My Dad lost all his teeth when he was 15. He didn’t lose them really, he had them pulled out. The story is that he had a lot of cavities and rather than pay for the treatment, my grandfather, a legendary pennypincher, had the dentist extract. My Dad, at age 15, had to go to school for two weeks, maybe longer now that I think about it, without any teeth, while they made his dentures. At the height of puberty. In High School. Obviously there are worse things to endure, but I think it’s one of the defining experiences of my Father’s life and goes a long way to describe the funny/sad/rageful part of his personality.
The weird part is that my grandfather was a nice guy, well nice isn’t the right word, he was interesting, and he was smart and funny; he was calm, though maybe if I had been around him more, he would have tortured me too (calmly). It seems like something more than just frugality would cause a father to make such a decision for his child. Still when my Dad recalls this story, he doesn’t say it with bitterness, so much as a shoulder shrug. Yeah, I had all my teeth pulled out when I was 15. In the middle of the school year. No big.
It reminds me of the things we get used to, in our families mostly, like a three-legged bed or a person's absence (literal or figurative) : things that seem like they could be directly addressed but just get overlooked until they become part of what is normal to you.
I was thinking about this idea recently when I remembered this cook at a diner where I worked. In the summer he used to sweat so much he looked as though he had been sprayed with a hose. If he shook his head, the sweat would splat and hiss on the grill. It's true the kitchen was like a sauna; there may have been one tiny window, but what difference did it make? It was 92 outside and 100% humidity. But still. There was no way he didn't sweat directly into every platter of food he served. I'm sure we had the thought that this was a little, you know, gross; we may have even given each other a side eyed glance as we picked up the plates but we never mentioned it. It was just part of the deal.