The monuments of wit survive the monuments of power.
- Francis Bacon
A recent trip to the dentist for some repair work on my 24-year-old bridge reminded me why I needed that thousand-dollar smile in the first place.
Just days before our family was to leave Berlin, Germany, and return to The States, I bit into a hard roll, and broke off a front tooth at the gum line.
The tooth had been weakened years before by a root canal, so the physical pain was minimal. But, oh, the mortification. We were about to see friends and family for the first time in three years, and I had a gaping hole in my head. Fortunately, a visit to the resident miracle-worker at the Army dental clinic salvaged my wounded psyche and raised my fallen morale.
Since we didnt have enough time for a complete reconstruction, the dentist came up with a unique, temporary solution. As I watched nervously from the dental chair, he snipped a small piece from a paper clip, cemented one end into the tooth and the other into the deadened root in my mouth.
Voila! Youd never know anything was wrong.
If youre careful - swear off hard rolls and bite only with your back teeth, he said, this should hold you until you see a dentist back home.
I couldnt believe it.
Do they teach you this in dental school? I asked.
They teach us to use our wits, he said. But if it bothers you to say you have a paper clip in your head you can call it a machine-tooled, stainless-steel pin.
Isnt the word wit (or wits) synonymous with humor? Yes, and something else Ive just learned: intelligence or sound mental faculties.
Thankfully, my dentist possessed both definitions.
peaking of wits, Ive yet to hear of another person with an unusual use for the ribbons from funeral bouquets. But Myrtle Wing, an elderly woman in our small New England church, used to attend every funeral in town - not to mourn the dearly departed, but to ask for the ribbons when the services were over. She became known as the ribbon lady, and funeral directors saved the ribbons for her even before she asked.
One day while visiting the ribbon lady, we gasped when she brought out the beautiful quilt she was making by sewing those variegated ribbons together - by hand. Myrtles quilt of many colors, we called it.
Myrtle may be all alone in the world, her neighbors said, but she lives quite well by her wits. She cons the neighborhood out of firewood, meat scraps and outdated food from the grocery store, and secondhand clothes from every sympathetic person in town.
In Myrtle Wings case, I decided wit also meant artist.
Years ago, before professional medical treatment was as plentiful as it is today, people also used their wits for healing purposes. Around 2500 BC, for example, the emperor may have stemmed a cholera epidemic by having his people drink hot tea. Although the cure wasnt necessarily in the tea but in the water they had to boil to make it, tea has been associated with a variety of healing sources ever since. Hot tea with honey and lemon is still widely used for a sore throat, and I continue to follow my grandmothers prescription for an upset stomach: a cup of hot, ginger tea.
Im not sure how witty I am in the realm of cures, fixes, and emergency substitutions, but I dont mind benefiting at all from the sound mental faculties of someone else. For the past couple years Ive received great comfort from a dab of Super Glue on those little slits that appear at the ends of my fingers every winter. And this year, in addition to honey-lemon tea for my sore throat, I follow my doctors advice to suck on peppermint candy instead of buying expensive throat lozenges.
f course, with all that sugar, once my peppermint-coated throat heals Ill have to spend more than Ive saved for my dentist to keep protecting that thousand-dollar smile.
(Barbara Seaborn is a local free-lance writer. E-mail comments to email@example.com.)
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