grandchildren found under their pillows from the tooth fairy. There was a bit of a problem with Gardner’s first tooth. He was in the bathroom when it came out, and it kind of freaked him out, so he threw it away. His father did the same thing once, then cried because the tooth fairy wouldn’t come without the tooth. We solved the problem by writing her a note and leaving it under his pillow. She came through with a dollar.
I thought moving from a quarter to a dollar was a fairly good jump when my children began losing their teeth. A little research today, however, tells me that the “average” loot left under the pillow these days is $4.96, which means a lot of kids get a whopping five bucks.
That will buy a Happy Meal, or, for those like a 6-year-old Sherri Gardner, a Hershey bar with money left over for the latest Barbie daydream.
Sherri Gardner Howell has been writing about family life for newspapers and magazines since 1987. She lives in West Knoxville, is married to Neville Howell and has two sons and three grandsons. Her newest adventure is as a travel agent with her own company, SGH Go Travel. Email her at [email protected]