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The Glow of A Father

Nothing Happened in Coronation

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I lived in Coronation, an Alberta village in Canada, until I was 18. This is the 5th of 25 Coronation stories & essays.


The Glow of A Father


A dentist charged me $650 for a gold crown the other day.

I thought of my father. It’s curious what links men to their fathers. Usually it’s hockey or baseball or camping.

With Dad and me it was teeth.

My father was a dentist in Edmonton until 1976. Before that he had a practice in Coronation, about 200 kilometers from nowhere, this side of the Saskatchewan border. That’s where I went to school.

My father, Jack, chose Coronation (population 950 then) for one of the same reasons Boggie said he went to Casablanca.

Bogart told Claude Rains he went there for the water.

Dad wanted an out-of-the-way place with good water for his dental practice.

He also needed something to mix with Crown Royal, which he drank in large quantities.

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I bet he could have matched Boggie’s Sam Spade shot for shot.

Once or twice when I was a kid, Dad and I talked about drinking and he said he was not an alcoholic. I challenged him.

He said, “What’s an alcoholic?” I couldn’t figure it out. Case closed. That dad of mine, quite a guy.

We used to have fun in his office in Coronation. He taught me the lost wax method to make gold crowns.

First you build a “wax” filling, then you put it in a plaster cast, that you heat it in a little furnace and the wax evaporates. Next you melt some tiny gold ingots and use a centrifuge to throw what looks like liquid butter into the plaster cast.

Break away the plaster cast and you have a gold inlay or crown.

Here’s a video of a lady using the same process to make a beautiful piece of art.

Just like life, Dad explained, what you put into it — you get out.

Dad made certain his patients never suffered but he hurt me once when he neglected to use Novocain. He laughed and said that people don’t remember pain.

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To illustrate this, a few days later he pulled one of his own teeth. A week later we had both forgotten our pain. Case closed.

To be a good dentist, you have to be crazy, Dad used to say.

He said it wasn’t until we got old that we really appreciated good teeth, by then it was too late, we probably were gumming it.

He said he didn’t want to get old…after he got his first old age cheque he killed himself.

I remember thinking how good he was at fixing teeth and what a waste it was to take your life when there seemed to be so much more of it ahead of you.

I wanted to talk to Dad and tell him that he had been wrong — some kinds of pain you remember. But once again, case closed.

When I got my gold crown the other day all the memories came flooding back of Dad and his office. Things had changed naturally in two decades.

Dad never used a mask or rubber gloves. You went in, you got your teeth fixed and a month later you got a bill.

Dad didn’t charge people for unnecessary work or talk them into it. He would never have given me a gold crown.

He would have sunk a couple of pegs in my broken tooth and built a filing around them. The filing would have been an amalgam — part mercury, part silver. It would have cost one fifth or one tenth the price of a crown.

Today’s dentists are cautious of mercury. They put on a mask and combine the amalgam in a special container because they realize mercury is deadly. In a free state, mercury can cause your brain to rot and drive you crazy.

Dad mixed the amalgam in the palm of his hand in spite or warnings that were starting to come out.

His amalgams picked up some of his sweat. Old-time dentists called this “putting the glow” on the filling. Many of their filings lasted 25 years.

Open Hands

Three years ago I had all my fillings changed. Several of them have already failed. My recent crown was the result of one of those three-year fillings that snapped in half.

Too bad Dad wasn’t around to put the glow on the last batch.

And too bad he wasn’t around to see how God is putting dentists out of work. Dad would have laughed pretty hard.

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