ORAL HYGIENE: A Poem by Mary Shepherd

You don't have to brush all your teeth--just the ones you want to keep.  (All photographs by Marylin Warner)

You don’t have to brush all your teeth–just the ones you want to keep. (All photographs by Marylin Warner)


To be safe, keep extras on hand.  Remember, possession is 9/10 of the law...

To be safe, keep extra supplies on hand. Remember, possession is 9/10 of the law…(or something like that?)


Dear Nic,

Grandma’s favorite stories—and poems—have been about her grandchildren. She loved the cute things you all did and the sweet things you said. Almost three decades ago, you made everyone laugh with what we like to call your “Oral Hygiene” incident that Grandma later wrote about in a poem:

Mom and Dad were traveling—

A three-year-old grandson so dear

Was staying with Grandpa and Grandma,

Making their world bright with cheer.


“Where is your toothbrush?” asked Grandma,

After getting him ready for bed.

“I think it’s down at my house,”

The smiling little boy said.


So Nic and Grandpa went walking

The next day, down to his home,

And soon Nic was brushing merrily;

His mouth was covered with foam.


“That’s a very large brush,” said Grandma.

“Are you sure it belongs to you?”

Nic gave her a great big bubbly grin;

His answer was simple and true.


With his feet perched on the nearby stool,

And his smiling mouth dripping foam:

“It used to be Dad’s, but it’s mine now;

I just brought it here from home.”

(~a poem about her grandson Nic, by Mary Shepherd)

Grandma’s teeth are cracking and breaking now. It seems to be the normal progression of things for someone who is almost 96. She eats less food and it’s softer, and everything she drinks is served with a straw. But true to form, according to her caregiver Tammy, last week Grandma used the straw to blow bubbles in her milk! Inside the frail little grandma with advanced dementia, there’s still a hint of the happy playfulness she used to share with her grandchildren.

Molly and her little cousin Nic ~ she wanted him to be her little brother.

Molly and her little cousin Nic ~ she wanted him to be her little brother.


Fritz, Nic and Molly at Grandpa and Grandma's house.

Fritz, Nic and Molly at Grandpa and Grandma’s house.

Ray and Mary's grandchildren: Andrew, Molly and Nic (1990)

Ray and Mary’s grandchildren: Andrew, Molly and Nic (1990)



Filed under Dementia/Alzheimer's, Fort Scott Kansas, importance of doing good things, lessons for great-grandchildren

67 responses to “ORAL HYGIENE: A Poem by Mary Shepherd

  1. juliabarrett

    I love this. She was such a player! I’m sorry about her teeth sweetie, but I’m glad she still blows bubbles in her milk.

    • Tammy’s description was wonderful, Julia. Mom had been sleeping off and on all day. When Tammy fixed her some chocolate milk and then took away the dinner plate with most of the food untouched, suddenly Mom was blowing bubbles. So many that they started to overflow the cup. And she opened one eye to peek at Tammy, and she smiled. These are the happy stories, especially now as Mom winds down.

  2. A lovely fun little poem. I can hardly say I’m surprised about the bubbles in the milk Marylin. I don’t think the playfulness ever goes away even if your Mom won’t always be aware of the situation she’s actually doing it in. Having said that, If she ever gets your equivalent of a Royal visit, make sure there’s no milk and straw to hand at that time.
    xxx Mega Easter Hugs xxx

    • I’m not sure we have the equivalent of a Royal visit, David, but if the Royal couple showed up with that darling baby, Mom would be thrilled. She would hold the little guy and share her bubble blowing fun with him.
      You’re very right, the playfulness still winks out every once in awhile in spite of the dementia, and when it does, we all enjoy it.
      Mega Easter Hugs to you, too, and to little Reuben!

  3. Love the poem! And the fact that your Mom was able to share a moment like that and connect with her carer revealing her true essence, is really special.

    • Nic is 33 now, so the tooth brush story happened three decades ago, and it was a while before Mom wrote the poem. I found several versions and the original notes when I was moving them into the assisted living. When I read them to Mom she laughed and added bits and pieces of other “grandchildren stories.” I gave her a new notebook and pen, and she began writing notes and mini-poems, but also grocery lists and reminders of things to do. It was the early stages of dementia.

  4. I think we would all like to blow bubbles in our milk!

  5. All these anecdotes add up to a wonderfully warm portrait of your mom, Marylin. There’s an old song, I’m forever blowing bubbles…. Perhaps that was going through her mind.

    • Oh, maybe you’re right, Andrew! When we were children and taking bubble baths, we’d hold up bubbles piled on our hands. We’d blow them into the water and she’d sing “I’m forever blowing bubbles…” Thanks for that reminder.

