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Remember Summer of ’54 with a gap-toothed grin

As a child growing up on The Commons, I always looked forward to the summer visits of my father’s cousin, Fern Jones. A spinster employed as a secretary by the Goodman Manufacturing Company of Chicago, she had always maintained close ties with Picton, her late mother’s birthplace.

At the mention of one of Fern’s impending visits, my mother would immediately begin to make a mental list of all that was to be done in preparation for her arrival. Conscious of the fact that my father’s cousin was a city dweller accustomed to the fast-paced life of the Windy City, she was worried that she might find small town life dull in comparison. Determined that we would not be thought of as country bumpkins, mother made certain that we would be suitably attired.

In preparation for Fern’s arrival, she would visit Fraser’s Grey Room to buy two new house dresses and two stylish frocks suitable for summer outings to Bloomfield’s Maple Inn or Ellismere, a lakeside dining establishment on Highway 33. My father’s wardrobe was similarly updated at Ern Ward’s Men’s Wear. Having made certain that she and dad would be suitably dressed, she would then turn her attention to my summer outfits. A shopping trip to Eaton’s Department Store was in order to obtain material for two new dresses for me. Next, we visited neighbourhood seamstress Ethel Stone, who fitted me, then magically transformed the fabric into sundresses Shirley Temple might have envied.

In advance of Fern’s visit, an appointment was made for me at the Royal Beauty Salon, where I was given an industrial strength permanent. Timing was everything. Mother always made certain that I had my “perm”, at least three weeks before our guest was scheduled to arrive. She said my curls needed time to relax. Mother also had a permanent, herself, and a fresh application of a dark rinse for gray hair, euphemistically know as Blue Steele.

When our hair and clothing were in order, mother focused on her tableware. A new breakfast set, invariably was required for one of Fern’s visits. Mother’s best tablecloths were laundered and pressed and her glassware inspected for possible streaking.

Final preparations included cleaning our house from top to bottom, a chore that was left to the last minute, to ensure that everything was pristine upon Fern’s arrival. Vowing death to any dust bunnies with the temerity to lurk beneath our beds mother swung into action with her trusty Hoover.

Unfortunately, the best laid plans of mice and men sometimes go awry. So it was in the summer of 1954, when an unanticipated calamity sabotaged weeks of careful preparation.

Mother and I were returning from a visit to my grandmother’s house, across the street from our home, when disaster struck. I was in the lead, as we walked up the three steps leading to our side door. As I reached the top step, my elbow swung backward, striking mother in the face. This accidental blow caught her squarely in the mouth and knocked out a front tooth. With Cousin Fern scheduled to arrive in three days time, it was immediately apparent that mother would be greeting her with a gap-toothed grin. A frantic call to our family dentist Dr. Slack confirmed mother’s worst fears. An addition to her existing bridge would restore her smile, but not in time for her to meet Fern’s train. My father and I immediately sensed the futility of trying to reassure mother that our cousin would not notice her missing tooth. It had become the elephant in the room.

For the next two days, mother practised a tight-lipped smile that did not look welcoming. She also began to speak through clenched lips, an unfortunate strategy that reminded the observer of a bad ventriloquist.

When Fern arrived, mother offered a brief explanation of what had happened. Our houseguest was sympathetic and assured mother that we did not need to dine out during her stay. She said we could have a pleasant visit without leaving the house. Mother was swift to agree.

In the annals of family history the summer of 1954 became known as “the year when Margaret knocked out mother’s tooth.” Privately, after Dr. Slack worked his magic, I chose to regard it as the year of  “a bridge over troubled waters.”

Filed Under: Margaret Haylock-Capon

About the Author: Maggie Haylock is a freelance writer and former newspaper reporter who has co-authored several books with her husband, Alan Capon.

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