The Dent Beneath Your Nose

Sue Skaggs was one of our many babysitters when me and my siblings were young. In fact, I was one of the only teenagers that I know of that had to have a babysitter because it was hard to trust me to not get in trouble.

While she smoked cigarettes like a chimney, Mom and Dad could trust her to discipline us when we got in trouble. Furthermore, if we were too out of hand she’s call her son, Vestal to come a set us straight – which if I recall only happened once — which was enough.

As a youngster of ten or 11, I was a chatterbox, even though I stuttered. Because of this, I drove Mrs. Skaggs crazy because I rarely finished a sentence without her feeling the need to complete it for me.

And no, I didn’t think of this as rude because it happened all the time – so if it didn’t happen, like in Mrs. Clauson’s speech rehabilitation class I got terribly frustrated and would shutdown. She would tick me off so badly at times that I would refuse to talk for a couple of days – mostly weekends since I saw her every Friday afternoon.

Finally frustrated with my constant jabbering and broken speech, when I was 13, Mrs. Skaggs told me that the little ‘dent under your nose,’ was a reminder to be quiet. I remember reaching up to feel it and realizing I had really never paid much attention to it before.

This caused me to slowdown and think about what I was going to say before saying it and is probably the reason I still have what radio commentator Paul Harvey referred to as ‘pregnant pauses,’ in my speech. Thus, I have never forgotten what she told me.

Three years later, as I studied for my Emergency Medical Technicians certificate, I learned that little dent below the nose and above the lip had a name: the philtrum or medial cleft. Medical science claims it is a hold over from an earlier time and serves no real purpose now days.

Jump ahead 23-years, as I was studying for my degree in theology, I learned where Mrs. Skaggs got the idea that the philtrum was a reminder to be quiet. Like most informant passed along by word of mouth the story changed in the telling.

In Jewish mythology, each child has an Angel teaching them all the wisdom in the world while they are in the womb. Once shared, the Angel lightly touches the infant’s upper lip to keep the them from telling them to the world and that this is the cause of our medial cleft.

Personally, I like the idea of keeping a secret better than I like keeping quiet.


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