"She’s pretty," my husband offers, lifting an eyebrow in my direction. He’s hoping she’ll make a little visit to him tonight -- but he’s always hoping that.
"How tall?" I ask.
Our local expert and the recipient of the Tooth Fairy’s generosity, my son Cope, holds up his thumb and forefinger. Three to four inches tall.
"Wings?" I continue.
"She flies, Mom, that’s how she gets around." Cope delivers this factoid in the Don’t-You-Know- Anything tone that he will perfect in about six years.
While Cope headed to the bath, I had to find out more. The goofy pseudo-encyclopedia of the Web turned up surprisingly little of substance. Mostly, my google of Tooth Fairy brought children’s dentists promoting healthy dental care. Come on! If the Tooth Fairy cared about cavities she’d be leaving Spiderman toothbrushes and Hello Kitty! dental floss.
But you can always count on the British when it comes to fairies. Something about that mist on the heath really brings them out. A bunch of Brits who find tracking language usage fun have created something like a living Oxford Dictionary (www.alt-usage-english.org). The learned minds gathered there confess that the origins of Ms. TF are "obscure" (possibly because she’s one of the few childhood characters that does not have a corporate promoter and logo?). Of course Shakespeare’s Queen Mab is referenced as well as Richard Doyle’s Fairy Tree showing "over 200 different fairies from various folklore sources." Oddly, none are devoted to teeth. (Richard was Arthur Conan Doyle’s uncle and it’s an obvious oversight that they fail to mention Arthur’s photographic portraits of fairies—in which I assume the image of my research subject was not successfully captured.)
I did learn a few things, though: once upon a time locks of hair, nail clippings and teeth were believed to hold special powers -- perhaps because the first two of these continue to grow after death. The Vikings thought bringing a child or a child’s belongings into battle was good luck (I would hope so!). They would even string children’s teeth into a necklace to protect them. As recently as 1914, one Elizabeth Wright recorded in Rustic Speech and Folklore that "when a child’s tooth comes out, it must be dropped into the fire, and a rhyme repeated, or the child will have to seek the tooth after death."
Which brings to mind all of the tedious hours, and drool, we spent acquiring these little temporary pearls. Cope’s chin was perpetually wet by the time he was three-months-old and he spent hours gumming various objects including a battery-operated wiggly ball (made for the purpose of teething), wooden kitchen spoons, my keys and—his favorite—the end of Jim’s leather belt. During the years 1997-1999 we personally kept the folks who make Teething Tablets in business, and since then, they've become our favorite baby shower gift to give. Cope would kvetch from his backseat perch and without taking an eye from the road I’d set two of the tiny homeopathic sugar pills on the tray of his car seat like a bartender lining them up. Moments later the evil creature in the back would be cooing and giggling.
As it turned out, Cope was ten-months-old before a bit of white broke through his lower gums. The First Tooth. It was famous. We photographed it. We clapped for it. We marveled at its sharpness (those of us nursing marveled more, perhaps, at the appearance of the upper compliment to The First Tooth. Adjustments were made).
And now it’s gone forever.
Well, not exactly. But I get ahead.
When I was a girl, the Tooth Fairy only brought a quarter. When I was old enough to not believe in most things magical -- like Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and marriage -- I still believed in the wonder of some being who visited me while I slept and traded my now worthless tooth into candy money. But one night I caught a glimpse of my mother in my room and the next morning I grilled her.
"Where did you put my teeth?" I asked when I learned the truth.
Then the horror was revealed. The magic pearls that could empower a Viking she had chucked in the trash year after year.
Something similar almost happened to Cope. While he brushed his teeth the bandit tooth made a getaway down the drain. Jim noticed its disappearance immediately. While I assured Cope that an actual tooth was not necessary for the Tooth Fairy to exchange for her monetary donation, Jim went after the tweezers. Successfully nabbed from the clutches of the City of Austin Wastewater Treatment Facility No. 3, the tiny tooth was tucked in a small brocade Chinese purse that had once contained ruby earrings that Jim bought me for Christmas (they, too, sadly, are lost).
After Jim, owner of the fairy encyclopedia and therefore in our house the fairy, made the successful exchange without waking Cope or the cat and dog that sleep with him, I wandered the house with the tiny treasure, in search of its final (for now) resting place.
In Jim’s grandmother’s china cabinet, rolled here all the way from Iowa, I found the perfect thing. Once, after I’d grown up and my mother had come into a little bit of money and opportunity after my stepfather died, she traveled on her own to England. She’d brought back for me a dainty circular glass box etched with flowers that closed with a fancy clasp in the shape of an Elizabethan lady. Inside, I’d stored some smooth sea glass from Rhode Island and the fragile skull of a bird. I removed these things and dropped in the tooth, white as milk. Here I will keep it and its famous siblings, so that many, many years from now when I am long gone and Cope’s days have also come to an end, he won’t have to search.