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My View: A very good year

April 07, 2014

By Robert Horseman, D.D.S.

Robert Horseman, D.D.S.
When I was 17, it was a very good year. Armed with a high school diploma on which my name was inscribed correctly in beautiful calligraphy, I faced the future with the full confidence of knowing what I did not want to be. My youthful ambition was to become an electrical engineer, but whatever thirst I had for that profession was effectively slaked after encountering the dizzying goulash of algebra, geometry, trigonometry and differential and integral calculus. As my checkbook can attest, some of us are simply not cut out for abstract thinking.

When I was 23, it was a very good year. In spite of a crippling misunderstanding of the complete metric system with its insistence upon drams, grams and millimeters, I emerged from dental school with a bachelor of science degree mounted on a nice plaque and a complimentary doctor of dental science degree certifying I was now quite capable of making a living without knowing beans about quadratic equations or the significance of "pie are squared."

But, before I could confirm that the general public was probably not ready to embrace the ministrations of a 23-year-old freshly minted dentist, there was an international conflict to attend to.

When I was 25, it was a very good year. I can truthfully say that World War II was more exciting than dental school. Even more riveting than histology, pharmacology and anatomy of the head and neck put together was learning the art of keeping one's own anatomy intact until the shooting was over.

When I was 26, it was a very good year. It was a very good year for building a practice after the United States Marine Corps awarded me a nice discharge diploma signed by the Secretary of the Navy who thanked me for not taking up space in Arlington National Cemetery and added, "Stay in touch."

When I was 27, it was a very good year. The summer of 1947, I met a young lady who emitted more electricity than the entire Western Grid. Four months later, when she had at last obtained the legal age of 21, I locked my knees the best I could and stood with her in my double-breasted blue suit with the wide lapels, brown wing-tipped shoes and big Windsor-knot tie in front of a minister. Hair slicked down with Brilliantine and wearing the stunned expression of an individual who had just been granted a preview of his next 66 years, I murmured in a voice I didn't recognize, "I do."

Adorned with a white orchid the size of a dinner plate, this lovely creature peered around it and echoed, "I do, too." That fall, that November of '47, it was a very good year.

When I was 29, I was a first-time father, narcotized by the daily pantheon of Desitin and Johnson's Baby Powder. Adroitly testing bottled milk temperature on my wrist, I was introduced to nondisposal diapers and how to function minimally on four hours of sleep per night. It was a very good year for learning. Together, my bride and I would fathom how to be parents; the boy would learn what he could get away with.

We had plenty of help. Apparently, other people had done this before us, but the advice was frequently contradictory. To add to the confusion, plastic was invented, television became a part of the household and color replaced black and white before we got the first one paid for in accordance with the American credo of acquiring a mortgage, accumulating credit cards and insuring everything against every contingency.

When we had our prototype progeny pretty well developed, we decided to introduce a new model of a different gender, so when I was 31, it was a very good year, during which we started applying what we had learned to a baby girl. The learning curve got steeper.

When I was 35, it was another very good year. Another girl.

Now we knew pretty much everything there was to know until this trio of kids got into puberty, so we traveled the western half of the country in vehicles without air conditioning and safety belts because manufacturers hadn't supplied them yet. Siblings napped, fought jurisdictional wars in the back seat, ate junk food before it had that name, stopped at a million restrooms and climbed over everything that was available in every national park that we visited.

We hadn't undertaken anything beyond standard operating practice since I grew a mustache and my wife dyed her hair some shade of red. At this point, I considered longevity was my most notable achievement, so when I was 51 we moved lock, stock, barrel and kids to Australia.

My own parents, in the spirit of the early pioneers, had piloted a slightly modified Conestoga wagon in the form of a 1919 Dodge from Kansas to California in 1926, dragging two kids ages 6 and 3 with them for company. My future wife's tribe moved from Canada to Washington then to Oregon and finally to California in 1926. It had been a very good year for gypsies; otherwise, we would have never met.

When I was 61, that, too, was a very good year—actually a very good decade. Back in California with a reestablished practice, we concluded that a new Australian daughter-in-law and a son in practice with me, plus the accumulation of two granddaughters and a great-grandson, was a sterling accomplishment. Akin, perhaps, to successfully negotiating a trip over Niagara Falls in a barrel large enough for two generations, but definitely exhilarating.

On a particular day in August of every year, my wife and I pause on the anniversary of our first date and consider ourselves either the most perfect couple on the planet, or more likely, the luckiest. The electricity is still there, the amperage only slightly diminished, the wattage still incontestably bright.

Now at 93, my wife and I are in the autumn—or arguably—the winter of our years. Like vintage wine from fine oaken casks, I offer poetically. Her eyes roll. I look across to her every morning. She sleeps, mouth slightly open, her silver hair fanned out on her pillow and I reach over to softly touch the back of her hand where the ring I gave her 66 years ago still shines. That fall, that November when I was 27, it was a very good year.

Dr. Horseman was a general dentist for 66 years and the long-time humor columnist for the Journal of the California Dental Association. He is happily retired from both. His comments, reprinted with permission, appeared in the January issue of the Journal of the California Dental Association.