Monday, March 17, 2014

Gold Overlay Recalls Dr. Vivian Hymans, Aruba NA

Last week's trip to the dentist became a trip back in time. On Valentine's Day, I bit into the caramel and as I chewed, I realized there was more than caramel in the chocolate. Two pieces of my lower left first molar had broken away and become part of the mix. Immediately and with some irritation, I imagined dental bills. And yes, getting a crown these days will be more expensive than any other crown in my mouth.
But back to yesterday. I asked my dentist if she could tell how old this 'crown' was that she was about to remove. Could it have been part of the good work of my dentist in Aruba some fifty years ago. She said, "I won't be able to tell, but this one is an overlay and not many dentists do that anymore, make that type of crown. Maybe it is his?" she surmised.
I told her about Dr. Vivian Hymans, the Dutch dentist who hailed from Suriname. He was in Holland during WWII and served in the Dutch Resistance, saying no one suspected him because he was black and West Indian. He married Henry, an American school teacher from Philadelphia. Who knows now how they met. They ended up in Aruba where they raised a family and where he practiced dentistry for years. We'd laugh about their names. He was Vivian and she was Henry. They lived 'outside' Standard Oil's Lago colony, because they were 'locals,' not American foreign staff. He had a going business with American foreign staff families.
Here is what I remember about Dr. Hymans.
He was prized by his patients as being an excellent dentist. When other dentists took a look at our mouths, they invariably commented on his work. It was solid, careful, a craftman's work. Such words were good to hear from American dentists in the States. Our island dentist did quality work.
Dr. Hymans always ran late with his daily schedule. If one had an 8:00 a.m. appointment, his office manager Annie called to say, "He's not in yet. I'll let you know when he arrives." Or if your appointment was perhaps at 10:00 a.m., Annie called to say, "Come about 11:15."
Once in the chair, Dr. Hymans talked and wanted us to participate in the conversation too. When we were college kids home for the holidays or the summer, he wanted to hear all about the parties, the latest goings-on. This took time. If we had an especially late appointment, he had already been apprised of where we'd been the night before.
He once told Mom that his daughter, who at the time was a college student in Holland, was dating a red headed black man. He said red headed black men made for a terrible combination, meaning not great looking. He hoped they wouldn't marry as the grandkids would have freckles and very curly red blond hair.
And so, during high school and then year after year during holidays and summers, our days were punctuated with dental appointments at Dr. Hyman's office in San Nicolas.  I learned later that American Southerners rarely if ever, went to Dr. Hymans. Instead, they went to the company's dental clinic in Lago Colony because the dentists were white.
I wish Mom were still alive. It was she who told us stories about Dr. Hymans. I wonder if she ever wrote any of them down. I do remember one story Mom used to tell.
In the summer of 1964, my parents, Vivian and Henry Hymans and my new fiance and I participated in an epic integration effort. At the time, I was oblivious, but Mom said, it had been a big deal. In July 1964, I brought John Hansen home to Aruba for what was to be my parent's ambivalent approval of our impending marriage. Jack was Catholic and Catholic grandchildren did not sit well with either Mom or Dad. I know that Mom also thought I was too young to be marrying, with 'my whole life ahead of me.' She was right on both counts, but all of that is another story for another post.
Jack and I arrived in Aruba. We walked the beaches, the colony ladies gave me a bridal shower, we spent an evening or two at the Aruba Caribbean Hotel, the still newish and only hotel and casino on the island.
My parents took us to dinner at the Esso Club, the company's social gathering place for foreign staff.  I'd had a part time job at the Esso Club my senior year in high school as movie ticket seller. It was the place where I'd taken ballet lessons and marched in Halloween costume parades. It was the place where our parents danced on New Year's Eve, where we bought movie magazines and checked out library books, ordered chocolate milkshakes and french fries in the soda bar. It was definitelywhere we went for our first legal drink afer graduating from high school. It was our country club next to the ocean, without golf.
It was also, I later learned, not a place where 'locals' of color were welcome. But my parent's were perhaps naive and so invited Vivian and Henry Hymans to join us for dinner at the club. We sat on the big conformtable lounge chairs next to the patio, waiting for a waiter to take our drink order and then to seat us at a dinner table. We waited and waited. Dad was never one to speak up, so it became uncomfortable.
It was my fiancé, who in his suit with U.S. Navy posture, stood up and spoke to the head waiter. He would have spoken up as his father used to when things weren't right. I'll bet he said something like, "We've not yet had our drink order taken. And we have reservations for dinner for eight. Can you move this along?"
It is only after this evening at the Esso Club that I look back and remember Chester and the other men who staffed the restaurant and bar, that I see their stares and outright surprise. They, of course were Aruban, black, brown, a mixture of races.
We were served drinks, we were seated for dinner and the evening moved along. I wonder if Vivian and Henry Hymans knew exactly what was going on. What it only my parents in all innocence blundered into this situation in which the Esso Club was integrated, at least for that evening?
I think that it was Dr. Hymans who crafted the gold overlay on my lower left molar. I'd like to have kept it in my mouth until the very end of life.

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