  6. Just love that line : ‘You don’t have to brush all your teeth – just the ones you want to keep”! Thank you – I’ll use that on my grandchildren 🙂

  7. Thank you for reminding of me of that first quote. It will make my grandson smile. He comes over often.

    Love not only the bubbles but the smile of connection to her caregiver!

    Happy Easter to all of you.

  8. Hi Marylin! What a beautiful poem and story! I conveniently “forgot” my toothbrush when going to my grandma’s sometimes but she always had one ready for me! 😉
    My mom also has her original teeth at age 85. She takes very good care of them. I love that your mom still makes bubbles in her milk.
    Hugs, Joanne

    • These are all of Mom’s original teeth, Joanne, but at 96 she’s losing enamel so there are many front teeth that are chipping and breaking. The dentist has checked and the nerves aren’t sensitive as long as she doesn’t drink something especially hot, which the caregivers and we wouldn’t give to her anyway.
      Like you and your grandma, Jim and I keep extra toothbrushes for when our grandchildren come to visit, and we also have special bubble gum-flavored kids’ toothpaste that they really like!
      Hugs and Happy Easter to you, Joanne.

  9. I love this story Marylin and the poem is so beautiful. It is obvious you were given your mother’s gift for writing. I wish you a very blessed Easter. hugs, Robyn

    • Thank you, Robyn. We did a lot of writing together when I was in high school, but her favorites were poems while mine were short stories, mostly horror, which was what many teens were trying to writing then. But when I was on my own after college, I took her with me to several one-day writing workshops and a weekend conference, and we had great times together.
      Easter hugs and love to you!

  10. Okay–I have to confess. Someone told me that I only had to brush the teeth I wanted to keep when I was, oh, about four I guess. Old enough to know, from my older cousins, that all of my baby teeth were going to fall out pretty soon anyway. And, hating the taste and sting of toothpaste…..

    I often only pretended to brush my teeth. Took up regular brushing again only after my permanent teeth grew in. My grandmother called me “an independent little thing.”

    I love the image of your mother blowing bubbles in her milk. Priceless!

    • Your grandmother was right on about you, Tracy; I can totally see you as an independent little thing. And I love your conclusion about losing baby teeth soon anyway so you could pretend to brush your teeth. What great stories!
      After Mom’s recent serious health problems, having her blow bubbles in her milk is a very happy event for us!

      • It IS a happy event, for sure.

        The funny thing about me being “independent” is that I never saw myself that way. I always felt shy and somewhat afraid. But in looking back, I see I was remarkably bold; the reason I was often afraid is that I often took big risks and had big adventures (big from the perspective of a little kid, anyway).

      • Oh, I can definitely see you being “remarkably bold,” Trace. You can be shy and still take big risks and have big adventures…from your perspective as a child and now, also as an adult looking back.

  11. Love that your Mom wrote some of these cute incidents down. I wish I’d done more of that. Her playfulness shines thru – bubbles and all. Nic’s, too. 😉

    • Oh, Judy, I was thinking the same thing: I wish I’d written down more of the cute stories like my mother did. But the nice thing about writing this blog for Mom’s great-grandchildren, so they’ll know who she was before the dementia, is that I’m also recalling–and being reminded by others–of many wonderful stories about my daughter’s life and my own.
      You catch a glimpse of one story and suddenly many others peek around the corners of your mind as well!

  12. Another precious family memory immortalized via your blog. If you’re like me, that’s the main reason for writing memoir. Here is a link to the “Forever Blowing Bubbles” tune your mother would probably be familiar with (Vera Lynn 1943): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0qTqm42bCW4 There is also a rendition by Doris Day from the 1950s on YouTube as well.

    Mary . . . Marylin . . . Molly, interesting iterations of family names. Great post today. Thank you!

    • You’re very welcome, Marian, and thank you for the link. It’s great! I think the Doris Day version will definitely connect with my mother. When Doris sang “Que Sera, Sera,” Mom and I would waltz around, singing along.

      When my daughter was born, I learned that Molly was a name derivative of Mary, and I also used my mother’s middle name Elizabeth as Molly’s middle name. I was going through a divorce at the time and wanted my baby girl to be like her grandmother, strong of faith, gentle of heart, and sweet of disposition. Molly and her grandmother have always been good buddies and very much alike.

  13. Claudia

    Love the bit about bubbles. Mary has not lost the same optimism and cheer that she has in the poem! Happy Easter to you all.

  14. JIm

    With Grandma Mary losing teeth nowadays and blowing bubbles in her milk with a straw, with the Grandkids losing baby teeth and trying to remember to brush well to keep those new big-person teeth, it all comes so nicely together with Grandma’s cute poem about Nic. The picture of Molly with Nic and Andrew is ‘priceless’ as they say. I am glad it will be preserved now for a long time on your blog, Marylin, where the whole family can see it whenever they want, wherever they are. I hope Nic, who is working far away from us, will see this post. What a memory in a poem.

