Sunday, June 12, 2011

Grandmama's Teeth

The summer after her sophomore year of college, my sister worked as a waitress in Myrtle Beach, living in our great-aunt Iva’s spare room. In August Mom, Grandmama, and I drove down from West Virginia to pick her up, and that’s how I ended up standing in Aunt Iva’s bathroom doorway one morning as my grandmother was fixing her hair.

Grandmama was finagling her long, salt-and-pepper hair into its familiar bun. She held the hairpins between her lips and talked around them, glancing at me in the mirror as she used both hands to gather her hair and twist it into shape. Her movements were automatic.
Grandmama had what were called finger waves going back from her face. She would sleep in a hairnet to preserve the style and then use a smaller net during the day to hold her bun in place.

Having me watch her that morning didn’t seem to be a distraction. When she’d pinned the last pin, she picked her hairnet up off the vanity without looking, spread it with her fingers, and popped it into place. Then Grandmama looked down at the sink, completely puzzled. She looked at herself in the mirror and then cast her eyes over the sink and vanity. “Where did I put my teeth?” It wasn’t a full set of uppers and lowers she’d lost; more like a section.
Bewildered, she swung her head left and right to look around the bathroom, and then I saw what she couldn’t: Grandmama’s false teeth were caught in the threads of her hairnet. Her movements made them twist and bounce and finally whip outward in an arc behind her head. Anchored by nylon, they sailed past me, grinning at our little secret, and I grinned back.
“Where in the world…?”

“Hold still,” I said, hating to end it. “I know where they are.”
This experience actually happened to my brother. I wrote the piece to see if I could adequately capture the humor in someone else's story. This piece was the First Place winner in the Writer's Wall contest for prose held by West Virginia Writers during the organization's annual conference June 10-12, 2011.

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