A Different Time

When I was growing up in my hometown of Snyder, Oklahoma, population 1400, there were three medical doctors serving our community.  They were Doctors Britt, Bryce and Preston.

The town was four years old when the State of Oklahoma was formed in 1907. This area, The Indian Territory, was included in  the new state, which was represented as the forty-sixth star in the United States flag.

Bryce was a schoolteacher but he told my Granddad Otwell that he had always wanted to be a doctor.  I was told that to be recognized as a doctor by the new state, it was required that the applicant be interviewed and pass a written test.  He studied all of the available doctor books and passed the test and soon hung up his shingle.

Dr. Bryce delivered Grandmother Otwell’s two youngest children, Allis in 1907 and Jay in 1909.  Granddad eventually acquired the two- story former bank building where Dr. Bryce maintained his office.

Otwell buildingWhen I was twelve years old, Granddad traded Dr. Bryce a month’s rent, twenty-five dollars, to remove my tonsils and adenoids.  Since that time, a couple of physicians who have examined my throat have remarked that it appeared that my tonsillectomy had been performed splendidly.  It is amazing what one can learn from doctor books.

Mother's huge doctor book
Mother’s huge doctor book

 With health problems in the family, Mother would consult her huge doctor book to determine the recommended treatment. If the ailment persisted, we would go to see Dr. Britt.  He had come with his family from Arkansas and was a kind, gentle man.

I remember going to the post office after hours to check my granddad’s mailbox, Number 26, and noticed an old lady by a window.  Immediately, Dr. Britt came in and headed to his mailbox.  He spoke to Mrs. Smithers and she immediately began telling him of pain she was suffering.  As I left, I heard him say to her, “Here, let me feel of you”.  I am sure that she was told how to handle the pain and she saved the office fee of five dollars.

The town dentist, Dr. L. J. Ryan, also maintained his office in Granddad’s building.  Fresh out of dental school somewhere in the Midwest, he moved to Snyder and started his practice and spent his entire career attending to the community’s dental needs.

When I was in the sixth grade, Mother had been bedridden for weeks and had lost her ability to walk.  The local doctors could not determine the source of her illness but recommended that her teeth be x-rayed in the search for the infection source.  Dr. Ryan’s equipment did not find a problem.

Later, she was taken to a dentist in Frederick, twenty miles away.  His equipment was more powerful than that of Dr. Ryan’s and it was determined that her problem was caused by infection from an imbedded wisdom tooth.  The tooth was extracted and she was up and around  in a week but her walking was impaired for months.

I remember vividly the two practitioners who visited Mother while she was lying in bed.  Granddad’s older brother, Uncle Will, and Aunt Jane sat by her bedside and Uncle Will exclaimed, “Mae, you have rheumatism.  Let us tell you what to do.”  They each reached under their shirt and blouse and pulled out a cloth sack.  From the sacks, they extracted a peeled medium sized darkened white potato.  They claimed that keeping the potato close to your body constantly keeps your body free of rheumatism and other pains.

Needless to say, neither Mother nor anyone else in our family ever practiced the “Tater in a poke” solution that Uncle Will and Aunt Jane had picked up when they lived in Alabama.

When I was a child, I thought that all older people wore false teeth. Dental hygiene was not emphasized as it is today.  My dad was one of eight children.  That meant that ten people would line up to use the one bathroom.  Most people had an outdoors privy and water was brought to the kitchen in buckets from an outside pump.  It is easy to see why teeth were lost at an early age and that dentures were so prevalent for that generation.  Also, the making and fitting of false teeth was crude by today’s standards.

I was always amazed to see Great Aunt Maude, Grandmother’s older sister, when she came to visit.  When she smiled, her gums were revealed instead of teeth.  This did not slow her down.  She could talk a mile a minute and eat fried chicken right along with us.

Granddad Otwell was blind but could see the difference between dark and light.  This enabled him to walk the five blocks between home and his insurance office.  On his way home, he would often stop for a beer at his nephew’s café and always stop at the storefront post office to retrieve mail from Box Number 26.  Late one afternoon, he stepped into the post office and immediately sneezed, resulting in both plates falling to the floor. He did not dare to take a step for fear of crushing his dentures.  He had to stand still for ten minutes or so before someone came to his rescue.

Then there is Uncle Bill, husband of my Aunt Allis.  He and Aunt Allis would often drive one hundred and eighty miles from Norman, Oklahoma to Fort Worth, Texas to visit their daughter and her family.  When he got older, he would turn the driving over to Aunt Allis at their half way point, Ardmore.  They always stopped for lunch at the Holiday Inn Hotel.

Aunt Allis was agreeable to taking over the wheel only if Uncle Bill would lie down on the back seat.   On one such trip, He dutifully reclined and immediately fell asleep.  He must have been very tired since he did not awaken until they were driving into town.  He sat up with alarm and shouted that his teeth were missing.

He remembered taking them out to wash them after lunch in the hotel restroom and must have left them there.  When they arrived at Mona Jane’s home, he called the hotel and they told him that a set of teeth had been turned in to their office and that they would be held for him to retrieve on his return trip.  I bet that Uncle Bill spent the whole three days without smiling and avoiding people.

My dad claimed that his dentures did not fit well but they did fit well in his shirt pocket crowding a sack of Bull Durham tobacco.  When he was not around people, his pocket would bulge.

One summer evening, Mother called him to dinner.  When he reached for his teeth, neither plate was in his pocket.  He looked on the cabinet and noticed the watermelon he had bought that afternoon.

Then he recalled spending time that afternoon going through the watermelon patch of a farmer friend.  He had carefully gone around the field, thumping melons to find the very best one to take home.

He hurriedly called the farmer and inquired about his teeth.  The farmer answered that he had seen two of his hounds jumping and pawing at something out in the middle of the field and ran out to see what was causing them to act so wildly.  He was shocked to find that they were playing with a set of teeth.  He took them out of the dogs’ mouths and put them in a sack.

Mother held dinner while Daddy drove about five miles to check the teeth.  Sure enough, they were his.  They had fallen out of his pocket while he was searching for the prize melon.  Believe me, he scrubbed his teeth diligently before they were put back in his mouth.  Dinner was late but Daddy was able to enjoy his meal and the watermelon.

Word gets around rapidly in a small town.  A neighbor had a brother visiting from Wichita, Kansas and somehow the story appeared in the Wichita paper.

We are told that George Washington wore teeth made of wood.  They had to be ill fitting.  Bet he had a pocket for them,  like Daddy.

Everything medical and dental has improved tremendously since those days but life was good and certainly less complicated.

JIM PERSHALL

May 2015