Praying pigeons ease the pain

Published 4:34 pm Saturday, October 25, 2008

My right arm is longer than my left.

It got that way because of Mama dragging me up those dark, foreboding stairs at Dr. H.T. McKinnon’s dental office when I was a child.

His office on North Three Notch Street was the place of dread and doom.

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Being from Brundidge, we didn’t get to go to Troy often and, ordinarily, such a trip would have been cause for great excitement. But, when a little frizzy-headed, knock-kneed girl’s tooth was aching, a trip to Troy was torture.

Now, Mama “doctored” everything from a scraped knee to an appendicitis with an enema – everything except a toothache, that is.

So, this little girl was experienced at hiding any ailment but, when my mouth was two times bigger on one side than the other, Mama would drag me to “the dentist.”

As soon as we got to the door that led to the upstairs house of horrors, I would dig my heels into the pavement and start screaming, “It doesn’t hurt! My tooth doesn’t hurt anymore!”

The heels of little girls do not grab cement. Mama would start up the stairs and I would do my best to not follow. She would drag me by my arm, kicking and screaming, with my ankles bumping and bruising as we went.

“You don’t want Dr. McKinnon to hear you pitching a fit,” Mama would say as we neared the top of those dark, narrow stairs. “Act like a big girl.”

I was not a big girl. I was scared.

Mama would push me into the office ahead of her and the lady at the desk would smile. She could. She didn’t have to go to the “electric” chair.

The waiting room reeked of things to come. The sound of the drill sent me scurrying for the door, but Mama jerked me back by my arm. I sat there knowing that somebody was being tortured just down the hall and I was next.

Too soon, “Miss Joyce” would come for me.

She would smile, crook her finger and say, “Dr. McKinnon is ready for you.”

“Miss Joyce” would help me up in the chair. How she folded me into the chair, I don’t know. I’d locked my knees so I wouldn’t fit but she got me in there. But I kept my legs stiff and straight.

She put a “bib” around me – a paper one with a chain that fastened around my neck.

“Look who’s here!” she would say.

I knew popeyed well who was there. Dr. McKinnon. And he was going to hurt me.

He always wore a white “undertakers” coat and tried to pretend like he wasn’t a dentist.

“Hey, cousin Jaine,” he would say. “What’s this behind your ear?”

He would pull a nickel out from behind my ear and hand it to me.

“Look what I found!”

I didn’t care what he’d found. I was about to be tortured. What good would a nickel do me?

The only thing that I wanted was out of there but both Dr. McKinnon’s and “Miss Joyce” were between me and the door.

“Open wide and let’s see that tooth that’s hurting you. Oooooh. Look a here Miss Joyce.”

She would “oooohhh” and they would begin to “fix me up.”

Dr. McKinnon would leave the room and I knew where he was going. To get a needle as big as the one my granddaddy used to vaccinate his cows. When he came back, he would be hiding something behind his back. He couldn’t fool me. I knew what was back there.

Then, as if I’d suddenly gone blind, he would hold the needle up right in front of me and squirt something out – straight up in the air. Then, he would hide the needle behind his back again and then do the mean thing.


I could not have survived the “fixing up” that Dr. McKinnon and Miss Joyce put on me if it hadn’t been for the praying pigeons on the steeple of First United Methodist Church.

Mama said if I’d keep my eyes on them that it would take my mind off getting my cavity filled.

I imagined that those pigeons were sitting on that steeple praying for me to get out of that dentist’s chair alive. I helped them out a whole lot with that.

“Now, rinse your mouth out and spit in the bowl,” Miss Joyce would say.

“I’d swish the lukewarm water around in my mouth and spit in the bowl.

“Blood! I’m bleeding to death!”

And, I’d pray harder. Help me pigeons. Pray!

After a time of prayer and agony, Dr. McKinnon would say. “That’s didn’t hurt a bit, now did it? See there. We’re all done. Wasn’t she good, Miss Joyce?”

I had not been good. I didn’t want to be good. But I had survived.

“That wasn’t so bad,” Mama would say as we made our way down the dark stairwell.

Only me and the pigeons could answer that.