Once a year my mother took Erva and me to get our annual dental check-up.
In those days, between 1955 and 1962, going to see the dentist was an all day affair. When we lived up at Gifft Hill the three mile jeep ride to Cruz Bay to catch the ferry took a good half hour. The mile long road out of Gifft Hill (#104) which met up with Center Line (#10 see map) was a kind of rocky river bed which in places required low transfer and four wheel drive. So it was slow going as we picked our way over rock out-croppings and ruts near a foot deep.
The ferry ride from Cruz Bay to Red Hook took 30 to 45 minutes. At Red Hook, on St. Thomas, we either drove a car we had stored in a rickety garage or we got a taxi to take us into down town Charlotte Amalie, a journey of at least another 20 t0 30 minutes.
If we took the 8 o’clock ferry, we were usually in town by 10 AM. This meant we’d been up and getting ready to go since about 6:00 or 6:30 in the morning.
Our dentist, Dr. Van Mulsen, was Dutch and spoke with an accent. He had been, for many years a dentist in New York City who had served an upper crust clientele. In fact, some of his patients came down to the St. Thomas on a regular basis to have him work on their teeth, he was that good and they were that loyal to him.
He had come to St. Thomas to retire, but he just couldn’t keep his figures out of people’s mouths. It wasn’t important to him that a person’s teeth be perfectly straight and even, only that they were perfectly clean and healthy.
Dr. Van Mulsen wore his lovely graying reddish hair in a page boy. Picture the boy on labels of Dutch Boy Paint and you have a near replica of what his hair looked like.
His office was on Back Street in a building built by slaves for the Danes. The walls of these buildings are anywhere from a foot to a foot and a half thick. Usually my sister went first. Mom would sit in a chair near-by and I sat on the wide ledge of the open window. From my vantage point I could see what he was doing to Erva and watch her reactions. When Erva was done we switched places.
Dr. Van Mulsen hated and feared causing his patients any kind of pain or discomfort. And so he was the gentlest of dentists. He hummed tuneless tunes while he worked.
Any time the person in the chair got a squirt or two of Lavoris with which to rinse out her mouth, he’d whip around with his sprayer and say, “Open wide,” and give the person sitting on the window ledge a squirt too. I will always remember the sweet minty taste of his magic red liquid. It was the long awaited high-light of the visit.
At one check-up Erva turned out to have a small cavity. “Ah, a wee small holey,” he said. I got to watch the whole procedure. That filling he put in is still there.
By the time we were finished it was time for lunch. We always went to the Grand Hotel which was built between 1839 and 1840. After lunch Mom would leave us at the Grand (where we were “watched” by Nibbs, the bartender) to do some grocery shopping. By three we’d head back to Red Hook to catch the ferry back to St. John. By 5 PM or so, we were back home.
Like I said, it was an all day affair.