Saturday, June 28, 2008


[The Sunday Scribblings prompt of vision send me on a trip down memory lane:]


The summer before I entered fifth grade brought me new experiences. One of the most significant was that I took up playing the oboe. The fifth grade band comprised all the fifth graders in town who were similarly becoming acquainted with new instruments. That summer we met in small groups with one of the band directors (at that time there were two in town) and we gradually learned to play.

In fourth grade all students were exposed to some music education (see my post on the flutophone episode) so even those who couldn't read music earlier were not looking at music for the very first time. Still, some of us were not learning quickly.

There were three of us learning to play oboe. For a town the size of ours, and a band the size ours would be, this was a ridiculously large number, but that's what we had. For lessons I seem to remember we shared one music stand between the three of us. It was not easy to see the music without getting in the next person's way, or knocking her elbow. Nonetheless, I learned slowly as I squinted at the music.

That same summer I was learning to play tennis. The town's parks department offered classes at multiple levels (beginning, intermediate and advanced) and followed up weeks of lessons with some tournament play. We would be divided into teams with some at each level, then scheduled to play against other teams. But to start with, us beginners had to learn to hit the ball.

I had a terrible time trying to connect. I watched the ball; I swung the racket; I seemed to have the appropriate grip; I didn't seem to be uncoordinated. But I was nearly always just a little off – too early, too late, too close, too far away (whiff!). I was beginning to get frustrated, but was determined to get the knack.

Now when I was a kid, we had to have physical exam before entering fifth grade. My dad was my family physician so my exam was done when a quiet day rolled around mid-summer. The kids needing a physical for summer camps were done, and most of the fifth-grade (and second-grade and older school sports) exams had not yet ramped up. To my surprise, and that of my dad and my mom (the nurse), it appeared that I no longer had perfect vision. They checked it twice, then scheduled a visit to the eye doctor.

The eye doctor had an office downtown in one of the two bank buildings. The entrance was from the sidewalk on the side street, next to where the large plate-glass windows of the Tri-City Grocery store ended. We walked up one flight of stairs to a dim hallway where we turned right and walked nearly to the end (at the rear of the building) to where the office was on the right-hand side. Compared to the dim hallway, the office was quite bright and modern.

After another eye exam, this one sitting in a chair with odd things pulled down in front of my face, the doctor agreed that I needed glasses. This was not really surprising once I thought about it. Daddy wore glasses. Mom wore glasses. My older sister couldn't even find her glasses if they weren't on her head (or so we teased). My grandparents wore glasses (well, grandma didn't wear hers as much as she was supposed to).

So my next stop was all the way across the room to pick out frames. Mom nixed wire-rims as too fragile for an active girl and the doctor pulled out a lot of plastic frames. Some were placed on my face and taken away before I had a chance to look at them, but I did get quite a bit of choice in the matter. I ended up with dark-ish frames that were quite small and oval. The doctor would have the lenses made and he'd call us when we could pick up the glasses.

It must have been a couple of weeks before we got the call, and we went back to the office (through the not-quite-so-intimidating hallway). I put on the glasses and he had me hand them back to him. He bent the earpieces and gave them back. He made sure that the lenses were centered over my eyes, where they would do the most good. And I got a glasses case, which seemed a bit odd to me since I was going to have to wear the glasses all the time. I didn't know when they would be in the case.

And some amazing things happened. Well yes, there was some not-so-amazing teasing and calls of "guys don't make passes at girls who wear glasses." But since I wasn't sure what a pass was I didn't worry about it. No, the amazing thing was first discovered at band practice. I could sit farther away from the music stand! And I could see the music even better than when I had sat closer.

But the more amazing thing was in tennis practice. All of a sudden I could hit the ball. Not every time, of course, I was still a beginner. But I had a fighting chance. It turns out that my left eye was significantly weaker than the right eye and it had messed up my depth perception. With the glasses, I now could figure out how fast the ball was moving. It was like magic.

I have worn lenses to correct my vision ever since. I switched to contact lenses when I was in high school and college, then back to glasses when I had to start paying for them myself. Then years later a friend encouraged me to take up downhill skiing again and once I was sure I was going to keep at it, I got contact lenses to cut down on the number of surfaces I had to clean fog off of.

My brothers, who didn't have to wear glasses when we were kids, got their turns, I think when they were in their twenties. Of course by then, my sister and I no longer wanted to tease them the way the boys had teased us. (Not much anyway!)

I have had various glasses frames over the years, though none as small as that first pair. One pair was significantly larger, but it was the 1970's. I once lost a pair – I have NO idea how I did it. It was only a year after I started wearing them. We had to order a replacement pair, and the came in just in time for me to wear them to Girl Scout summer camp. Funny thing is, on the way to camp, I put my hand in the pocket of my windbreaker and found the missing pair! Lucky thing, too! because a week later my glasses accidentally flew from my head – and were stepped on by a very large draft horse. Good thing I had a backup!

And now I find that I need to replace my glasses again. I wear contacts most of the time, but in the late evenings and at night, I wear the glasses. Unfortunately I sometimes wear the glasses to bed where I bend them slightly out of shape when I lie on my side while I read a book. These are not the bend-back kind of frames so although the prescription is fine, they are ever-so-slightly askew and don't properly correct my astigmatism anymore.

And what a miracle it seems that such small pieces of plastic can make the world come into focus!


Sleepypete said...

I have to wear glasses all the time cos I have a pretty bad astygmatism. It can get pretty strange when my eyes shift away from the prescription - my depth perception goes too ... Things like getting in what you think is the right place for a catch in cricket and the ball landing 6 feet to your right :-)

If you can for your next pair, see if you can find (and like!) frames that have shades that come with them ... I find slipping on the clip-on bit much less hassle than switching between shades glasses and normal glasses :-)

PS Good job I was wearing glasses instead of contacts when I broke my nose - the glasses spread the impact of cricket ball around my eye instead of the ball going into the eye ... I got away with it that time ...

sister AE said...

Hi, Pete. I won't go into the struggles I had when they first gave me lenses to correct my astigmatism - and they got the prescription wrong! Boy, was I crabby!

Sleepypete said...

Lol - I know what you mean there ... It took a good few years for me to realise that using pattern recognition and memory to tell me what the letters on the chart were was a bad idea :-)

Not sure people without the astygmatism problem realise how offputting it is to have the alignment slightly out ...

Granny Smith said...

Your story is really appreciated by this longtime wearer of glasses. Like Harry Potter, they are the first thing I reach for in the morning.

What I appreciate even more is your writing skill that made this post come alive with vivid description and detail

sister AE said...

Hi, Granny Smith. Thank you. I'm tickled that you enjoyed it.

danni said...

wonderful childhood memoir - i love the strolls down memory lane myself, sometimes --- i started needing my glasses a little late in life, and i don't like having my face caged in all the time -it just feels so good to have a naked face at the end of my day!!!

sister AE said...

Hi, danni. Glad you liked it.

redness said...

Excellent post ... much appreciated from a long time 'four eyes' well done ;)

sister AE said...

Thanks, redness!

missalister said...

I was reading along gettin’ the vision of the small-town thing going on which began to sound like my small-town childhood thing, so I look…Massachusetts! How cool. I grew up in a small VT town and spent summers on Cape Cod. Sister indeed!

sister AE said...

Hi, missalister. There are, indeed, a lot of things common to many American small towns, but my small town was in southern Illinois. I moved to Massachusetts as an adult.

But we did drive out to vacation on Cape Cod some when I was very little - a two-day trip each way.