good friend Ronaldo T. Johnson (RIP)
who is sporting a barely perceptible
gold tooth in the style that we all used
to wear in our youth.
My visits to the dental clinic had become more frequent by the time I hit sixth grade as I worked and absorbed all that I could from the three men at Clyde’s dental clinic which had been operating probably since before I was born.
I’d known Clyde as one of my father’s best friends from their popular Sheffield Club and as my younger brother’s godfather since forever. He operated a Dental Clinic in Calidonia- one of the very few, I might add- and was doing a thriving business. Clyde himself had started out in the business as a young go-fer for a local dentist right here in Panama City. Eventually, when he got older and more experienced in the art of mechanical dentistry, he set up his own shop.
I started out by just visiting Clyde and he would brighten up every time I came around his two-room establishment in a board building off a side street that ran into “M” Street. By sixth grade however, I found time to hang out and began learning from watching Clyde, Melvin and Slim. When I’d walk in to his place Clyde usually had someone in the dentist chair examining, injecting them, or taking impressions.
Most of his customers were Westindians who worked on the Zone and who were looking for prosthetic work to fill in missing teeth, to pull out teeth or to have a gold tooth or a “half crown” fashioned and placed in front. He also had quite a following from the U.S. bases like the Puerto Rican G.I.’s who sought inexpensive and quality cosmetic dental work since they could rarely get this done in Puerto Rico or on the mainland or the bases. Clyde’s clinic was probably responsible for a lot of the smiles on many of the G.I.’s and for their fashionable “one gold tooth grin.”
Anyway, I started out by helping, cleaning bowls and the rubber cups used for impressions, cleaning counters and fetching stuff. Also, Clyde relied upon my youthful eye for matching colors when selecting the tooth blanks from his collection in his stash of supplies. Melvin and Slim kept pretty busy in the other room just doing the mold work and fashioning the actual prostheses. Any time I spent at the clinic, however, I used it to learn as much and as quickly as I could about the business.
This story continues.