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Tools of the trade

Emotions overtake Veleta Waltman when she talks about her grandpa, Dr. Matthew S. Spivey. After all, memories of him are among her fondest.

Although she was only eight years old when he died in 1937, he etched a place in her heart that has deepened with time.

Spivey was a prominent Troy dentist during the late 1800s and early 1900s. His office was in a two-story house on South Three Notch Street just off the downtown square. Waltman and her older sister, Doris, sometimes spent time with their grandparents “in town.”

“My grandpa and grandma lived in Troy during the week and came home on the weekends,” she said. “They lived close to us out on Highway 29. When they came home on Friday afternoons, I would hear their car and go running to meet them. Grandpa would hug me and usually give me a nickel or a dime. I realized later that the coin I got depended on the kind of workweek that he’d had. Often, he was paid in chickens, vegetables or a promise to work. Sometimes he got paid nothing at all.”

The good Dr. Spivey had a dentist chair at his permanent home and would do emergency dental work for people in the country or for those who had no way into town.

“Grandpa was a kind and generous man,” Waltman said. “When my sister and I got to go into town to stay with him and Grandma, we could sit in the waiting area of his office and see into the office. I can remember him holding children on his lap to pull their baby teeth. Then he would give them a nickel to go up town and buy an ice cream cone. He was such a wonderful man and I loved him so much.”

Spivey fostered Waltman’s intense love of reading.

“I would sit on his knee and read to him, often from memory,” she said. “Those were such special times. When he died, I was heartbroken and his memory has lived with me all these years.”

Often memories of those days with her grandpa would be so vivid that it was almost like Waltman was back there on his knee reading to him and hearing his praises of his “little girl.”

When Spivey died, his estate was disbursed. Waltman often wondered what happened to the tools of his trade. Then, a year or so ago, a friend, Benny Davis, told her that he knew where her grandpa’s dental chair was.

“He told me that it was at an antique store at Sweet Gum Bottom near Andalusia,” Waltman said. “I asked my husband, George, to take me down there. I just had to see that chair.”

But sadly the dental chair was not there. It had been sold.

“The shop owner had sold it to his friend who collected antiques and he was kind enough to tell me who the man was,” Waltman said. “We went to see Robert McLelland and he had my grandpa’s dental chair and some of his tools. He also had Grandpa’s diploma from where he had graduated from dental surgery school. I couldn’t help but cry.”

Spivey actually had three dental chairs. Two at the office in Troy and one at his country home in rural Pike County.”

“I can’t say positively, but the dental chair is probably the original chair that Grandpa started his practice with on Walnut Street in Troy before he moved to South Three Notch Street,” Waltman said. “But there is no doubt that it’s grandpa’s chair.”

Waltman had gone to Sweet Gum Bottom with every intention of buying her grandpa’s dental chair at the antique shop. She made the same offer to McLelland, the collector who had made the purchase ahead of her.

“He wasn’t interested in selling the chair or any of the tools,” Waltman said. “But he told me that he was going to fix a nice display for it in the ‘general store’ that he had built to house his huge collection of antique country store items.”

Disappointed that she couldn’t purchase her grandpa’s chair, but encouraged that McLelland was going to display it in a prominent place, Waltman went home to Troy.

“When I saw Grandpa’s chair it made my heart beat so fast,” she said. “It brought back such wonderful memories.”

McLelland was true to his word and Waltman was pleasantly surprised when she returned to Heath General Store.

“He had one section of the general store set up as a dentist’s office back in the early 1900s,” Waltman said. “It was like walking into Grandpa’s dental office when I was a child. I was just overwhelmed.”

Waltman had gone to Sweet Gum Bottom with the intention of taking home a part of her past. Instead, she found herself gathering up items to contribute to McLelland’s display.

“I took him a photograph of Grandpa in his first office on Walnut Street and a table and a typewriter that I got from my brother that belonged to Grandpa,” Waltman said. “I couldn’t be happier to know that Grandpa’s memory is being kept alive through this wonderful display and that it’s being shared with others.”

Waltman wiped a tear from her eye.

“I still get emotional when I talk about Grandpa,” she said, with a smile. “After all these years and I still can’t help but cry.”