For some reason, I’ve been thinking about toothpicks lately. Mom and Dad always had toothpicks handy, so did Grandma and Grandpa and all my aunts and uncles. When I was a little girl, setting the table included salt, pepper, butter, and toothpicks. Toothpicks were like the period at the end of the meal. All adults grabbed one.
Kids never needed toothpicks for cleaning stuff out of their teeth. That’s because nothing ever got stuck there. Grown-ups had bad teeth, or they chewed too hard, ’cause stuff was always getting caught in their teeth. Maybe it was like Aunt Phyllis and the radishes,
“I like them, but they don’t like me,” she said, which made everyone laugh and nod their heads. Grownups like to talk in a kind of code language. Aunt Phyllis really meant, “I burp when I eat radishes, and I hate how it tastes, plus it’s down-right embarrassing.”
Anyways, kids’ teeth were sharp and white, not jagged and filled up with silver like adults. Maybe that’s why stuff got stuck in grownups teeth. Grownups were always picking at their teeth. Dad leaned back in his chair after supper and ran a toothpick between his teeth with one hand, and looked far off like he was bringing up some poem he remembered. That’s how I knew he was settling for a little talking and one last cup of coffee. Mom poured the coffee and combed through her teeth.
“Where’s the toothpicks?” Dad said, if the Table-setter forgot them. The Table-setter scrambled to get the little china pitcher, which must’ve been from way back when Mom had a toy china set of dishes, and the only thing that was left was that tiny pitcher, which was now precious, ’cause Mom’s brothers, my uncles broke all her other dishes. Brothers can be a bother, and hers were kind of mean to her, putting bugs and stuff in her bed and doing mean things to her dolls, and bringing friends over that made fun of how skinny she was, and teasing about how she had to go in the “fresh-air room” on account of her skinniness.
“Where’d these come from?” Dad said about some new toothpicks.
“I picked them up by mistake at Kroger’s,” Mom said. “We never had round toothpicks before.”
“Well, they don’t work. I need the flat ones.”
Hmmm…. I thought. Why does the shape of the toothpick matter?
Mom carried a toothpick or two in her pocketbook, and Dad had one in his shirt pocket, if they got somewhere and no toothpicks. Most restaurants had a pile of toothpicks waiting at the cash register, ’cause everybody and their brother needed a toothpick after eating. Not kids, though. I never saw a kid picking at their teeth. Nothing ever got stuck in a kids teeth.
I ate apples and carrots, which are natural teeth cleaners. I read that in a book. That’s why horses never get stuff stuck in their teeth and why dogs get bad breath a lot: one likes apples and carrots, the other one never eats that stuff. Maybe adults forget how apples keep doctors away, ‘ cause that’s another thing about adults, they go to the doctor way more than kids. Except for Dad. I never knew about him going to the doctor. Ever. He had no time for that sort of nonsense.
Now that I’m older, I find that stuff gets caught in my teeth a lot. I wish I was in the habit of ending a meal with a toothpick. I might be spared some embarrassment when I discover a smile tarnished with spinach since lunchtime. If you see that, be a friend a hand me a toothpick. Please.