Life changes childhood memories for a baby boomer

Boomers have a lot of childhood memories. But we’re not so good and remembering every tale. BoomerCafé contributor Erin O’Brien of Redondo Beach, California, is an exception. Like this story about her Valentine’s Sweet Tooth.

Most of the time at recess, jump rope or jacks was the order of the day, but every now and then my friends and I would indulge our imaginations for a ladylike game of Vampires or Crash Cars. All decorum was cast aside for thirty minutes, as Patti, Ellen, Maureen, Tori, Cindy, Donna, Pam, and I (the playgrounds were segregated according to gender) frolicked behind the black wrought iron fence in the small yard that separated us from the street.

Erin O'Brien at Redondo Beach, California.

Erin O’Brien at Redondo Beach, California.

On this particular February day, we assumed our positions for a game of Crash Cars: with arms crossed in front of us, we lowered our heads, and play commenced. There were no rules or time-outs, as we hadn’t thought out the procedure very carefully, and soon our short game ended. One minute I was laughing, the next, I was looking at the top of Patti’s head as she plowed into my face.

I put my hands to my mouth as blood gushed between my fingers and onto my white uniform blouse. Something felt very wrong. Three of my front teeth were gone.

Two helpful eighth-grade girls on safety duty ushered me to the nurse’s office as I sobbed, holding one of my teeth in my fist, my group of friends trailing behind us.

My tears had stopped momentarily while I sat holding gauze to my bruised gums. Outside the open door of the nurse’s office, my friends waited anxiously. One of my classmates said, “We found one of your teeth!” and presented her offering. Another tooth was never to be found.


The sounds of recess in the background continued without me. Soon my mom arrived, with the news that she had arranged an emergency dentist appointment. I waited in the hallway outside of Room 15 as my Charlie Brown lunchbox, uniform sweater, and homework were collected while my 45 classmates were eating lunch. One of the boys hissed, “Erin! Let’s see!” Obligingly, I removed the Kleenex from my mouth to display my injury to a collective gasp. I was beginning to feel a bit like a celebrity.

The dentist’s office was nearby: a mint green Art Deco building with glass bricks in one of the curved walls. There was a treasure chest of cheap plastic toys the nurse always offered on the way out. (The nurse at the pediatrician’s office handed out lollipops which were nice, but not much consolation after a penicillin shot. The dentist couldn’t exactly give out candy.)

chocolate-valentineI heard the dentist say to my mother, “She’ll need braces when she’s older.”

In the back seat of our blue Ford Falcon, I was inconsolable. “Now no one will marry me!!!” I blubbered. (I had just learned I needed glasses at school the week before.)

My mood had shifted when we got home and I sang, “All I Want For Christmas Are My ‘Three’ Front Teeth” as my mom answered the phone. It was Patti’s mother, calling to see how I was feeling. Evidently Patti had a dent in her head.

The Tooth Fairy left three quarters under my pillow that night, one for each missing tooth, even though one of them was still really missing, somewhere out on the playground.


Many years later, at a grammar school reunion, Patti and I spoke of that day on the playground. She chuckled as she recalled bringing me a heart-shaped box of Valentine’s Day candy as a get well gift, not considering how I’d eat it. I gave her a thank you note, written in the hand of the little girl I was.

I didn’t know it, but Patti had saved what I gave her (besides the dent in her head) those years ago. When I saw it I immediately remembered sitting at the round coffee table with my mother’s stationery.


  1. I don’t believe we ever played that game again, tag on the asphalt was bad enough. We did play a lot of Red Rover where you had to bust through the line. Pretty violent for a very non-violent group!

  2. Wow! I can’t believe everything you remember, you are amazing! Your stories are so well written that they are timeless. Love them. Please keep writing, kids today need to hear about the good old days and us baby boomers need to remember them,

  3. Not the Valentine’s story I was expecting when I saw the title. But much more entertaining than the playground puppy love story I thought I was going to read. Lol Erin, you continue to surprise and entertain! Keep it up, I look forward to your essays!

  4. Thanks Erin, just brought back two memories. I had just gotten my braces off a week or so prior, and was playing touch football in the front yard when someone’s head collided with my jaw. My upper teeth are still straight… The other was the orthodontist who did my braces. He was a smoker, and his gums were terrible…

  5. Oh Erin, your memory is amazing! I don’t remember this game let alone us playing it. The silver lining even after that trauma is you both are beautiful!!!

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