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Troubles by the mouthful

I’m 75 years old and still haven’t mastered the art of chewing.


It seems simple. You put food in your mouth and move your jaws up and down until the morsel is ground fine enough to enter the esophagus.


For me, it doesn’t always happen that way. I have most of my teeth and I’m ambidextrous (or is that ambidentrous?), meaning I can chew on either side.


But many’s the time when I’m enjoying a delicious meal and disaster strikes. I bite down on a piece of meat, only to realize I just took in a forkful of green beans.


“Unnnhh! I bit my mouth!” I say to the uninterested stares of those at the table. “I hate it when this happens.”


It wouldn’t be so bad if the gnarled bite mark didn’t remain sore for the next week, reminding me what a gustatorial kluttz I am.


Those wounds I administer to the insides of my mouth, however, don’t hold a candle to one I self-inflicted when I was a boy.


I was 5 years old, my parents worked and I was staying during work hours down the road with a woman who had a son about my age. We had good times together, my buddy and I, playing the things little boys tend to favor.


One day we found some metal curtain hangers and decided they’d make great play toys. My buddy was pretty imaginative and he probably came up with the idea to pretend the curtain rods were musical instruments.


Although my memory is a bit fuzzy, let’s just say he was playing trumpet and I just had to improvise with my longer hanger.


I remembered seeing on TV some guys dressed in fancy military uniforms and playing these really long horns. I think they may have been Swiss.


Well, I pretended I was one of those Alpine horn blowers and held the curved end of the hanger near the ground and took the straight end into my mouth.


It was boring just to stand and blow into a curtain rod, so I must have decided I was in a marching Alpine band. I started walking forward with my imaginary horn (I think it was a bass horn since it was so long).


I hadn’t gone too far when the curved end got hung up on something at ground level. I kept marching but the horn didn’t.


The effect was that the upper end was projected up, cutting a gash in the roof of my mouth.


That kind of put a stop to the Alpine marching band.


My mouth started bleeding to beat the, er, band.


My buddy went to get his mother, but in the meantime the bleeding stopped and I inserted my thumb.


Did I mention I was a thumb sucker? My opposing digit was especially comforting when things weren’t going well, so I stuck it between my lips faster than a nicotine freak, who’s been stuck in a “No Smoking” zone for two hours, goes for his pack of Camels.


By the time my friend’s mother came to my rescue, I was content as a mouse in a cheese factory. She ordered me to take my thumb out so she could see the damage.


Reluctantly, I removed my thumb, which was covered in blood.


“Lordy, son, you’ve sucked the blood out of your thumb,” she screamed. “Come in the house and I’ll put some salve on it.”


Well, she washed my thumb thoroughly and then covered it with petroleum jelly or some such. When she was satisfied my thumb had stopped bleeding, she let us go back outside to play.


As soon as she was out of sight, I wiped off the salve and stuck my thumb back in my mouth.


It wasn’t until that evening when I was back home with Mama and Daddy that the truth came out. Mama painted the gash in my mouth with some sort of purple medicine.


It was sore for a while, but I still had my thumb to lean on.


Hmm. Wonder if thumbs are good for mouth bites.


Oh, by the way, I never took up musical instruments.