    One more thought: with Grace and Gannon losing baby teeth right and left these days, will the ‘tooth-fairy’ (aka Mor-Mor) need to take out a loan?

    • Hey, when Mor-Mor runs out of tooth-fairy money, it’s Grandpa’s turn to dig deep in his pockets! 😉 It’s so much more fun doing this with our grandchildren than the stage or dental work and orthodontics with our Molly. It really does go full circle, and is so much fun. Love you, Grandpa!

  15. I love your mother’s poem, Marylin, but I especially love that you wrote this post for Nic. He’ll treasure it. What a great photo, he could have been in a commercial!
    Wishing you and your family a blessed Easter and a day full of bubble blowing for your sweet mother.

    • Thanks, Jill, this will be the Easter we’ll remember as being Mom’s bubble blowing! It makes for a much happier time, a big smile after all that time in the hospital.
      Wishing you a blessed Easter–and some bubble blowing fun–too!

  16. I love that she was blowing bubbles, even more so now that I know it was chocolate milk! Has she always been a chocolate lover? I am.

    • Her tastes are constantly changing now, Darla. For awhile her sweet tooth wanted Cokes; then it was Dr. Pepper. Now, for taste or for amusement, it’s chocolate milk. This is so much fun!

  17. It’s wonderful to share these memories, Marylin. I haven’t blown bubbles in my milk for ears – but I think I’ll try it today! 😀

  18. *years* not *ears* LOL 😉

  19. Janet Armstrong

    Love the poem and I can see your dad walking Nic home for a toothbrush not necessarily his. Call me next time in FS if you have time.

    • It is a good image, isn’t it? It makes me smile to think about it: Nic as a happy little boy walking with his proud Grandpa…years before he had any signs of Alzheimer’s.
      Congratulations on your new grandbaby, Janet. I’m so glad things went well, and he certainly is a sweetheart.
      Yes, I’ll call you; I would love to meet and chat again…and hopefully, not in the hospital cafeteria this time! 😉

  20. Gwen Stephens

    Wonderful poem, Marilyn. Love that it’s personalized. Thanks for sharing.

    • Thanks, Gwen. Mom wrote many poems about her grandchildren, but this is one of my favorites. By the time her great-grandchildren were born, the dementia was in the way of her poetry writing, so we’ll share the older ones with them.

  21. Blowing bubbles in her milk…such fun:)
    I love your photos. Cute poem!
    Virtual Hugs for your mom and you!

  22. I’m glad that you gave your mother that notebook Marylin, and that she continued to jot her notes, mini poems and chuckles down as long as she was able – it’s a lovely bit of her to have.

    • It really is, Shel. I was thinking of you going to visit your father for his birthday, and I hope you’re jotting down similar things about him, or giving him a notebook with questions you hope he’ll write about. If you give him prompts, you might be surprised how much he’ll write when he gets started.

  23. jakesprinter

    Great writing once again Marylin Happy Easter my friend 🙂

  24. Molly

    I remember when Grandma shared this story about Nic, shortly after it happened. I would have only been 4 years older and still very literal. I really envisioned Nic having brought a HUGE – like clown type – toothbrush over…and so the whole story didn’t really add up, but I remember loving the phrase “It used to be my dad’s, but it’s mine now” so much that it became kind of a common phrase in our family.

    As for Grace and Gannon, it cracks me up that they LOVE to brush their teeth at Mor Mor and Grandpa’s house – but more often than not they “forget” to do it when at home. I guess that they are probably pretty typical in that sense.

    Seeing Grandma two days ago was good for the soul – not so much the teeth. Grace, Gannon and I took candy Peeps, grape soda, and ring pops for her. She wasn’t overly interactive, but it made for a good time for the kids and I to share stories about her, and to talk about fun things that should would love to know about. It was a great way for us to spend an afternoon!

    • Oh, Mookie, you need to get Grace and Gannon some bubble gum-flavored toothpaste! 😉 Plus, you know routines are always more fun when they’re not at your house.
      You and Grace and Gannon were so sweet to drive all the way to and from Fort Scott to visit Grandma on Good Friday. I really liked the soft socks present Grace took to her…and the story of how you mixed the colors on her feet, just like Grace does with her special socks before softball games.
      It was a long drive and a long day for you to do all of that, but I thank you very much for being your usual, thoughtful and happy selves when you went to see her. Grandma may not seem to respond, but I really do think at some level she knows she’s being loved by her granddaughter and great-grandchildren.

