Ann Cannon: A deal with the dentist, a friendship for the ages

First Published      Last Updated Oct 03 2014 02:36 pm

I've told you this story before, right?

The one about my brothers and me and what horrible teeth we all had when we were little? Our teeth were so bad our parents would have had to refinance the house just to pay for dental work.

Here's what my parents did instead. Whenever our dad had business in Northern California, he'd pile everyone into the station wagon and take us with him. Along the way we'd stop at his old college buddy's dentist office in San Leandro where DeVan "Doc" Robins took care of our teeth for free — usually on a Sunday afternoon when the office was otherwise empty.

DeVan was a one-man show on the days we straggled into his office. He was the receptionist, hygienist, assistant, lab tech and dentist all rolled up into one large, jolly bundle. In fact, I had no idea that people like "hygienists" and "dental assistants" really existed until I grew up and went to dentists in Utah. I thought they were mythical creatures. Like hobbits, for example.

Here was the other amazing thing about DeVan. He could work on your teeth anywhere. DeVan often worked on my dad's mouth (he had bad teeth, too) in the parking lot after a football game. Once he checked Dad's teeth in front of a restaurant before they went inside to eat. They had a deal, DeVan and Dad. My father was supposed to save DeVan's soul and DeVan was supposed to save my father's teeth.

DeVan always maintained he was the one with the harder job.

Here's the thing I didn't know about DeVan until I attended his funeral on Saturday. You know all that work he did for us when my parents were young and still struggling financially? He did the same thing for plenty of other people, too, over the course of his long career. And when he retired, he set up a chair in his home, partly so he could keep seeing those former patients who couldn't afford dental care. He and his amazing wife, Ruby, were generous to the core.

My father spoke at DeVan's funeral and as I listened to him tell stories — tender and funny — I remembered something my grandfather once said to me. It's a hard, hard thing to outlive a friend, he told me, especially a friend who's a peer — someone who listened to the same music as you did, who rode in the same car and lived through the same wars and watched the same movies and wore their hair the same way and knew the same girls and played in the same games on a September afternoon when the air was crisp and the hills to the east blazed with color and the two of you had your whole lives stretching ahead of you like an endless ribbon of road.

It's hard to lose someone like that.

But at the same time weren't DeVan and my dad so lucky to have found one another when they were young — and then to have remained friends for the wave of years that followed? In the words of the poet Hilaire Belloc, both of them could say "for no one … had quite such pleasant friends as mine, or loved them half as much as I did."

Love your friends, people.

Love your friends.

Ann Cannon can be reached at acannon@sltrib.com.