A Smile Retrieved
October 1987

“A Smile Retrieved,” Ensign, Oct. 1987, 42–43

A Smile Retrieved

The dazzling sunstruck beach stretched down into the gradual swell of the ocean. I couldn’t believe that we were at last on the beautiful island of Kauai, a lifetime dream come true. For only a moment I stood taking in the splendor of the ocean; then I splashed into its coolness, not stopping until I was waist-deep in the rolling surf.

My husband, Fred, my sister Delna, and my brother-in-law Dee were still standing at the water’s edge taking in the beauty of the ocean. Looking back toward them, I waved for them to join me in the water.

“Come on …” I started to yell, but an unseen wave crashed over me, cutting the sentence short and knocking me down. Sputtering and swallowing, I struggled to right myself.

It was then that I noticed the horrifying emptiness inside my mouth. I gave an agonizing scream: “My teeth! My denture! The sea has taken my teeth!” Two years ago, tuberculosis of the bone had required surgery and resulted in the loss of part of my jawbone and, finally, removal of my teeth. A denture had restored my dignity. Now it was gone.

Fred, along with Delna and Dee, raced to me. Helping me to my feet, Fred looked at me pityingly. My hand went over my mouth. I felt desolate, violated, repulsive.

Frantically, the search began. The four of us dived repeatedly, discarding handfuls of pebbles and shells as we searched in vain. At last, heartsick and discouraged, we abandoned the attempt and waded ashore.

What a sight I was! My hair was mud-streaked and dripping. My scrawny, spindly-legged body was dwarfed by the oversize swimsuit I had borrowed, which was now sagging with the weight of sand caught in it. My “Andy Gump” profile drooped in agonized sadness.

Only an hour ago, the four of us had arrived at Kauai with a tour group to begin the vacation of our dreams. Now I was thinking, “I almost wish I had drowned. Our vacation is ruined!”

Back at the cottage we were staying in, a melancholy feeling swept over us as we showered and dressed. What good was a vacation now? I didn’t care about not being able to eat; that wasn’t troubling me at all. I was troubled by the thought that I had spoiled the trip for the others. The ocean we had come to enjoy now seemed frightening.

I heard a knock at the door. My sister Delna was there, as she had always been when I needed a friend. “Let’s go talk to the tour guide; she may be able to help us,” she suggested.

In my humiliation and sorrow, I replied, “I can’t go out there and face the world like this. I can’t!”

“What are you going to do? Hide here and starve? Come on; you don’t think everyone is looking at you, do you?” She thrust a handkerchief into my hand and urged me toward the open door.

I covered my mouth with the handkerchief, and we left to find the tour guide. When we told her the story, she said she could see no way to solve my problem short of ordering a new denture. At her suggestion, we placed a notice on the bulletin board in the slight chance that someone might find my lost teeth. As we read it, we noted that the situation would have been comical but for the circumstances that made it so serious to us.

That evening, the four of us avoided the other members of the group by taking a taxi to dinner. While the other three dined, I mushed a bowl of soup and a glass of milk. Sightseeing and gaiety were out of the question, so we returned to our now-cheerless rooms and went to bed.

That night, as I listened to Fred’s deep breathing, I thought of the real happiness and joy, the complete love we had in our marriage. In a moment, I slipped out of bed and, kneeling on the cold, polished floor, began to pray, pouring out my innermost thoughts to my Heavenly Father.

I have prayed all my life, but never had I pleaded with the Lord as I did then. I felt I didn’t deserve his blessings, but I promised to live a better life. “Please, Heavenly Father, I have to have my teeth, so that the others’ vacation won’t be ruined,” I cried. I pleaded with the Lord all night long. When I got too cold, I would slip back into bed just long enough to get warm, then go quietly down on my knees again, continuing in repentance, promising, and pleading. I felt very close to Heavenly Father, as if he were right there beside me.

Toward morning, Fred stirred and moaned. I raised my head and saw the light of a new day entering the room. He yawned and stretched, climbed out of bed and asked, “What’re you doing on the floor?” He looked out the window. “You know, it was high tide when you lost your choppers,” he said. “Maybe it’s low tide now, and we can find them so all of us won’t have to eat soup the whole trip.” He smiled and looked at me in the innocent, childlike way he looked when he was teasing.

Quickly we pulled on our still-damp swimsuits and walked silently toward the empty beach. As far as we could see, the beautiful silver and blue ocean stretched before us. To locate my denture in an ocean this big would be nothing short of a miracle.

For half an hour we combed the edges and the waist-deep water where I had been the day before. Peering down into the clearness before the next wave broke, we made an all-embracing search. Nothing. Chilled and saddened, I thought, “It’s no use,” and I dragged my way back to the cottage in forlorn desolation.

A few minutes later, I heard someone pounding on the door. When I opened it, there stood Fred, thrusting his outstretched hand toward my surprised face.

“Try these on; see if they’re yours,” he said.

When he opened his hand, I couldn’t believe it. There were my teeth!

“How did you find them?” I asked.

He replied, “After you quit looking, the thought came to me that if the wave caught you where we were looking, the ocean’s current would have probably taken your teeth farther down the beach. I just waded in the direction of the waves about fifty yards and then saw something pink swirling around. I reached down under the water, and there they were. You know, God must really love you to have saved your teeth from the Pacific Ocean.”

I felt like going out and shouting to the whole world, “We have a Heavenly Father who listens to us and loves us!”

  • Florence Stewart Smith is a member of the Lompoc (California) First Ward. She is president of the ward choir and worked for twenty-three years at a local newspaper.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Beth Maryon Whittaker