  25. A lovely story and poem. Are we not supposed to blow bubbles in our chocolate milk? Oh Oh!
    The tooth brush story reminded me of a recent sleep over with our grand daughter (8) She was only staying one night, but brought a huge suitcase full of things, including her chef’s hat and apron (the grandchildren love to cook with Nani). The case was absolutely full, but next morning we asked if she had clean underwear – “Oh, I guess I forgot them”. Luckily she did remember the toothbrush.

    • Yes, of course: Always blow bubbles in your chocolate milk, ESPECIALLY when you’re 95!
      Rod, your granddaughter and my grandson must have taken the same “suitcase packing” class, only his specialty is dirty socks. (He’s 9, and you never know what WILL or WON’T be in his suitcase or backpack.)
      But a chef’s hat and apron? Of course she didn’t have room for ordinary things. (Aren’t grandchildren the greatest!?!)

  26. I wish that I’d known Mary Shepherd before the dementia, but I feel very privileged to meet a little part of her every week Marylin. Thank you for sharing your mom’s beautiful poems and heart-warming stories.

    Blowing bubbles in chocolate milk sounds like lots of fun! After the recent traumatic stay in the hospital, maybe your mom is feeling better… and is, at least momentarily, happier. I hope so!

    I have trouble getting my four-year-old grandson to brush his teeth, even with Thomas & Friends Tooty Fruity flavored toothpaste. I’ll have to find some of that bubble gum-flavored toothpaste! Thank you for the valuable tip.

  27. Thanks, Theresa. I appreciate your kind words.

    As for the teeth brushing, here’s the secret: I have to brush mine at the same time they brush theirs. We’re all pretty much spitting in the sink at the same time, which is an added attraction!

  28. Oh Marylin, what a delight this poem is! I love this memory, and the photo caption – ‘you don’t have to brush all your teeth, just the ones you want to keep!” How wonderful to write it to Nic and to share this poem written so long ago by his beloved grandma. a precious,beautiful keepsake.
    What really made me smile though, inside and out, was what you shared about your mom blowing bubbles in her drink! I was so touched by that, how much more you must have been, to know that the essence of your dear mom pushes through even in the briefest of playful moments such as these. What a great blessing for you and a perfect message for Easter, which I hope was truly a blessed and joy-filled one for you and all your family 🙂
    PS I have to say to Marylin, your Molly looks just like her lovely Mama 🙂

  29. That’s so sweet, Sherri. Even as she was growing up, if you held up my picture at that age, you had to do a double take. But Molly has her own unique personality and style, so no one ever confuses us.
    The chocolate milk bubble blowing was a happy surprise. After the hospital and lVs and tests, Mom really went downhill. She still is failing, and that’s to be expected, but little responses like the bubble blowing make us all smile. She doesn’t really actually recognize any of us, but she can tell specific stories about her childhood on the farm 85 years ago.
    Thank you for your comments, Sherri.

    • Hi Marylin, I’ve only just seen your reply from days ago, so sorry to take so long and so sorry to read this about your mom. But how wonderful that she is still able to recount her earlier years from the farm from so long ago. Bless you dear Marylin…praying… x

  30. Loved the poem Marylin and Blimey! I got into trouble recently for blowing bubbles with my straw from one of the grandkids! “Granddad, really, must you?” We were eating out … I just replied, “it’s what granddads do to …” I was cut off with, ” No granddad, it’s what Lacey Mae (3) does , BEHAVE…”

    Anyway Lacey Mae and I had fun for the rest of the meal even if we did get glared at by grandma too….

    And apparently the “I’m dying, cut me some slack” doesn’t get me off anymore either ……

    • Hey, I’m on your side, Tom. Blowing bubbles in milk is what granddads do, or at least they should, especially with their 3-year-old granddaughters!
      And in my opinion, blowing milk bubbles rates right up there with church candles for keeping you energetic and happy!

  31. Another lovely story that tells us about how thoughtful but also fun your mother is! I also enjoyed reading the other memories the comments threw up.

  32. Thanks, Andrea. There’s been a variety of responses to this post, but the one consistent reply seems to be that blowing milk bubbles is a very good thing! It’s these little surprising things that mean a lot right now.

  33. That poem is lovely and your mom blowing bubbles even more so. I think everyone should blow a few bubbles. Lovely moments to hold close to your heart.

  34. Very special words and it got me smiling! Thanks for this post for us to share in your fun life! So nice that your mother did write these words, so you could also make sure how much it meant to have grandchildren, even in silly moments!

    • Silly moments is right, Robin. I can’t think of things much sillier when we’re with the grandchildren and everyone is brushing their teeth around the sink, using bubblegum-flavored tooth paste and spitting at the same time. It’s quite a mess, but a lot of fun, too!

  35. Marylin, your post and your mom’s poem brought a shiver of delight and a smile to my lips. Loved the poem and the pics. 🙂

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