“Artists are people who are not at all interested in the facts—only in the truth. You get the facts from outside. The truth you get from inside.” --Ursula K. LeGuin

Monday, June 24, 2024

A Blubber of a Balloon


Chapter 27

A Blubber of a Balloon


Thank you Dr. Brogan of The Dalles, Oregon, for hiring and training me to be a dental assistant. That prepared me for my second job with Dr. Gibson in McMinnville, Oregon. 

 Dr. Brogan was the more serious-minded of the two dentists. He and I would get into philosophical discussions over the top of the patient's head, driving some to join in while sounding like the godfather mumbling over cotton rolls.

 Dr. Gibson made a big deal out of holidays, and when his second child was born, he put a stork on the roof holding an "It's a boy" sign. 

 He told me that his daughter was born the day the Korean War ended. He was serving as a dentist in Korea then and said that the doctors knew little about anesthetizing the face. They would infuse the tissue with Novocain until it puffed up like a balloon, making it impossible to find all the shrapnel embedded there. 

 A dentist, however, knows about nerve blocks, so he would anesthetize soldiers with face injuries, and the doctors could easily pick out shrapnel.

 As I said, his daughter was born the day the war ended, and for some reason, the authorities told the soldiers not to celebrate. So, Gibson suggested they celebrate his daughter's birthday, and they partied hardy.

Every year on his birthday, Dr. Gibson would send a dozen roses to his mother. He was the last of eleven children and figured he would thank her every year that she didn't stop having children before him. His mother was a tiny little thing. He said she only snapped her girdle with her husband's help. 

 Dr. Gibson loved Christmas and bought presents for Irene, the receptionist/bookkeeper, and me. He left the gifts in sight to tempt us, and Irene would snoop by looping her finger between the lid and the box's bottom. One night, he altered the gifts. Her package had an opening cut in the top with a bendable doll crawling in. Mine had a multicolored horse on top. He said, "I was a horse of a different color." 

 Once, he filled my coffee cup with dental plaster that looked like a volcano poking out of the coffee. It was the same color as the powdered coffee creamer we used and had a tongue depressor sign sticking out of the plaster, saying, "Creamer gone bad."

 One day, he had an order delivered to the office. It was a six-foot gray weather balloon. While he was at lunch, I semi-puffed the balloon and stuffed it in the closet where he kept his smock. When he opened the door, he would be met with a walrus-sized blubber of a balloon.

But he got me back.

 When we seated the patient, he began working without his smock. (Phooey) Soon, he asked, "Joyce, would you go to the cupboard and get the pen out of my pocket?" Well, I faced the blubber, got the pen, and we had a good laugh.

I thought he had gotten me, but obviously, he had met the blubber when he returned from lunch. But I never got to see him open that door.  

 Dr. Gibson hired me for the summer between my freshman and sophomore years at Oklahoma State University. Neil could still work at LRI, Linfield Research Institute during the summers, so we drove home during summer vacation and worked in McMinnville, Oregon.

 At the end of the following year of school in Oklahoma, the moment I completed my final Chemistry exam, the professor approached me and said I had a phone call from Oregon. Of course, that gave me an adrenaline hit, for I had never gotten a phone call from home, and a call to the school?! It turned out that Dr. Gibson was offering me a job that summer.

What a guy. Unfortunately, I declined, as Neil had accepted a job as a physicist at the Naval Ordinance Laboratory in Corona, California. That ended my dental assistant years, for I had transferred to the University of California, Riverside twenty-five miles from Corona. And as we were permanently moving to California, I was accepted as an in-state student. Soon, we would be on our way—packed to the brim with all our belongings in that old Ford and with Cassy, the cat, we acquired that year.

 We tried to teach Cassy to walk on a leash, but she balked, and we were grading the road with her, so I gave it up. Once we began our trip to California, she sat frozen for two days on the top of our packed back seat, which gave her about a foot of space between our belongings and the roof.

 Dr. Gibson and I kept in touch for years, as he liked the little The Frog's Song booklet I was writing. (See, I had to use the same title for two of my writings.) Our communication lapsed as we moved around, However I did go to him once as he replaced a dental bridge Dr. Brogan had put in years earlier. (Remember that horse accident? One of my molars died as a result of the trauma.) Dr. Gibson was a brilliant bridge builder, he had built a six- tooth bridge for his wife—I believe that is unheard of in dental publications. I failed to find him for a few years, and recently, I found that both he and Fairy, his wife, had passed away. Fairy's obituary said that Chester Gibson was the love of her life. Dr. Gibson's obituary said he worked full-time until he was 85, then part-time until he was 90, when a stroke cut his retirement short.

As Neil and I were driving through the deserts of Southern California on our way to Corona, our car lights kept flashing against white images that appeared to be ghosts in the night. We had to stop and clarify what we were seeing.

It was an array of white flowers growing on a stalk at least eight feet in the air. They were Yucca plants. To Oregonians' eyes, they were aliens.

 Cassy thought so, too. When we stopped and opened the door, she escaped and hid in the bushes. We feared she was too frightened for us to catch, but she was smart enough not to spend the night in the desert. We caught her and carried her into California where she lived with us for the next twenty years.