long in the tooth

Bucky Space Patrol

The phrase “Long in the Tooth” means old in age. The expression originates from one’s ability to tell a horse’s age simply by looking at its teeth. The longer the teeth, the older the horse. Thus, this phrase is used to describe how someone or something is along in years.

The idiom took on a new meaning for me recently when I lost a tooth. When I had an emergency hernia operation about two years ago, I awoke from the anesthesia with a loose tooth that was not loose before. When I asked the surgeon about it, he was suspiciously vague: “Sometimes it happens,” he said.

What happens? How did my tooth get that way?

He changed the subject right away to my wound, and I followed along. Anyway, it was just a loose tooth. It would probably repair itself.

But it didn’t. It became looser and looser. I had a stroke and didn’t think much about it until one day, in the side view mirror of my neighbor’s truck, I noticed that the tooth had become longer. It began to interfere with my speech. And finally, about three weeks ago, it fell out.

If they were still alive (which they aren’t), my parents would have been horrified. Like a lot of upper-middle-class parents, they had invested thousands of dollars in braces to correct an overbite which the orthodontist said was the worst he’d ever seen. To taunt me, the kids in my neighborhood used to call me Bucky Beaver. Giving me a perfect smile was, for my parents, as important as my college education.

Now I’m afraid I look like trailer trash, and my greatest salvation is that I don’t have any mirrors in the house. But even though I’m not obsessing in front of a mirror, the loss of that tooth bothers me more than I can say or would like it to. I should have a thicker skin than that, a more resilient ego.

I had to do something to get over acting like a big baby, so I called a friend named Ron Nelson. He has lost two legs, and it hasn’t interfered with his life.

“Like I tell people all the time, no part of my body defines me,” said Ron.

Yeah, some of my kids—the ones who are most resilient and able to get on with their lives—say much the same thing: “I refuse to let my crime define me. I am more than just one action.”

As proof of his belief, when I first saw Ron standing on his new titanium legs, I swore he looked better than ever before.

I suppose as I get on in years, other parts of my body will fall off or fail to operate properly. It is a normal part of the aging process. It is ironic that as this course of physical decline progresses, we continue to grow in other, non-materialistic ways and become a greater (not a lesser) person.

Of course, I may escape this decline altogether. The other morning, while I was emptying out used coffee grounds, I stepped on a coiled rattlesnake in the dark. Thankfully, it was cool and he wasn’t moving at that early hour. But I was wearing flip-flops at the time, and after beheading the snake, I thought I should have ended up in hospital that day. It is a miracle I wasn’t bitten.

But it reminds me, what old age does not accomplish, the rattlesnakes probably will.


Groove of the Day

Listen to Southern Culture On the Skids performing “Put Your Teeth Up On The Window Sill”


1 Response to “long in the tooth”

  1. 1 anonymouse
    September 16, 2014 at 2:36 pm

    No one knows what you look like behind that bushy beard of yours anyway, so just keep moving on with life . . . and watch out for the damned snakes!

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