Friday, April 15, 2011

Paying It Forward

I have a little friend who makes me very happy.  At almost six, she's the oldest girl among her sisters and cousins.  She plays mommy to the smaller ones, and she, the older of her two sisters, and their cousins all sound like Minnie Mouse when they sing.  (Her same sister counts my children among the cousins, and I guess we are related in all the ways that matter most.)

My little friend tends to be shy and started wearing glasses, recently.  But she's a good soccer player and a Daisy, and she dressed up as Daphne from Scooby Doo last halloween.

The thing I love best about her is that--when I offer her a cookie--she lights up like no one else I know.

Not long ago, my little friend visited my house and showed me, proudly, the wiggle in her bottom middle-left tooth, and I told her to call me after she lost it.  I waited the almost three weeks it took for her tooth to fall out and, meanwhile, planned how best to celebrate.

Last night, having baked a cookie cake for my little friend, I lay awake in bed and turned my mind toward something to which I had given no conscious thought for many years: losing my first tooth.  Or, rather, having it pulled by a man named Ronnie Freshman.

Ronnie Freshman smelled like sunshine and beer, and he was a sinewy man with gray hair, laugh lines around his eyes, and a deep tan.  He was Popeye the Sailor Man with--I'm pretty sure--both a boat for deep-sea fishing and, on his arm, a mermaid of blue ink.

Ronnie Freshman worked (and Mom says hunted) with my dad, but, really, I don't remember much about him except that--after I showed him, in a restaurant, my first loose tooth--he asked if he could pull it out.  I remember its taking awhile to screw up my courage but finally opening, again, my mouth.  With his tan fingers, Ronnie Freshman reached in and plucked out my loose tooth so quickly and painlessly that--when he held up the tiny, white pearl for everyone to see--I could hardly believe it!  Everyone laughed and clapped and exclaimed how brave I was, and I loved Ronnie Freshman in that moment and thought him a hero.

A couple years later, we were at Grandma B.'s on a Sunday afternoon, when Dad--while flipping through the paper--shouted, to Mom: "Sherry!  Ronnie Freshman's dead!"  Dad made a phone call and learned his friend had somehow fallen off his boat and drowned.  I remember Dad's shaking his head and saying: "I just find it hard to believe that old fish drowned."  I knew Dad was very sad, and I remember crying for his sadness and in remembering the kind sailor who had pulled my first tooth.

In the past two days, I have asked four people if they remember losing their first teeth, and they don't.

I will never forget.

On my way, this afternoon, to celebrate the loss of my little friend's first tooth, I thought to myself: this is paying it forward at its best...not stemming from a sense of should, or must, but, instead, rising from long-ago sweetness that lives almost entirely on a subconscious level. 

Then I thought: how wonderful that my little friend will have a cookie cake because--more than three decades ago--Ronnie Freshman really celebrated the loss of my first tooth.  And I smiled, believing (down deep in my heart) that, everyday, my little friend becomes just the pay-it-forward type.

Isn't she fantastic?

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