Laughing Gas and the Chestnut Tree by
(311 Stories)

Prompted By The Dentist

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When I was growing up we lived on a shady street in the Bronx.   Several doctors and dentists had offices on our block and my dad was one of them.   He was a GP who practiced on the ground floor of our three-story house and we lived on the two upper floors  “over the store”.   (See Fluffy, or How I Got My Dog,  and The Corpse in the Office)

For many years a dentist named Ben rented space in my dad’s office.  Ben was a wonderfully kind and gentle man,  and he and his wife Eleanor became my folks’ lifelong friends,  and Ben of course became our family dentist.

Then at some point Ben took a larger office down the street in a house with a beautiful chestnut tree in the front yard.

One day when I was 9 or 10 I went down the block to Ben’s office for my dental appointment and he told me I had a cavity – my first!   He said he’d give me laughing gas to relax me while he filled it.

Laughing gas sounded like fun and I sat still while his nurse put a mask over my nose.   Then Ben told me to lie back in the chair and look out the window at the chestnut tree.

I did,  and Ben filled that first cavity.

Ben was my dentist until I moved out of my parents’ house,  and over the years I’ve had a few others.  All of them have been nice guys and fine dentists  –  but none gave me laughing gas,  or had a beautiful chestnut tree I could see from the dental chair.

And none will ever be as dear to me as Ben.

– Dana Susan Lehrman


Profile photo of Dana Susan Lehrman Dana Susan Lehrman
This retired librarian loves big city bustle and cozy country weekends, friends and family, good books and theatre, movies and jazz, travel, tennis, Yankee baseball, and writing about life as she sees it on her blog World Thru Brown Eyes!

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Tags: Dentists


  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    A nice memory, Dana. Looking at the big chestnut tree was a good distraction.

  2. John Shutkin says:

    What a beautiful, evocative memory, Dana. And I say that having just written in response to Betsy’s story about my father’s concerns about the use of ether in surgery and desntistry. Laughing gas, of course, is a lesser form of anesthesia — and also a whole lot less flammable.

    But those medical issues are beside the point. What is important and moving are your memories of dear Ben and the chestnut tree. Thanks so much for sharing.

  3. Khati Hendry says:

    Love having a story about a dentist and dental experience that is positive and tender. Nice tribute to a kind and caring professional.

  4. Suzy says:

    Like me, you had a childhood dentist who was a family friend. I wonder if I also had laughing gas when I had to get cavities filled – maybe that’s why it wasn’t traumatic or scary for me! Thanks for these memories, Dana.

    • Yes Suzy, I bet you had laughing gas too! Now apparently dentists don’t use it as much.

      And yes I think my happy dental memories are because my childhood dentist was a beloved family friend. And perhaps also because I’ve had no dental surgery or gum problems over the years – altho I must be more diligent about flossing to keep it that way!

  5. Thank goodness this story didn’t take a dark turn! When I read of this seemingly innocent, nice guy Ben putting ten-year-old you under laughing gas, I was preparing for some kind of unfortunate turn of events. I’m glad you emerged without trauma and with the memory of a chestnut tree.

  6. Laurie Levy says:

    What a wonderful childhood experience with a dentist, Dana. I love the chestnut tree. Never had laughing gas but it sounds like it was lovely. Unlike many of us, you did not suffer from childhood dental trauma.

  7. What a great character, Dana. Ben, the kindly alchemist who delivered chestnut trees to your imagination. And what a great story of mid-century America, with the small shops and doctors and dentists all working locally. An other dream gone the way of all chestnut trees, sigh.

    • Thanx Charlie.
      I recently drove down that street – my beloved childhood street – but not sure if I noticed if Ben’s chestnut tree was still standing. I was nervously anticipating the sight of my old house further down the block.

      And when I got to the house I saw that the two magnolia trees that graced the front door were no longer. My parents had planted those trees when they bought the house on the GI Bill after the war. Thankfully my folks are no longer around to see it treeless now.

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